Welfare reform challenge defeated

 

The Government comfortably survived the first of a series of crucial challenges to its controversial welfare reforms in the Lords today.

Ministers saw off a Labour-led move to exempt families threatened by homelessness from a benefits cap by 250 votes to 222, majority 28.

The vote came after work and pensions minister Lord Freud condemned the bid as a "wrecking amendment" which would render the policy "unworkable".

Opposition spokesman Lord McKenzie of Luton said his party backed the £26,000-a-year benefit cap but it had to be "based on fairness".

In report stage debate on the Welfare Reform Bill, Lord McKenzie warned that the cap "dramatically increased the prospects" of people becoming homeless and could force hard-pressed councils to pick up an even more expensive bill to re-house them.

He said the emotional and physical impact of uprooting families, and children in particular, from their local communities would be "traumatic".

But Lord Freud defended the cap, insisting households should not be able to receive more in benefits than the average family earned from work.

"People on benefits should face the same choices as working families, including where they can afford to live," he said.

After suffering three defeats on the legislation recently, ministers are facing a concerted attack from Labour peers, Church of England bishops and some Liberal Democrat rebels who want concessions.

Former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown warned yesterday that the plans to cap benefits were "completely unacceptable" in their current form.

Lord Freud promised an "organised" one-year transition period, telling peers: "Someone in work should always be better off than someone on benefits.

"The proposed cap of £500 a week is equivalent to an annual salary of £35,000 a year before tax."

Lord Freud said: "The worst thing for youngsters is to be in a workless household.

"We need to change behaviours and this benefit cap is designed to do that. We need to move towards the cap in a highly organised way.

"We will have a year to work with those families who are going to be affected."

Lord Freud said the simple answer for the bulk of them was to get them into work.

Lord Ashdown said the Government was doing something "extremely important" in reforming welfare and he supported them, but he threatened to vote with Labour on the amendment.

"I'm in favour of a benefit cap - I think it is important," he said. "But I think before we vote for this it is important to have a look at at least some of the transitional mechanisms."

Fellow Lib Dem Baroness Walmsley warned that she would vote with Labour on the amendment.

She said that although she supported the cap, there was a "potential for innocent victims of the Bill as it stands".

She added: "What we need to do is send it (the Bill) back to the Commons and tell them to think a little more about the measures that will be put in place - and I hope they are and I know the Government intends that they will be - to ensure that families with children are not made homeless."

The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, the Rt Rev John Packer, a co-sponsor of the amendment, warned of the danger of children being forced to move school as a result of their parents becoming unemployed.

"This amendment will go some way to preventing a spiral of homelessness and it will relieve the pressure on some of those vulnerable people who are affected by this cap," he said.

The bishop later introduced an amendment that would exempt child benefit from the £26,000 cap - a move shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne told the Commons earlier his party would support.

Bishop Packer said the cap "failed to differentiate between households with children and those without".

"It cannot be right for that to be the same for a childless couple as for a couple with children," he said. "Child benefit is the most appropriate way to right this unfairness."

He argued that the effect of the cap was to deny child benefit payments to people whose other benefits had reached £500 a week.

"This cap is not simply targeted at wealthy families living in large houses," he said. "It will damage those who have to pay high rents because often that rent has increased substantially in the course of their occupancy of that house."

He said the cost of the amendment would be £113 million a year, which he said was a very small amount in comparison to the entire welfare budget.

Liberal Democrat Lord Greaves said the Government's plans were the beginning of a "slippery slope".

"What is being proposed undermines the whole principle of child benefit," he said.

And Liberal Democrat Baroness Tyler of Enfield, chief executive of the relationship charity Relate, said: "I do not think children should be the innocent victims of this policy."

She warned there was a "penalty" for couples with children staying together, as if they split up it would enable both families to claim up to £26,000.

Later analysis of division lists showed there were 17 Liberal Democrat rebels: Lords Avebury, Greaves, Kirkwood of Kirkhope, Maclennan of Rogart, Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, Roberts of Llandudno, Shipley, Smith of Clifton, Taylor of Goss Moor, and Baronesses Hamwee, Hussein-Ece, Miller of Chilthorne Domer, Sharp of Guildford, Thomas of Winchester, Tonge, Tyler of Enfield and Walmsley.

The other supporters of Lord McKenzie's amendment were 161 Labour peers, 31 crossbenchers, eight others and the bishops of Chichester, Leicester, Lichfield, Manchester, and Ripon and Leeds.

The Government was backed by 148 Tories, 42 Liberal Democrats, 52 crossbenchers, seven others and Labour peer Lord Donoughue.

PA

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
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
News
i100
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
News
i100
News
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
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
Latest stories from i100
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

C# Developer (C#, ASP.NET Developer, SQL, MVC, WPF, Real-Time F

£40000 - £48000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Devel...

C# Swift Payment Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC, Authorize.N

£45000 - £60000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Swift...

Front-End Developer (JavaScript, HTML5, CSS3, C#, GUI)

£55000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End Deve...

Graduate C# Developer (.NET, WPF, SQL, Agile, C++) - London

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Graduate C# De...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?