Tory plans to slash benefits for hundreds of thousands sick and disabled people have been delivered a heavy setback today, after the House of Lords refused to back the controversial policy.
Peers voted by 283 to 198 against a £30 a week cut in benefits for sick and disabled people in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA, sending the policy back to the House of Commons for reconsideration.
MP’s will now have to look again at the proposal, which campaigners warn would “push sick and disabled people further away from work and closer to poverty”.
In an open letter sent to the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith last week, the heads of 30 charities also said the cuts would undermine the Government’s commitment to halve the disability employment gap.
Rob Holland, Parliamentary Manager at Mencap and co-chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium, welcomed today’s vote in the Lords: “Disabled people will be hugely encouraged that Peers have listened to their concerns and voted against cutting the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
“The Government wants to get more disabled people into work, but as a sector we have warned that cutting ESA WRAG, and its equivalent payment in Universal Credit, will directly undermine that commitment whilst pushing disabled people further from work and closer to or into poverty.
“This proposed cut together with the crisis in social care funding means disabled people are facing losses to critical support they need to make ends meet and to be included in society.
“The Government can no longer ignore the widespread opposition to this, which now also faces huge public opposition with just 6% of the people thinking welfare cuts will make the UK a better place for disabled people to live.
“This vote by the Lords should add further evidence of the deep unease amongst disabled people and the wider public around cutting ESA WRAG and the equivalent in Universal Credit. We now urge the Government to take note of this, and halt this cut.”
The Government has suffered a number of recent defeats over policies included in its Welfare Reform and Work Bill, not to mention more than a few U-turns, including being forced to delay plans to cap Housing Benefit for social housing tenants. Those plans have now been delayed for a year, pending the publication of a review.
Housing experts had previously warned that up to 82,000 specialist homes for vulnerable social groups – including the elderly, homeless, disabled and victims of domestic violence – would be forced to close if cuts to Housing Benefit went ahead.
Denise Hatton, YMCA England Chief Executive, said: “It is positive that the Government has listened to the concerns of the sector and we welcome the fact it has taken appropriate action to protect supported housing.
“Organisations such as YMCA play a vital role in helping young people to move on from homelessness and overcome their often complex support needs. Operating on such tight financial margins means that Housing Benefit forms a vital part of this supported housing funding.
“We hope this time is used to work together to create a funding model that meets the Government’s own pressures while also addressing the needs of the vulnerable people the sector supports 365-days-a-year.”
On Monday, Peers in the Lords voted by 290 to 198 to keep income-related poverty measures, forcing the Government to reconsider its plan to abolish the measure in favour of a system which focuses more on “life chances”.
Alison Garnham, Child Poverty Action Group Chief Executive, said the vote “shows how much of a mess the Government has got itself into on poverty”.
She added: “It’s needed the House of Lords to act and insist that, yes, the Government should continue to report to parliament on what’s happening to child poverty and, yes, that when you talk about poverty and life chances, you cannot simply ignore income.
“The Lords is on the side of the experts and the public here”, she said.
The Government has also been forced to exempt full-time carers from the controversial benefit cap, after a High Court ruling found that the benefit cap unlawfully discriminates against disabled people and their carers.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “In recognition of the hugely important contribution carers make to society, we will be exempting all recipients of carer’s allowance from the benefit cap.”
But the U-turns and defeats don’t end there. The Government has also announced that it will now exempt kinship carers from the new two-child limit on Child Tax Credit, in the face of warnings that it would result in more children being placed in the care system.
Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Minister, Maeve Sherlock, said: “Having resisted calls to exempt these groups throughout the passage of this bill, the government has finally seen sense and exempted kinship carers and claimants with adopted siblings from the deeply unfair two child limit.”
At first glance it would appear as if the Tories’ Welfare Reform and Work Bill is falling apart at the seams, but the Government remains committed to pushing through savage cuts to welfare benefits.
In other news, the hated ‘Bedroom Tax’ was delivered a heavy blow today, after the Court of Appeal ruled that it unlawfully discriminates against disabled children in need of care and victims of domestic violence.