Welfare Bill: Changes to continue despite Lords defeats

 
Houses of Parliament Labour have urged ministers to drop the proposals after the defeats in the Lords

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The government says it will press ahead with changes to the welfare system, despite defeats in the Lords.

Labour and independent peers, and some Lib Dems, voted down restrictions on benefits for cancer patients and young disabled people.

Employment minister Chris Grayling said the welfare state would support those in "genuine need" but "tough decisions" had to be taken to tackle the deficit.

Labour said ministers had crossed "the basic line of British decency".

The government says its controversial Welfare Reform Bill, which applies to England, Scotland and Wales, is the biggest shake-up of the welfare system in 60 years.

Among its plans are proposals to pay out "contributory" employment and support allowance (ESA) - which is currently not means-tested - for one year only, after which some claimants would be means tested.

But it suffered defeats on three issues in the Lords on Wednesday night.

  • Peers voted down plans that would have meant some cancer patients receiving contributory ESA would have been means tested for the benefit after 12 months. Instead they voted to make it two years to give them longer to recover.
  • They also rejected the 12-month limit for ESA claimants who are judged capable of working at some stage in the future.
  • And they rejected moves to stop disabled young people who have never worked, due to illness or disability, from receiving contributory ESA - usually paid to those who have been paying National Insurance.

Mr Grayling told the BBC the government would "look carefully" at what peers had said, but ministers would seek to reverse the amendments in the Lords when they came back into the Commons.

Analysis

Evidence of tension between the coalition parties has emerged in the wake of the government's defeats in the House of Lords.

The government lost three votes over its welfare reforms after Labour and independent crossbench peers united to oppose the plans to cut employment support allowance.

But they were helped by a substantial number of Liberal Democrat peers who either rebelled or abstained.

For example, in the last vote - on plans to exempt cancer sufferers from cuts to the ESA - more than half of all Lib Dem peers failed to support the government.

In all, five Lib Dem peers rebelled and voted against their government. A further 44 did not vote.

In contrast, just 42 Lib Dem peers voted for the government.

This suggests that while the Lib Dem leadership may be signed up to the coalition's spending cuts, many of their peers are less keen to wield the axe.

He said: "We are not taking away benefits from people who've got no other form of income, we're not taking away from people who are going to be sick and disabled and unable to work for the rest of their lives.

"What we're doing is for people who are on the path back to the workplace and who have got other financial means... [we are saying] we will give you something back, you will receive benefits for a period of time, but you can't receive benefits indefinitely, paid for by people on low incomes in work elsewhere."

He said the government had increased "the number of cancer patients who receive long-term unconditional support from the state".

Deputy PM Nick Clegg said the government would "look in detail at some of their reservations and objections".

Of 71 Lib Dem peers present in the Lords on Wednesday, five voted against the government to exempt cancer patients from being means-tested for employment and support allowance - and 24 abstained. A further 20 were not in the Lords for the votes.

Mr Clegg said he "respected" that many peers wanted to make sure welfare reform was handled "fairly and sensitively".

"We think we're getting the balance right, of course we're prepared to enter into a discussion, but does the welfare system as a whole need to be reformed? Yes it does."

'Dignity'

But Baroness Meacher, who moved the amendment protecting young people from cuts, told the BBC: "Very severely disabled children, coming into adulthood, they've been disabled probably all their lives and will be disabled all their lives, will never have a chance to earn, to build up capital to build up insurance contributions or anything of that sort.

"These people would have that benefit withdrawn from them under the bill - our amendment made sure that those people will continue to have the benefit as of right - and therefore a degree of dignity."

In the Commons on Thursday, Labour MP David Winnick said targeting stroke and cancer patients for cuts was "sick" and urged the government to think again.

Commons Leader Sir George Young replied that the government would give "serious consideration" to the votes.

But he said the most serious cancer cases - those assessed as not being fit for work - would not be affected by the 12-month time limit.

And he said the government had asked Professor Malcolm Harrington, who reviews the tests applied to benefit claimants to determine whether they are fit to work, to work with cancer charity Macmillan to make sure tests were "appropriate".

But Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Liam Byrne said the coalition had been defeated for trying to "cross the basic line of British decency".

He urged ministers not to try to reinstate the measures in the Commons.

"For months Labour has been determined to stop this cruel attack on cancer patients in its tracks. And the House of Lords agreed," he said.

"The government's proposal to cut paid-for benefits for people still in chemotherapy crosses the basic test of fairness."

 

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  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 777.

    At the end of the day its going to be all about job creation. And we are currently losing so many jobs. Government are attempting to fit an increasing number into a shrinking jobs market and are concerned with ideology instead of day to day practicality and priortising. Concentrate on getting the young and healthy into these scare jobs and leave the sick alone.

  • rate this
    +44

    Comment number 372.

    My son is severely autistic, non verbal, has severe learning difficulties and no doubt will be eligible for a lifetime of benefits. Yet there are simple jobs my son could do. It would be much better for him (and society) to be working and making a contribution than to be sat at home every day watching TV. Problem is, who is going to give him a chance and employ him when he leaves school?

  • rate this
    +71

    Comment number 86.

    A problem with the welfare state is that one aspect of its creation that was assumed was that thee would be plenty of jobs, indeed that there would be some spare, and that cheap affordable housing would be available throughout the country, that could be paid for on ONE salary.
    By and large through the 1950's we had this, and the system worked.
    We don't now. Why?

  • rate this
    +155

    Comment number 27.

    We do live in a strange world.
    We can bail out banks but not the ill.
    We have Clegg promoting social mobility after leading a cull on public service workers and now RBS employees.
    Insurance companies sell tip offs to lawyers and then raise premiums.
    Is there any wonder we are in trouble as a society.

  • rate this
    +19

    Comment number 26.

    A great incentive for work would be a multi-skills jobs boom. If people can pick and choose easily between jobs then it becomes a true free labour market rather than a 'choice' between wage-slavery and work-fare.

 

Comments 5 of 9

 

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