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

Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voices

News
people

Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
The last great picture - Winner 'Black and White' and overall 'Wildlife Photographer of the Year'
art
News
Carl Bernstein (left) and Bob Woodward (right) with former 'Washington Post' executive editor Ben Bradlee
people

The Washington Post editor helped Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein bring down President Nixon

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
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

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Progressive Rec.

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: The SThree group is a world le...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Real Staffing

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: The SThree group is a world le...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Manchester - Computer Futures

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Computer Futures (an SThree br...

SEN Learning Support Assistant

£60 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: Youth Support Workers Glouceste...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London