Parliament: Welfare - Rebels may force further concessions on benefits

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT may be forced to make further concessions on benefit cuts for the disabled before Parliament approves the Welfare Reform Bill.

About 50 Labour MPs may vote against the Government tonight over incapacity benefit restrictions. Although the Government would win the Commons vote, it still has to get the Bill through the Lords, which has already demanded more concessions than those on offer.

Last night, Downing Street insisted there would be no further concession, but the Government's hand may be forced because peers are expected to reject the proposals for a second time on Monday. The parliamentary session ends next week, so the Bill could be delayed for a year unless peers can be persuaded to approve it.

Although a handful of the 67 MPs who rebelled in May have been won over by concessionsannounced on Monday, ministers are privately worried that a rebellion by between 40 and 60 Labour MPs would encourage the Lords to block the Bill.

Government sources admitted that only three rebels had been persuaded to support the Government during a "charm offensive" by Alistair Darling, Secretary of State for Social Security.

Roger Berry, MP for Kingswood and a leader of the revolt, said he believed that, in the absence of further significant concessions, many who abstained or voted with the Government in May would vote against it tonight. "Many colleagues gave the Government the benefit of the doubt last time - I don't think they will do so this time," he said.

The disabled rights campaigner Lord Ashley of Stoke said ministers had been mistaken to reject compromise amendments he tabled. "The Government is making a rod for its own back and it is going to suffer from that. I believe it will not get it through the House of Lords. Then we are faced with a real deadlock."

Yesterday, Mr Darling amended the Bill to allow incapacity benefit recipients to receive pounds 85 a week from occupational pensions instead of pounds 50, and extended the time limit on national insurance exclusions. Lord Ashley described the concessions as "piffling".

Groups representing the disabled also rejected Mr Darling's revised proposals.

The original plan was that anyone who had not made national insurance contributions in the previous two years would be denied incapacity benefit. Mr Darling extended that to three years.

David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, will tell the left-wing think-tank Demos that he is developing plans to ensure that the unemployed receive benefits only if they are willing to join New Deal job-finding schemes. He will say: "The future challenge will be to apply this approach more to our systems and programmes. Something for something gives people a stake in the future. We can expand this approach."