New threat of rebellion over war pensions

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The Independent Online
THE Government was facing a fresh welfare rebellion last night after it announced that it was carrying out a threat by the past Tory government to impose a pounds 35m cut on the war pensions for deaf ex-soldiers.

The veteran welfare campaigner, Lord Ashley, who has had an operation to help him overcome deafness, led the protests at the Government decision to endorse a decision which Labour had vehemently attacked when it was proposed by the Tories.

The cuts, which will be imposed on future claimants for hearing loss disability following a review, will reinforce a protest by disability rights campaigners at a wide range of welfare issues.

Lord Ashley will be one of the key speakers at a mass lobby of Parliament next Tuesday in advance of the Budget to stop means-testing or taxing of disability benefits.

"The Government's statement that they will not harm people who are disabled and in need is not enough to reassure disabled people when it is set against a background of recent benefit cuts which many are experiencing," said a spokesman for the disability benefits consortium.

Threats to benefits the campaigners highlighted include: the benefits integrity project under which nearly one in five disabled people who have been assessed have lost or had cuts to their disability living allowance; a leaked memo from the Department of Social Security showing that the department was aiming to cut pounds 2bn off disability spending in the short term; and cuts of pounds 2.5bn in disability benefits inherited from the Conservative government.

The campaigners will call on Harriet Harman, the Secretary of State for Social Security, to suspend the benefits integrity project as "fundamentally flawed", and to set up a disability benefits taskforce involving disability organisations to ensure proper consultation on reform of benefits.

The decision to cut future payments of war pension was slipped out in a written answer in the House of Lords by Baroness Hollis, the social security minister, who said that the medical review headed by Sir Kenneth Calman, the Government's chief medical officer, concluded there was "no progression" of deafness after the sufferer was removed form the source of the noise - such as shellfire - which may have caused an injury to the servicemen's hearing.

Special measures will be introduced to protect the payments of the 10,000 war pensioners who received the additional benefits, and it will be reviewed in a year.

But the Conservative peer Lord Mackay of Ardbrechnish accused the Prime Minister of having to play politics with the disabled.

He said: "Tony Blair said that the changes we introduced were both shabby and mean-minded. Now he has been forced to eat his own words."