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 41.

    In the 19th century we had the speenhamland system, where a workers wages were made up to a minimum level, enough to support a family. Employers then paid low wages knowing that the worker would have benefits to bring their wages up. The Conservatives like this idea, except that they appear to want the benefits withdrawn.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    I personally feel that the child benefit should be limited to 3 children as in my home area teens are coming out of school having kids and refusing to work as they ‘don’t need too’. It’s a poor attitude that won’t change for another generation, however getting the changes in can help.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Thatcher would be very proud.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    2 Billion to come from somewhere else then if they drop this, thats the entiree taking from the Bonus Tax lost then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    - DO make it more worthwhile to work than not
    - DO remove benefits from work-shy and malingerers
    - DO insist that incapacity from one job isn't inability to do any job.

    But DON'T punish people in GENUINE need. Is that so hard?

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Most people agree that the welfare system needs reform. Surely in this case the Lords have done their job, in highlighting the bits in the proposed new system which are unfair and proposing and voting for sensible amendments.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Yes there are scroungers who need to be sorted out, but help must be found for the genuinely ill, Labour need to shut up they did very little to remove the lazy when in power.
    I just wish the Lords reforms could be handled as speedily as this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    A credit to the members of the House Of Lords. All your whizz kids, all your New Labour all the spin and modern talk, and it took the old school, the way the British used to think to say, no, this is a terrible way to treat young and very ill people. That is why Labour wanted rid of the Lords.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    What is meant by means testing? and why only disabled and cancer patients if it's simply a measure of ability to work?

    Welfare in the UK is a noose as it presently stands with billions being thrown at the undeserving, bone idle and encouraging un-loved children as a bigger pay day on the tax payer, whilst those that have contributed see nothing! But the truley incapable need that saftey net.

  • Comment number 32.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    The systems does need to change and change radically. Welfare assistance should be a safety net for those who have fallen on difficult time's not a way of life.

    It has been made to easy to have a way of life for those who wish to scrounge and not work for a living, and in some cases a much better lifestyle.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Just read @15 Luke.
    He is a victim of political puppets doing the bidding of the few, the 1%, who like to move their money around the globe.
    I feel so sorry for the good people of this country who are being systematically ripped off and destroyed by a system skewed towards the power-crazy, rich.
    'Reform' is the word used to wack us and never those who steal our lives from under our noses.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    hi folks sorry to get in the support group atos/DWP dictate you:
    'must be terminally ill'
    so costs are reduced there..

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Reconsider after a Lords defeat?

    Who cares what a bunch of senile snobs thinks?

    Take them off their salary and spend that on welfare.

  • rate this

    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

    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.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    When by the Government's own figures the big companies are dodging £25 billion of tax, why does the Tory dominated Government go after the weak and uninfluential first, to catch a few abusers of the system? I know that disabled people rarely contribute to Conservative Party Coffers; is this the reason?

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Whilst I fully agree that incentivising work ethics and abolishing the idea that a sick or disabled person should be written off as permanently economically inactive is key, support to do this should be the prime motive of any welfare reform. Cutting vital support that would ensure a long term sick or disabled individual could return to the workforce in some capacity is just madness.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    The benefit system does need to be changed and should be a safety net, rather than a way of life for many.

    The private sector I believe are largely responsible for this situation indirectly with low rates of pay, which are subsidised by the benefits system.

    All work will in the future will be for a means tested income with a small donation from the private sector in the form of minimum wage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    It will always be difficult to separate the genuine cases from the skivers. The people with crippling back pain from those who are perfectly heathy but bone idle.

    The answer is that, once they are identified, the freeloaders should face massive penalties.


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