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.


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."


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

    Comment number 21.

    big mistake that has been made by the house of lords,if the person is placed in the support group their contribution based benefit is protected, if they are capable of doing some work it's not so how is that unfair? if they can do some work then they should be expected to work,why should i contribute to benefits paid to those that can work with disabilities but choose not too.bad decision Lordship

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    It wouldn’t hurt to do this, I’m sure we’d find many people who don’t need this welfare and thus are insulting the people that do need it. ‘Need’ being the important word here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    The reforms were described by a Lord on the cross benches as taking off the poor to give to the rich.
    Removing the right to subsistence benefits seems to be standard policy of this Govt.
    This while limiting costs for Big Business and top rate tax payers.
    e.g. Work experience at one retailer was 8 wks, full time, inc antisocial hours & Bank Hols for benefit while taking on fewer paid workers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    A form of means testing should be in place, but when you want to mean test people going through chemotherapy just shows that the tories do not have any kind of decency or compassion. Some of the side affects are terrible and the person does not not if they are going to live or die and you want to add stress of means testing. Shameful...

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    The problem with archgrumpy1's point is that all sick people are not necessarily in need. Billionaires don't need a right to benefits just because they are ill. That is a sympathy payment for illness, not support to ensure people in need are sufficiently provided for. Trust Labour to jump on the bandwagon and misrepresent the reforms as an attack on the vulnerable, when by definition they are not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    How do you know this? Prove it, The Beeb have their bosses too
    . Little_Old_Me
    5.FrankFisher - "Labour and the BBC are being dishonest on this point."

    All the Beeb are doing is reporting what's happened/been said in Westminster. That does not mean they are being dishonest, it means they are a news outlet reporting the news.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    One reform that has passed is halving the housing benefit for single people under 35. I am 29, I lost my job due to the recession. I put 4K of my own working money into my rental house in return for under market rent (£425pm) and now Im being made homeless come April. I will have nothing left to live for, my life is ruined by cuts & no work. And yet we can afford £32Bn for HS2. Its insulting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    If you scale the UK economy (GDP, Debt, deficit) down to the human level, what advise would you give a man earning £25k, with £18k of credit card bills, adding £2.5k to the card pa. And the bank will riase the card rate if he cant scale down spending (ie Gilt yields up)? oh and i havent even counted the £1trn of unfunded public sector pension liabilities or the PFI liabilities. THANKS GORDON

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    A lot more money could be saved if they went after the tax dodgers. Estimated to cost £27 billion a year. But they wont chase their mates now will they.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    I am very supportive of any U.K Government attempting to reduce the benefits burden especially where claims are fraudulent and where people are not willing to get off thier back side and try and find a job.
    On this occasion though I think this Governement is barking up the wrong tree and being too draconian.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    There are those in society who need welfare assistance, and its not too difficult to spot these people. But then there are those who are lifetime scroungers, These are the ones that the govt should be targeting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Thank goodness some sense has come out of the house of lords, Perhaps those MPs in the commons should take note. It's pure spite to pick on people with cancer, the disabled and the elderly. If they're going to cut benefits (which they seem determined too) ~ Pick on those claimants who have a criminal record and keep committing crimes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    What an appalling write up. The mainstream media are so behind the curve on this it's embarrassing. If you had done ANY investigative journalism in that last 18 months or so, you would understand very clearly why the Lords rebelled on this.

    Sue Marsh
    The Spartacus Report, producer
    Diary of a Benefit Scrounger, author
    Broken of Britain, political strategist

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    5.FrankFisher - "Labour and the BBC are being dishonest on this point."

    All the Beeb are doing is reporting what's happened/been said in Westminster. That does not mean they are being dishonest, it means they are a news outlet reporting the news.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    after working all my life loosing my job due to ill health then penalised for having a spouse that is working, of getting esa for one year! i felt betrayed and a second class person, i did not choose to be ill, and to get into a support group you have to be terminally ill anyhow! at least i might get two years support after that...

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    The welfare system in this country is shambolic! You can claim DLA for stress nowadays in this country. Sometimes I feel disabled people have more rights than anyone else. If the government can't push through this tiny bit of legistlation without the lib dems opposing it what hope do we have of pushing through all the other welfare reforms this country badly needs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Labour's childish appeal to 'fairness' once again: in what way is it 'fair' that workers on low wages have to pay tax to pay benefits to the children of millionaires, or with thousands int he bank? Means testing does not deprive those who need support - precisely the opposite. Those who have no other income will still get the benefits - Labour and the BBC are being dishonest on this point.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Looks like common sense & compassion still exists in this country.

    These "reforms" are cold hearted and have no place in a civilised society.

    The Libdems in the Lords have reminded their colleagues in the commons what it is they actually stand for.

    Shame on then for abondoning their long held principles for a few crumbs of power.

    Too late for the tories, they know no shame.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Those in most need are the sick, the young the elderly and the poor, not bankers or US arms and IT companies

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    they could probably save more money from cutting their own salarys. but they wont do that.


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