Shadow Employment Minister, Stephen Timms, has said the government should reduce the benefits bill by"getting the country back to work". His comments came on the day the government introduced a cap on benefits.

A pilot of the benefits cap has begun in four London boroughs - Croydon, Bromley, Haringey and Enfield. It is due to rolled out nationally in July. Under the new rules, couples and single parents will receive no more than £500 a week in benefits - equivalent to £26,000 a year. The limit for single people will be £350.

Speaking about the imposition of a cap, Stephen said: “For all the Tory rhetoric, the true picture of this Government is one of economic failure. They are having to borrow £245 billion more than they planned, not to pay for the investment needed to grow our economy, but to pay for more welfare spending caused by high unemployment.

“We desperately need a change of direction. Labour has called for a compulsory jobs guarantee to give the long-term unemployed a job, which they will have to take up or lose their benefits.

"One Nation Labour would get the welfare bill down by getting the country back to work, and making work pay.”

Labour leader, Ed Miliband, backed Stephen’s comments, saying the welfare bill was rising not falling: "The first thing the government should be doing to reform welfare is to put people back to work and offer people real jobs with real responsibilities," he said.

"We've said we're in favour of a benefit cap but it has got to be adjusted regionally depending on housing costs in each region. The danger of the way the government is doing the cap is that it forces people into temporary accommodation, bed and breakfasts, which drives up costs not reduces them."

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AuthorStephen Timms