Government defends welfare cap plans

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The government has defended its changes to benefits as necessary to economic recovery.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston, opening a second-reading debate on the Welfare Benefits Up-Rating Bill on 11 February 2013, said there were "difficult decisions to be taken if we want a stronger economy that delivers a better future for everyone".

The bill makes provision for the capping of increases to certain social security payments and tax credits at 1% until 2016.

Benefits have historically risen in line with inflation and, without any change, would have been due to go up by 2.2% in April.

Lady Stowell said the government's overall plans increased the total tax contribution from the wealthiest but ministers could not ignore the welfare budget, which accounted for £1 in every £8 spent by the state.

She said: "Everyone, all of us, whoever we are, deserve the chance to do the best for ourselves and our family."

The Bishop of Leicester, the Right Reverend Tim Stevens, was among several peers to criticise the move.

He warned: "I fear that we are heading in the direction of a US-style welfare system where health care and pensions are largely protected but working age provision is less generous and more stigmatised."

Labour's Baroness Hollis of Heigham, a former work and pensions minister, was similarly pessimistic. She said she "couldn't find anything good about this bill" and that "it is not all right" to "suggest these cuts fall on the undeserving poor".

Crossbencher Lord Low of Dalston, a disability rights campaigner, described the legislation as "a miserable little bill, mean-spirited and out-of-touch" that "perpetuates a relentless attack on welfare".

But Conservative Lord Bates welcomed what he called the bill's "focus on fairness", which he argued would reduce "welfare dependency - a huge waste of human potential".

The bill has been passed by the Commons, despite opposition from Labour. Some Liberal Democrat MPs had favoured a proposal to increase benefits in line with average earnings.

The wording of the bill must be agreed by both Houses before it can become law.

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