The House of Lords has defeated the government again over welfare reform bill proposals to cut £30 a week from the benefits of ill and disabled people who have been found unfit to work.
Peers passed an amendment which calls on ministers to deliver a formal assessment of the likely impact of the cut on the health, finances and work prospects of hundreds of thousands of claimants who will see their unemployment benefits reduced by £1,500 a year.
The 286-219 vote repeats the government defeat on planned cuts to employment and support allowance (ESA) in January, sending the proposal back to the House of Commons and prolonging the “ping-pong” over the issue between the two houses.
MPs voted voted down the original Lords amendement in the Commons last week, despite a handful of Tory MPs speaking out against the bill. Heidi Allen, MP for South Cambridgeshire, issued a “warning shot” to her own party by saying she was uncomfortable with the cuts and may vote against the government if it did not listen to the Lords on the issue.
Ministers have argued that cutting the ESA for new claimants placed in the work-related activity group (Wrag) from April 2017 would provide an incentive for them to return to work.
But peers have contested the claim, saying there is no evidence that the proposed cut would help ESA Wrag recipients get back into employment, while campaigners say the cut will push claimants further into poverty.
There are currently about 500,000 people in the Wrag group, who have been formally declared too ill to work but well enough to undergo work-related interviews or training. The cut to Wrag payments would see individuals’ weekly unemployment benefit fall from £102.15 to £73.10. The government estimates that the cut would save the Treasury £1.4bn over four years.
Allen warned the Commons last week: “If we don’t get this right we will damage not just the employment prospects and wellbeing of these vulnerable claimants, but also our reputation and our trust among the electorate.”
Rob Holland, parliamentary manager at the learning disability charity Mencap, said the vote reflected overwhelming public opposition to the cut. “So far the government has failed to offer any robust evidence as to why they should cut this key benefit for sick and disabled people who have been found currently ‘unfit for work’.
“This amendment passed by the Lords offers a sensible option to the government of carrying out a thorough and wide-ranging assessment of the £30-a- week cut. It reflects the concerns from disabled people and their families that the government has not understood the impact of the cut on disabled people’s finances, their health and their ability to move towards work.”
Elliott Dunster, group head of policy, research and public affairs at disability charity Scope, said: “Disabled people are pushing to find jobs and get on at work, but they continue to face huge barriers, from employer attitudes to inaccessible workplaces.
“Reducing disabled people’s incomes won’t incentivise them to find a job. It will just make life harder.”
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