Brown stands firm on benefit reform

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The Independent Online
Gordon Brown, the shadow Chancellor, yesterday fought back against a rebuff from the Scottish Labour Conference, repeating his commitment to plans cutting benefit for young people who refuse to take part in work or training schemes, writes John Rentoul.

After Saturday's unanimous vote condemning "benefit sanctions", Mr Brown insisted to delegates in Edinburgh: "It is right that opportunities and responsibilities go hand in hand."

And he echoed the Labour leader, Tony Blair, who appealed to delegates on Friday to show "realism", by emphasising the positive side of his plans. He said Labour was offering "for the first time, real jobs not schemes, for the first time wages not just benefit". He described it as a plan to "abolish youth unemployment" paid for by a windfall tax on the profits of privatised utilities.

Mr Brown turned his fire on the Government, which abolished its main scheme for the long-term unemployed in last year's Budget. An employment department internal briefing, leaked to Mr Brown, described Community Action as "popular and effective", and makes clear it was scrapped purely to save money.

Meanwhile, Scottish Labour officials fought a strong rearguard action in Edinburgh to avoid further embarrassments to the leadership. Motions calling for renationalisation of "the privatised utilities", a pounds 4.15 per hour minimum wage and an "increase in the upper rate of income tax" were all referred back for reconsideration.