Ashdown leads Lib Dem revolt on welfare reform

Former leader in unprecedented rebellion as bishops join Lords opposition to planned cap on benefits

An alliance of bishops, senior Liberal Democrats and independent peers will today attempt to derail a key element of the Government's welfare reforms by voting against plans for a £26,000-a-year cap on benefits.

In a move that will embarrass Nick Clegg, the former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown said yesterday he would rebel against the Government for the first time over the measure because of the "unacceptable" hardship it would cause children.

He is expected to be joined by other Liberal Democrats, including the party's former Work and Pensions spokesman in the Lords, leading bishops and large numbers of cross-benchers to oppose the extent of the benefits cap in a vote on the proposals in the House of Lords tonight. "I [have] voted with the Government on everything until now," he said.

"I see it as my job as an ex-leader to support my successor but I will not support the benefit cap in its present form."

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, the Liberal Democrats' former spokesman on welfare reform in the Lords, added that a cap was acceptable "in principle". But he added: "Many of us back the bishops' argument that, as it stands, the Bill could split families and visit the sins of the fathers on the children."

Under proposals put forward by the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, the total amount of benefit that working-age people could receive would be capped so that households on out-of-work benefits did not receive more than the average weekly wage earned by working households.

The cap would apply to the combined income from the main out-of-work benefits – jobseeker's allowance, income support and employment support allowance – and other benefits such as housing benefit and child benefit.

In a rare move, the Right Reverend John Packer, Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, has tabled an amendment to the Bill which would exclude child benefit from the cap. He said he had discussed the move with his fellow bishops and it had "extensive" support.

Labour has also proposed an amendment which would exclude families judged at risk of eviction.

He said most of the benefits families received went in rental payments and an arbitrary cap was inappropriate. "People in work on £26,000 a year receive child benefit in addition so it would seem appropriate that those who are capped at that level should also receive child benefit," he said.

"I have discussed this proposal with fellow bishops and a number of other crossbenchers as well. I think there is extensive support from the bishops for any move which can soften the Welfare Bill in such a way that those who are in most need are not hit by it."

But in an interview, Mr Duncan Smith accused the bishops of ignoring the concerns of ordinary families who try to "do the right thing". "The question I'd ask these bishops is, over all these years, why have they sat back and watched people being placed in houses they cannot afford?" he said.

"I would like to see their concerns about ordinary people, who are working hard, paying their tax and commuting long hours, who don't have as much money as they would have otherwise because they're paying tax for all of this."

But the Right Rev Packer retorted: "I am disappointed in his comments. What we are trying to do is provide help to those in most need. That is the whole point of a welfare system.

Lord Ashdown added he hoped the Government would re-think the proposals and bring in safeguards to protect those worst-affected. "I know that Nick Clegg is fighting very, very hard for transition arrangements to be put in place."

But Mr Clegg said he was fully signed up to the changes. "I completely back Iain Duncan Smith on this," he told The Andrew Marr Show. "It surely can't be fair that you can be 'earning', if you like, more on benefits than someone going out earning £35,000."

Labour reacted cautiously, suggesting that it would try to find a compromise. "Labour won't be voting against the benefits cap, but we will be seeking to amend the Bill."

Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
News
peoplePamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
Sport
sportLeague Managers' Association had described Malky Mackay texts as 'friendly banter'
News
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
i100
News
peopleCareer spanned 70 years, including work with Holocaust survivors
News
people
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
News
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Extras
indybest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Nursery Nurse

£40 per day: Randstad Education Manchester: Nursery Nurse needed in salfordI a...

Nursery Nurse

£25 per day: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery nurse needed in th...

Supply Teaching jobs in Thetford

£21588 - £31566 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education ar...

KS1 teachers needed in Peterborough

£110 - £125 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education are ur...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape