Nick Clegg under pressure from Lib Dem activists to water down Coalition’s welfare reforms
Fear that vulnerable people are ‘falling through the safety net’
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Tuesday 13 May 2014
Nick Clegg is under pressure from Liberal Democrat activists to water down the Coalition’s controversial welfare reforms because they fear that vulnerable people are “falling through the safety net”.
Grassroots Lib Dems want the “bedroom tax” changed or abolished, and are demanding emergency government cash help for food banks.
They believe the huge rise in the number of people in “food poverty” is due partly to tighter benefit penalties on the unemployed, delays in paying benefits, and the £26,000-a-year cap on welfare payments for each family.
The Social Liberal Forum (SLF), the biggest left of centre pressure group inside the party, is pressing Mr Clegg and other Lib Dem ministers to make changes after a wholesale review of the Coalition’s approach to welfare.
The move comes as the party braces itself for a voter backlash in next week’s European and local elections.
The SLF will discuss welfare and food poverty at its annual conference in July. It will also call for changes at the Lib Dem conference in Glasgow in October, which will approve the outline of the party’s general election manifesto.
Gareth Epps, the SLF’s co-chairman, told The Independent the group accepted the need for welfare reform, but argued that it was being implemented in a way that caused hardship.
The review should also include disability and carer benefits, he said.
“The so-called ‘bedroom tax’ should certainly be reviewed, and the evidence I have seen supports radical reform if not outright abolition. The priority must be to meet housing need by building enough new homes, not by attacking those who suffer the consequences of Britain’s housing crisis,” he said.
The SLF is worried that the Coalition’s welfare policy is pushing people to food banks at a time when cuts to local authority budgets mean they can give less help to charities.
The Trussell Trust, the biggest charitable provider, reported last month that it handed out 913,000 food parcels in the previous 12 months, up from 347,000 in the 12 months before that. It said benefit payment delays were the main cause for the increase.
Kelly-Marie Blundell, the Lib Dems’ prospective parliamentary candidate in Guildford, said: “There is absolutely no excuse, no reason for people to go hungry, especially not in a First World country. People need to know that anyone being in food poverty is simply unacceptable. We must tackle it.”
Ros Kayes, who will fight West Dorset at the general election, said: “The Government should certainly be providing grant funding to food banks... until the review has been undertaken and the necessary measures taken to address the impact of benefit sanctions and caps on food poverty.”
A Lib Dem spokesman said: “The Liberal Democrats are very proud of our democratic policy-making process and all the issues here have been debated at our recent conferences.
“A review of the spare room subsidy [known as the ‘bedroom tax’] is now happening in government. On top of that, Lib Dems in the Coalition have ensured that there is £180m of hard cash available to councils to help with hard cases.
“On food banks, the party also passed a motion at our recent spring conference, which praised the great work food banks do in helping people in a range of difficult circumstances, and acknowledged the need for people accessing food banks to be made aware of the hardship support available to them by the state through bodies like Jobcentre Plus.”
- 1 The BBC has just done more to eradicate ‘terrorism’ than all our wars since 9/11
- 2 Dog thinks owner is drowning in lake, dives in and tries to pull him out
- 4 Chilling drone footage captures Auschwitz ahead of 70th anniversary of liberation
Asteroid narrowly scrapes past Earth: how to watch the closest space rock for decades as it flies by
Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
Greece elections: Greek PM Alexis Tsipras takes aim at 'neo-liberal' Europe as country gears up for prolonged austerity battle
Pornhub star Mia Khalifa receives death threats after being ranked the site's top adult actress
Prince Philip set to be knighted by Australia: Celebrate by reading his greatest gaffes
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
Islamic history is full of free thinkers - but recent attempts to suppress critical thought are verging on the absurd
Leaked documents show Ukip leaders approve NHS privatisation once it becomes more 'acceptable to the electorate'
£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...
£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...
£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...
£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...