Labour will force a vote in the House of Commons on whether to go ahead with the Government’s disability benefits cuts, Jeremy Corbyn has said.
The Labour leader said the Government had “declared war on the disabled” with the changes, which would see 370,000 disabled people lose an average of £3,500 a year, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
Cuts to the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) confirmed by the Chancellor yesterday will raise £4.4 billion by 2020, by stripping people who use specially adapted appliances of payments.
The opposition party has highlighted the fact the changes will save roughly as much money as the Government spent cutting the higher rate of tax for the top 15 per cent of earners – unveiled in the same Budget.
“We are going to force a vote on this. We’re launching a petition this morning against this, because what the Chancellor is doing is demanding that those with disabilities who want to lead the most independent life they can pay for his corporation tax cuts,” he told BBC News.
“Surely as a society we’re good enough, big enough and open enough to say we want everybody to fulfil their dreams in their lives. That’s what this is about, independence for those with disabilities.
“Any of us could become disabled at any time. We’re just a car accident away from a major disability. We should think about that.”
Ministers have previously pushed benefit cuts through as statutory instruments, which do not have to be debated, and denoted them as financial instruments to prevent the House of Lords from blocking them.
Any vote forced by Labour would likely be non-binding on ministers – but a major defeat could push them into a climbdown if it felt it was losing support.
Under parliamentary procedure, opposition party can use its 'opposition day' debates to highlight certain issues and call symbolic votes.
Several Tory MPs have publicly voiced opposition to the cuts, with Cabinet minister Nicky Morgan last night saying they were simply a “suggestion” despite their inclusion in the Budget.
The Government has only a slim majority – meaning even a fairly small rebellion by Conservative backbenchers could derail the plans, which charities have warned would make life more difficult for people with disabilities.
Last year opposition from backbenchers and Labour pushed the Government into a damaging climbdown on the majority of its tax credit cuts, which have been postoned until 2020.
7 ways the Tories have ‘helped’ disabled people
7 ways the Tories have ‘helped’ disabled people
1/7 Closing Remploy factories
The Work and Pensions Secretary called time on Britain’s system of Remploy factories, which provided subsidised and sheltered employment to disabled people. People employed at the factories protested against their closure and said they provided gainful work. “Is it a kindness to stick people in some factory where they are not doing any work at all? Just making cups of coffee?” Mr Duncan Smith said at the time, defending the decision. “I promise you this is better.” The Remploy organisation was privatised and sold to American workfare provider Maximus, with the majority of the organisation’s factories closed. The future of the remaining sites is unclear
2/7 Scrapping the Independent Living Fund
The £320m Independent Living Fund was established in 1988 to give financial support to people with disabilities. It was scrapped on July 1 2015, with 18,000 often severely disabled people losing out by an average of £300 a week. The money was generally used to help pay for carers so people could live in communities rather than institutions. Councils will get a boost in funding to compensate but it will not cover the whole cost of the fund. This new cash also doesn’t have to be spent on the disabled
3/7 Cut payments for the disabled Access To Work scheme
Iain Duncan Smith is bringing forward a policy that will reduce payments to some disabled people from a scheme designed to help them into work. The £108m scheme, which helps 35,540 people, will be capped on a per-used basis, potentially hitting those with the more serious disabilities who currently receive the most help. The single biggest users of the fund are people who have difficulty seeing and hearing. The cut will come in from October 2015. The charity Disability UK says the scheme actually makes the Government money because the people who gain access to work tend pay tax that more than covers its cost. The DWP does not describe the reduction as a “cut” and says it will be able to spread the money more thinly and cover more people
4/7 Cut Employment and Support Allowance
The latest Budget included a £30 a week cut in disability benefits for some new claimants of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). The Government says it is equalising the rate of disability benefits with Jobseekers Allowance because giving disabled people more help is a “perverse incentive”. The people affected by this cut are those assessed as having a limited capability for work but as being capable of some “work-related activity”. A group of prominent Catholics wrote to Mr Duncan Smith to say there was “no justification” for this cut. Mental health charity Mind, said the cut was “insulting and misguided”
5/7 Risk homelessness with a sharp increase disability benefit sanctions
Official figures in the first quarter of 2014 found a huge increase in sanctions against people reliant on ESA sickness benefit. The 15,955 sanctions were handed out in that period compared to 3,574 in the same period the year before, 2013 – a 4.5 times increase. The homelessness charity Crisis warned at the time that the sharp rise in temporary benefit cuts was “cruel and can leave people utterly destitute – without money even for food and at severe risk of homelessness”. “It is difficult to see how they are meant to help people prepare for work,” Matt Downie, director of policy at the charity added
6/7 Sending sick people to work because of broken fitness to work tests
In 2012 a government advisor appointed to review the Government’s Work Capability Assessment said the tests causing suffering by sending sick people back to work inappropriately. “There are certainly areas where it's still not working and I am sorry there are people going through a system which I think still needs improvement,” Professor Malcolm Harrington concluded. The tests are said to have improved since then, but as recently as this summer they are still coming in for criticism. In June the British Psychological Society said there was “now significant body of evidence that the WCA is failing to assess people’s fitness for work accurately and appropriately”. It called for a full overhaul of the way the tests are carried out. The WCA appeals system has also been fraught with controversy with a very high rate of overturns and delays lasting months and blamed for hardship
7/7 The bedroom tax
The Government’s benefit cut for people who it says are “under-occupying” their homes disproportionately affects disabled people. Statistics released last year show that around two-thirds of those affected by the under-occupancy penalty, widely known as the ‘bedroom tax’, are disabled. There have been a number of high profile cases of disabled people being moved out of specially adapted homes by the policy. In one case publicised by the Sunday People last week, a 48 year old man with cerebral palsy was forced to bathe in a paddling pool after the tax moved him out of his home with a walk-in shower. The Government says it has provided councils with a discretionary fund to help reduce the policy’s impact on disabled people, but cases continue to arise
A poll conducted by YouGov after the Budget found that 70 per cent of the public believe the cuts are the wrong priority, with only 13 per cent believing they are a good idea.
Sources close to Iain Duncan Smith this morning however suggested a U-turn would not be forthcoming, while a Downing Street spokesperson said:
“We have got the time now to bring forward the legislative proposals to be explaining it to colleagues across the House and explaining it to disability groups.
“This is about taking PIP back to what it was originally intended to do, to target the support on the most vulnerable and the most in need.”