Welfare cuts blocked by House of Lords following speech by Paralympic gold medallist Tanni Grey-Thompson

'I was told by a special careers adviser that the best job I could ever get would be answering telephones'

An eleven-time Paralympic gold medallist used a debate in the House of Lords yesterday evening to urge peers to prevent an “ideological” cut to the benefits of ill and disabled people.

Lady Tanni Grey-Thompson, who enjoyed extraordinary success in the Paralympics before becoming a peer in the upper chamber, dismissed ministers’ claims that cutting the benefits of disabled people will incentivise them to find work.  

On Monday evening defiant peers in the Lords, for a second time, rejected the government’s controversial welfare reform bill proposals to slash £30 a week – or over £1,500 year – from the benefits of ill and disabled people who have been found unfit for work. 

It was voted 289 to 219 – a majority of 70 – to delay the cuts pending a parliamentary report on the impact on claimants.

In an emotive speech in the House of Lords during a debate on the bill, the crossbench peer Lady Grey-Thompson said: “It almost feels to me as though we’re putting the blame on the disabled person trying to fix them and not trying to understand the barriers that they face getting into work.”

She added: “I was told by a special careers adviser that the best job I could ever get would be answering telephones and I should not aim too high. That might have been 25 to 30 years ago but right now disabled people are being told similar things.

“It’s hard for me to see how the government taking away £1,500 a year from people who are profoundly limited in their capability for work will be better off under Universal Credit.

“The appeals for ESA work capability assessment logged at HMRC have reached record levels. They are currently at 1.1 million – the highest for all benefits. We need to look at this system. I absolutely think that is essential but right now disabled people are bearing the brunt of the wastage in the system.”

In 2005 she became ‘Dame’ Tanni Grey-Thompson for her services to sport and five years later she was created a life peered and was conferred as Baroness Grey-Thompson, of Eaglescliffe in the County of Durham. She has won eleven gold, four silver and one bronze medal over a 16 year Paralympic career.

The vote in the House of Lords came after work and pensions minister Lord Freud offered concessions to try to head off a revolt and warned peers against supporting a "wrecking amendment" to the welfare reform and work bill.

Conservative ministers are arguing that cutting the ESA entitlement from April 2017 for new claimants in the work-related activity group (Wrag) would provide and incentive for them to return to work. Peers, however, claim there is no evidence of this while campaigners insist it will push benefit claimants into further poverty.  

The Department for Work and Pensions claimed the vote which saw the Government defeated was "routine" and said ministers would respond shortly.

A spokesman said: "The vote in the House of Lords is a routine part of the legislative process and next steps will be announced in due course."