Labour urges welfare reform rethink

 

The Government is being urged by Labour to abandon contentious welfare reforms after a series of defeats in the Lords.

Planned restrictions on employment and support allowance (ESA) affecting cancer patients and the disabled were overturned by peers considering the Welfare Reform Bill.

The Lords also rejected a proposed one-year limit on ESA claims.

Labour said the coalition had been defeated for trying to "cross the basic line of British decency" and urged ministers not to try to reinstate the measures in the Commons.

The Government was defeated by 234 to 186, majority 48, over a plan to limit to one year the time people can claim ESA.

Peers agreed a move to replace the one-year cap with the ability for the Government to specify a limit of no less than two years.

Leading medic Lord Patel, an independent crossbench peer, said: "I am sympathetic to cutting the deficit, but I am highly sympathetic to sick and vulnerable people not being subjected to something that will make their lives even more miserable."

The Government was also defeated when peers voted by 222 to 166, majority 56, to accept another amendment by Lord Patel removing the time limit on contributory ESA payments from people receiving treatment for cancer.

Shadow welfare minister Lord McKenzie attacked the Government's proposal as "fundamentally unfair" and called for a limit to be reached after "an evidence-based process" and not chosen as an "an arbitrary figure".

But Welfare Reform Minister Lord Freud said the effect of increasing the time limit from one to two years would be £1.6 billion over five years.

He said the proposal to time-limit contributory ESA only applied to people in the "work-related activity group" and not those in the "support group" who were deemed incapable of work.

"Those in the support group and those claiming income-related ESA are unaffected by these proposals," he said.

"We will always provide a safety net for those with limited income and people will still be able to claim income-related ESA."

He said that other benefits such as housing benefit and council tax benefit would be available.

But he said it was right to time-limit contributory ESA in the same way that contributory Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) was time-limited.

Peers also defeated the Government by 260 to 216, majority 44, to allow young people unable to work because of disability to receive the ESA.

Putting forward the amendment, independent crossbencher Baroness Meacher said the Government's plan would mean disabled children who could never work would never be entitled to the benefit. She said it would leave them dependent on means testing and they would receive no income at all if their partner was earning.

Lady Meacher told peers: "These young people have conditions so severe that they are entitled to be supported.

"It really puts them in a completely different category from other people who grow up, are able to earn, able to build up capital, able to gain contributions. They are surely in a category of their own."

Shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne said: "The Government has been defeated tonight because quite simply they tried to cross the basic line of British decency.

"For months Labour has been determined to stop this cruel attack on cancer patients in its tracks. And today the House of Lords agreed. The Government's proposal to cut paid for benefits for people still in chemotherapy crosses the basic test of fairness."

He said the Government should now "do the decent thing and take these proposals off the table".

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: "Our plans are about returning the welfare state to its original purpose of supporting those with the most need. This means ensuring that taxpayers' money is spent on those who are too sick or disabled to work and those with the least money.

"ESA is for people who could be expected to get back into work and was never intended to be a long term benefit.

"The time-limit of one year strikes the best balance between recognising that some people need extra help to enter the workplace and that the taxpayer cannot afford to support people indefinitely who could be in employment."

PA

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

The Green Recruitment Company: Operations Manager - Anaerobic Digestion / Biogas

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Operation...

Recruitment Genius: Account Director - OTE £60,000

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Inbound Sales Executive

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Inbound Sales Executive is required t...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE 40/45k + INCENTIVES + BENEFITS: SThree: The su...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent