Politics: Mutiny threat as big cuts hit poor

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The Independent Online
The Government faces a Labour mutiny over plans to cut pounds 65m off the benefits of some of the poorest people in the country.

A cross-party alliance backed by more than 25 Labour MPs could force Harriet Harman, Secretary of State for Social Security, to drop a controversial proposal to penalise unemployed people claiming Jobseekers' Allowance.

As The Independent exclusively reported last month, the proposal has been condemned by the Social Security Advisory Committee, the official scrutineers of all welfare orders, who warned of the severe impact on a hard-pressed and vulnerable group, including the homeless.

The Jobseekers' Allowance (Amendment) Regulations, impose the benefit cut by extending from three days to seven the time during which no benefit claim can be made.

The Liberal Democrats' spokesman, David Rendel, was first to oppose the proposed statutory order but he was quickly joined by William Hague and other senior Tories - in spite of the fact that the proposal had been initiated by the last government.

Initially, Labour had opposed the Conservative plan, but Ms Harman now argues that the action is required to stay in line with Conservative spending plans.

It is already known that when the Cabinet reviewed last year's decision to impose benefit cuts on lone parents' child benefit, a number of senior ministers agreed that it would have been better - in retrospect - not to have done it.

Mr Rendel said last night: "The new rebellion threatens to exceed the revolt over the lone parent benefit cut, when 47 Labour MPs backed a Liberal Democrat vote."

He said the benefit cut was both unfair and unnecessary.

A Commons motion tabled by Audrey Wise - the Labour MP who led last year's backbench revolt on lone parents' benefit - regrets that ministers are proceeding with the Tory regulations, and notes "that the Tory front bench has changed its position and is now opposing its own proposal, and therefore calls on the Government to withdraw these Tory regulations which even the Tories have now deserted".

- Anthony Bevins

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