UK Politics

Welfare Bill: Changes to continue despite Lords defeats

  • 12 January 2012
  • From the section UK Politics
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Houses of Parliament
Image caption Labour have urged ministers to drop the proposals after the defeats in the Lords

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.

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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