Lords may kill benefit cut Bill

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT may be forced to back down over its controversial cuts in benefits for the disabled even if the measure survives a Labour backbench rebellion tonight. Ministers fear the Lords may block the Welfare Reform Bill, which, say pressure groups representing the disabled, will cut incapacity benefit by pounds 750m a year in the long term.

If peers reject the shake-up, the Government would try to overturn the Lords decision in the House of Commons. But this would almost certainly fuel the revolt by Labour MPs against the changes. Already some 67 Labour MPs have backed amendments to the Bill.

Publicly, the rebel leaders claim they can inflict a humiliating defeat on the Government. But some rebels are likely to abstain, allowing the Government to win tonight's vote. The critics admit their best hope is for the Lords to throw out the Bill, forcing ministers to climb down to prevent a bigger revolt when it is sent back to the Commons.

Frank Field, the former minister for welfare reform, said: "The Commons debate will make sure the country knows what is going on. My guess is that the Lords will throw these cuts out. In the autumn, the Government will have to come back - if it has not rethought and listened - to try to impose these cuts. It will be difficult."

Alistair Darling, the Social Security Secretary, said on BBC2's On the Record yesterday: "We are ensuring that the severely disabled get more. We are doing more to help people get into work and bringing the system up to date." The proposed changes would affect only new claimants, he added.

Francis Maude, the shadow Chancellor, said Mr Blair's failure to reform welfare was costing every taxpayer pounds 70 a month, or pounds 3.20 each working day.