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Published on January 12th, 2012 | by Ben Mansfield
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[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="356" caption="The House of Lords ruled against the government's proposals for employment and support allowance (ESA) © Lemoncat1"][/caption]
Controversial plans to cut disability benefits faced a setback yesterday, as the government lost all three votes in the House of Lords. The new system of employment support allowance (ESA), which replaced the old incapacity benefit, has come under fire from activists who argue that it is wrong that disabled people should be made to pay for the financial crisis. Stories like those of Sue Marsh and Mark Sparrow have galvanised opposition to the reforms since the first wave of changes were introduced. Conservative Mayor of London Boris Johnson is also among the bill’s critics, saying it could “condemn the parents of disabled children and young people, and the children themselves, to a life of financial hardship”.
So what parts of the government bill did the Lords reject? The first of the three amendments passed by the Lords was to protect an estimated 15,000 disabled young people from the effects of the cuts to ESA, which passed by 260 to 216 votes. The second amendment, which was passed by 234 votes to 186, regarded the length of time a successful claim should last, and proposed a 2 year period instead of the government bill’s 1 year. And the third amendment, which was specific to claimants who had cancer, argued that there should be no arbitrary time limit to their ESA, and was passed by 260 votes to 216. Conservative and Liberal Democrat Peers mostly defended the government bill, but were outnumbered by an alliance of Labour and crossbench Peers, the latter having been heavily lobbied by disability campaigners (the actions of whom were arguably pivotal in yesterday’s result). The debate also produced some highly charged, memorable exchanges between Peers (a commentary is available here). The welfare minister Lord Freud claimed that the cost of amending the bill so that ESA would last for 2 years instead of one would be £1.6bn over the first five years. Such a plan fails to address the deficit and would never make it through the Commons, he said. By contrast, he argued, the government’s proposals struck a more “reasonable balance between the needs of sick, disabled people claiming benefit and those who have to contribute towards the cost”. Regarding the amendment affecting 15,000 disabled young people, he said that 9 out of 10 of those affected by the change would still get the income-related part of ESA. As for the removal of their contributory part of ESA, it was only fair that they lose this since they had not “paid in” any contributions . As the rules stand, young people under 20 who are unable to work are automatically treated as though they have made National Insurance (NI) contributions. The logic of this is that the vast majority of these claimants have never been able to work, and so are not penalized for their lack of contributions- a provision which would be removed if Clause 52 of the government’s welfare reform bill  passes into law. Lord Patel, the crossbencher and doctor who introduced the amendment, questioned the fairness of the plans: “I am sympathetic to cutting the deficit, but I am highly sympathetic to sick and vulnerable people not being subjected to something that will make their lives even more miserable”. Supported by the shadow welfare minister Lord McKenzie, he said that the ESA cuts would hit the 1% most in need in our society: the sick, the poverty stricken, the disabled. “If we are going to rob the poor to pay the rich, then we enter into a different form of morality,” he added, pointing out that the amendment merely advocates a reduction in the savings made from this most vulnerable of groups, not new or extra funding for them. He then went on in his speech to discuss the acute sufferings of cancer patients, who he said were not scroungers. Employment minister Chris Grayling, meanwhile, has said in reaction to the defeat that the proposals will go ahead regardless once the legislation is sent back to the House of Commons to have the final say, and that the government “can't provide everything to everyone”  . It is true that the government has the Commons majority necessary to force through the legislation if it wants. Nonetheless, this resounding rejection from the Lords will delay the process, as the discussion gets more and more public attention. If opposition continues to mount, the government will have to choose between accepting some of the Lords’ amendments, proposing a watered-down version, or simply taking no notice; though this last option could cost them a great deal of political capital.

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Cuts to disability benefits rejected by House of Lords

The House of Lords ruled against the government's proposals for employment and support allowance (ESA) © Lemoncat1

Controversial plans to cut disability benefits faced a setback yesterday, as the government lost all three votes in the House of Lords. The new system of employment support allowance (ESA), which replaced the old incapacity benefit, has come under fire from activists who argue that it is wrong that disabled people should be made to pay for the financial crisis. Stories like those of Sue Marsh and Mark Sparrow have galvanised opposition to the reforms since the first wave of changes were introduced. Conservative Mayor of London Boris Johnson is also among the bill’s critics, saying it could “condemn the parents of disabled children and young people, and the children themselves, to a life of financial hardship”.

So what parts of the government bill did the Lords reject? The first of the three amendments passed by the Lords was to protect an estimated 15,000 disabled young people from the effects of the cuts to ESA, which passed by 260 to 216 votes. The second amendment, which was passed by 234 votes to 186, regarded the length of time a successful claim should last, and proposed a 2 year period instead of the government bill’s 1 year. And the third amendment, which was specific to claimants who had cancer, argued that there should be no arbitrary time limit to their ESA, and was passed by 260 votes to 216. Conservative and Liberal Democrat Peers mostly defended the government bill, but were outnumbered by an alliance of Labour and crossbench Peers, the latter having been heavily lobbied by disability campaigners (the actions of whom were arguably pivotal in yesterday’s result).

The debate also produced some highly charged, memorable exchanges between Peers (a commentary is available here). The welfare minister Lord Freud claimed that the cost of amending the bill so that ESA would last for 2 years instead of one would be £1.6bn over the first five years. Such a plan fails to address the deficit and would never make it through the Commons, he said. By contrast, he argued, the government’s proposals struck a more “reasonable balance between the needs of sick, disabled people claiming benefit and those who have to contribute towards the cost”. Regarding the amendment affecting 15,000 disabled young people, he said that 9 out of 10 of those affected by the change would still get the income-related part of ESA. As for the removal of their contributory part of ESA, it was only fair that they lose this since they had not “paid in” any contributions . As the rules stand, young people under 20 who are unable to work are automatically treated as though they have made National Insurance (NI) contributions. The logic of this is that the vast majority of these claimants have never been able to work, and so are not penalized for their lack of contributions- a provision which would be removed if Clause 52 of the government’s welfare reform bill  passes into law.

Lord Patel, the crossbencher and doctor who introduced the amendment, questioned the fairness of the plans: “I am sympathetic to cutting the deficit, but I am highly sympathetic to sick and vulnerable people not being subjected to something that will make their lives even more miserable”. Supported by the shadow welfare minister Lord McKenzie, he said that the ESA cuts would hit the 1% most in need in our society: the sick, the poverty stricken, the disabled. “If we are going to rob the poor to pay the rich, then we enter into a different form of morality,” he added, pointing out that the amendment merely advocates a reduction in the savings made from this most vulnerable of groups, not new or extra funding for them. He then went on in his speech to discuss the acute sufferings of cancer patients, who he said were not scroungers.

Employment minister Chris Grayling, meanwhile, has said in reaction to the defeat that the proposals will go ahead regardless once the legislation is sent back to the House of Commons to have the final say, and that the government “can’t provide everything to everyone”  . It is true that the government has the Commons majority necessary to force through the legislation if it wants. Nonetheless, this resounding rejection from the Lords will delay the process, as the discussion gets more and more public attention. If opposition continues to mount, the government will have to choose between accepting some of the Lords’ amendments, proposing a watered-down version, or simply taking no notice; though this last option could cost them a great deal of political capital.

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  • Nicola Cheshire

    My severely disabled daughter turned 19 this year and as had to leave school what a nightmare to claim her benifits firstly she's always been disabled born with translocation trisomy 11q 22q . Can't walk ,talk fed by a tube straight in her tummy, asnt got a immune system . But because she's now left school we've got to prove she can't work . We couldn't make the claim for the ESA before the child tax credits ran out so we've now been without money for her for 2 weeks we've been told we've got to wait 13 weeks before we get the full benefit had to send a sick note in to might have to take her for a medical . This is disgusting it's not that she's not been on the system sinse she was born so they know about her. While they decide wether our daughter could work or not we are now getting into debt so I blame the government for this there should be special measures in place for children with complex needs . Our daughter is very smalll asnt developed still looks like a child still is a child plays with baby toys watches children's tv and DVDs . Nothing as changed she still as her medical problems she's still double incontenant with severe bowel problems which cause us lots of washing daily . So while they decide she can't work we've got to suffer get into more debt also forgot to say you don't get the money back dater either so not have you got to wait but you've also got to loose money too. We've had loade of letters back none that make sense though . One says we're untitled to 73.00 a week the next says that we are only entitled to 71.00 a week this I find really upsetting we use to get 160.00 with child tax credits and family alliance . When they've decided our daughter can't work we are only going to be getting 101.00 a week paid every 2 weeks . So we are 60.00 a week worse off. So we are not just getting into more debt but we are loosing a lot of money even though our daughterbis going to be at home more as there isn't any day care for now she's left school so it's going to cost more for heating washing . Don't the government know that cost of living gone up. We feel weve been made to feel that it's our fault our daughter is severely disabled and that we are getting penalised for it I've received payment today for 81.00 that's got to last us a fortnight now. I could use that just on electric and gas. There's no wonder people kill there selfs it's getting me down all this and I suffer from severe depression so it's making me I'll . We were manage ring to get by before this but this as put us back big time . It's not fair , if I was a foreigner then this wouldn't be happening think the government should look to looking after our own

  • Sherlock

    David Cameron and his merry men, steal from the poor and give to the rich!

    Roll on the next election and we the people can rid ourselves of this motley crew!

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