Monday, May 27, 2024

Jeremy Hunt and Mel Stride warn against benefits ‘lifestyle choice’

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The UK chancellor and the welfare secretary have suggested that too many people are claiming unemployment benefit as a lifestyle choice after a rise in joblessness.

Jeremy Hunt and Mel Stride used a joint article in the Times to ramp up the government’s anti-welfare rhetoric in the run-up to the general election.

It came a day after data from the Office for National Statistics showed unemployment increased by 166,000 between the final three months of 2023 and the first three months of 2024, pushing up the jobless rate from 3.8% to 4.3%.

Labour seized on the figures to claim that Rishi Sunak’s economic plan was not working.

In their article, Hunt and Stride said the number of people out of work owing to long-term sickness was a “challenge”. But they added: “Unemployment benefits should only be there as a safety net, not a lifestyle choice.”

They rekindled a traditional Conservative party trope by suggesting those on benefits were shirking work. Hunt and Stride wrote: “With around 900,000 vacancies in the economy there are ample opportunities for people to get on and get ahead in the world of work.”

And they insisted the UK’s labour market was healthy: “The headline figures published by the ONS yesterday will of course attract attention, but our economic record is strong and our labour market resilient.

“Indeed, the ONS itself has expressed some caution about the data being produced by its surveys over a number of months, so it is important not to be alarmist.”

They pointed out that the number of people classed as economically inactive in the UK was lower than in 2010, and better than rates in the US, Italy and France. And they claimed thousands more would be helped back into employment by the government’s back-to-work programme.

They added: “The road to recovery is never entirely smooth – there are bumps, twists and turns. But by standing up to the issues of our day, we will grow the economy and raise living standards for hard-working Britons.”

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The economic outlook was “better than many would have you believe”,they said, adding: “For the last 10 months wages have increased faster than inflation. Inflation is down from 11% to just 3.2%, and is on track to fall to around 2% this month.

“Since January the UK’s economy has grown at the fastest rate in two years – faster than any other G7 country and even faster than the United States.”

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