Seventh defeat for government in Lords on welfare bill

By staff writers
31 Jan 2012

Lobbying of MPs is set to intensify in the next 18 hours, after the government suffered a seventh humiliating defeat on its controversial Welfare Reform Bill (WRB)

The latest defeat was inflicted by the House of Lords at the WRB Third Reading, in relation to an amendment aimed at protecting disabled children from cuts.

Crossbenchers were mainly responsible for the latest victory for poverty, disability, children's and benefit campaigners - backed by charities, churches, medical professionals and community organisations across the country.

Two bishops, two Conservative peers, seven Lib Dems (a medium-sized rebellion) and six others joined 168 Labour peers and 61 Crossbench ones.

The amendment was carried by 246 votes to 230, a margin of sixteen against the government.

Labour's whip Lord Bassam commented that this was "the worst run of defeats for the government in the House of Lords since the General Election. Given that they have a political majority of 70, that is quite an achievement."

The successful amendment proposes: Clause 10, Page 4, line 36, after "disabled" insert "such additional amount to be paid at either a higher rate, or a lower rate, which shall be no less than two-thirds of the higher rate as may be prescribed".

That is, it proposed that the disability addition for children on lower rate of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) should be no less than two-thirds of the £77 proposed for disabled children on higher rate DLA under Universal Credit.

Government minister Lord Freud could not assure the House that his administration would protect disabled children from cuts, and commentators say that this is the reason the coalition lost heavily once more.

The Welfare Reform Bill has now suffered four defeats on disability issues, one on housing benefit, one on an attempt to charge mothers for using the Child Support Agency (CSA) and one on exempting child benefit from the £26,000 per household benefit cap.

During the debate, Crossbencher Baroness Meacher argued passionately that there are hundreds of thousand of families desperate about cuts to disabled children's benefits.

Baroness Howarth argued said that claims to being a civilised society required that "appropriate funding" for disabled children was "absolutely crucial".

Ministers said that benefit payments to children have outpaced those to adults in recent years, and need to be realigned. They have also argued that the higher child rates fail to prepare disabled youngsters for the "difficult" drop in income when they reach adulthood.

Disability researcher Jenny Morris points out: "In other words, disabled children should get used to living in poverty in childhood as that is what awaits them as they move into adulthood."

The shift to a more targeted approach, focusing benefits only on the most disabled, is a constant theme of government welfare reform, she points out. But this means that there are many thousands of losers that the Department of Work and Pensions keeps ignoring in its litany-like response to the defeats inflicted on it by the Lords.

Dr Morris writes on her blog: "Another of the government's justifications for changes to the 'disability addition' for disabled children is that it is targeting help to those who are most 'severely disabled'. This is part and parcel of the residualisation of the welfare state – the process by which it is becoming something that only those in the greatest need can look to receive help from. This is not a social security system on which we can all rely at times of misfortune and need, something in which therefore we all have stake. Instead it is a benefit system which – like social housing has become – is only available to the most marginalised of social groups."

Attention now passes to the House of Commons tomorrow, Wednesday 1 February 2012, where the Welfare Reform Bill receives its final reading before passing for Royal Assent.

The government is likely to make further concessions, but so far is steadfastly refusing to listen to expert and specialist opinion and the huge opposition its plans have generated.

* Spartacus Report (#spartacusreport) - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/spartacusreport

* Pat's Petition (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

* 38 Degrees action in disability and welfare cuts - http://www.38degrees.org.uk/page/speakout/cuts-to-support-email-mp

* Church Action on Poverty lobby of MPs: http://www.church-poverty.org.uk/its-time-to-close-the-gap/wrbaction/

[Ekk/3]

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 England & Wales License. Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.