An amendment to protect the benefits of disabled children once Universal Credit is introduced has been defeated in the House of Lords.
The vote came as the Welfare Reform Bill entered the first day of report stage after much debate during a 17-day Grand Committee stage yesterday on Monday 12 December 2011.
Three amendments were defeated altogether, as government supporters pushed ahead with their plan to make the poor and vulnerable pay for what critics say is the excess and failure of their allies in the City.
Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, a Crossbencher and the most successful paralympian of all time, put forward changes concerning support for disabled children which was first on the agenda.
Her insertion stated: "any amount of support for disabled children included under section 10 should be no less than the amount that was provided under the benefits and tax credits system prior to the introduction of the universal credit."
The amendment was defeated by a very small margin (187 votes to 189), the closest vote seen so far - something which has given some encouragement to disabled rights campaigners over upcoming struggles.
Nevertheless, there has been disgust and outrage both at the callousness of the measures being put forward by the ruling coalition, and also at the lack of general media interest on the harm being inflicted on disabled people.
Under Universal Credit, all but the most profoundly disabled children will only get half as much support, critics point out. Child Tax Credit additions for disabled children will fall from £52.21 per week to £25.95 per week – a loss of £1366 per year, or £20,000 over the course of a childhood.
"These votes will almost certainly decide what becomes law and what doesn’t. For disabled children, now it’s too late. Shame on us," said campaigner Sue Marsh.
She continued: "There is one more session before Christmas, then four sessions after Christmas, then the final no-going-back vote to pass the bill. There is still time to lobby peers. There is still time to stop the time limiting of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). There is still time to oppose Personal Independence Payment (PiP) and abolishing Disability Allowance. There is still time to fight Clause 52 and housing benefit changes that will leave thousands of sick and disabled people at risk of homelessness."
She concluded: "In a week where the government suggested all cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy ought to be assessed to see if they can work or not, I can only wonder where this will all lead. I can only hope history is no guide the future."
Meanwhile, Baroness Holliss of Heigham (Labour) moved to add 'council tax benefit' as a part of the Universal Credit in the Lords debate. This was also rejected.
The Welfare Reform Bill introduces Personal Independence Payments to replace the current Disability Living Allowance. It will restrict Housing Benefit entitlement for social housing tenants; will reduce Local Housing Allowance rates by linking them to the Consumer Price Index; will amend the forthcoming statutory child maintenance scheme; will limit the payment of contributory Employment and Support Allowance to a 12-month period; and will cap the total amount of benefit that can be claimed.
* 'Betraying disabled people and welfare', by Karen McAndrew, Ekklesia, May 2011 - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/14675
* E-petition to stop and review the cuts to benefits and services which are falling disproportionately on disabled people, their carers and families: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/20968
* Welfare Reform Bill 2011: Disability Alliance briefing - http://www.disabilityalliance.org/welfarereformbill.htm
* The Broken of Britain: http://thebrokenofbritain.blogspot.com/
* Parliamentary guide to procedure of the Welfare Reform Bill: http://www.parliament.uk/business/news/2011/december/welfare-reform-bill...