Tag: Welfare Reform and Work Bill

A black day for disabled people – disability benefit cuts enforced by government despite widespread opposition

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“The fact is that Ministers are looking for large savings at the expense of the poorest and most vulnerable. That was not made clear in the general election campaign; then, the Prime Minister said that disabled people would be protected.” – [Official Report, Commons, 2/3/16; cols. 1052-58.]

A coalition of 60 national disability charities have condemned the government’s cuts to benefits as a “step backwards” for sick and disabled people and their families. The Disability Benefits Consortium say that the cuts, which will see people lose up to £1,500 a year, will leave disabled people feeling betrayed by the government and will have a damaging effect on their health, finances and ability to find work.

Research by the Consortium suggests the low level of benefit is already failing to meet disabled people’s needs. 

A survey of 500 people in the affected group found that 28 per cent of people had been unable to afford to eat while in receipt of the benefit. Around 38 per cent of respondents said they had been unable to heat their homes and 52 per cent struggled to stay healthy.

The Government was twice defeated in the Lords over proposals to cut Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for sick and disabled people in the work-related activity group (WRAG) from £103 to £73.

However the £30 a week cut is set to go ahead after bitterly disappointed and angry peers were left powerless to continue to oppose the Commons, which has overturned both defeats. The government has hammered through the cuts of £120 a month to the lifeline income of ill and disabled people by citing the “financial privilege” of the Commons, and after Priti Patel informing the Lords that they have “overstepped their mark” in opposing the cuts twice.

The Strathclyde review, commissioned by a rancorous and retaliatory David Cameron, following the delay and subsequently effective defeat of government tax credit legislation in the House of Lords, recommends curtailing the powers of Upper House. Strathclyde concludes in his report that the House of Lords should be permitted to ask the Commons to “think again” when a disagreement on proposed legislation exists, but should not be allowed to veto. MPs would ultimately make a decision on whether a measure is passed into law. The review focuses in particular on the relationship between the Commons and the Lords, in relation to the former’s primacy on financial matters and secondary legislation, and serves to highlight the government’s very worrying increasing tendency towards authoritarianism.

The cuts to ESA and proposed and probable cuts to Personal Independent Payments (PIP), take place in the context of a Tory manifesto that included a pledge not to cut disability benefits.

Yesterday in the House of Lords, independent crossbencher Lord Low of Dalston warned: “This is a black day for disabled people.”

Contrary to what is being reported, it won’t be only new claimants affected by the cuts to ESA. Firstly, it may potentially affect anyone who has a break in their ESA claim (and that could happen because of a reassessment with a decision that means needing to ask for a mandatory review), and secondly, those migrated onto Universal Credit will be affected. The benefit cap will also cut sick and disabled people’s income if they are in the ESA WRAG.

Paralympic gold medallist Baroness Grey-Thompson said she was bitterly disappointed that this “dreadful and punitive” part of the Bill was going ahead.

Parliamentary procedure had prevented her putting down another amendment opposing the move, which will have a harsh, negative impact on thousands of people’s lives.

Already facing a UN inquiry into grave and systematic abuses of the human rights of disabled people, Cameron remains completely unabashed by his government’s blatant attack on a protected social group, and the Conservatives continue to target disabled people for a disproportionately large burden of austerity cuts.

The Government have been accused of failing to fulfil their public sector equality duty. Under the Equality Act 2010, the Government must properly consider the impact of their policies on the elimination of discrimination, the advancement of equality of opportunity and the fostering of good relations. This is shameful, in a very wealthy first-world democracy.

The “justification” the Tories offer for the cut of almost £120 a month to the lifeline support of people judged to be unfit for work by their own doctors AND the state, is that it will “help people into work”. I’ve never heard of taking money from people who already have very little described as “help” before. Only the Conservatives  would contemplate cutting money from sick and disabled people, whilst gifting the millionaires with £107, 000 each per year in the form of a tax “break”.

Reducing disabled people’s incomes won’t “incentivise” anyone to find a job. It will just make life much more difficult. The government have made the decision to cut disability benefits because of an extremely prejudiced ideological preference for a “small state” and their antiwelfare agenda. There are alternative political choices that entail far more humane treatment of sick and disabled people. The fact that ministers have persistently refused to carry out a policy impact assessment indicates clearly that this measure has got nothing to do with any good will towards disabled people, nor is it about “helping” people into work.

The cut simply expresses the Conservative’s contempt for social groups that are economically inactive, regardless of the reasons. Sick and disabled people claiming ESA have already been deemed unfit for work by their doctors, and by the state via the work capability assessment. Simply refusing to accept this, and hounding a group of people who are ill, and who have until recently been considered reasonably exempt from working, is an indictment of this increasingly despotic government.

I can’t help wondering how long it will be before we hear about government proposals to cut the financial support further for those in the ESA support group. There does seem to be a recognisable pattern of political scapegoating, public moral boundaries being pushed, and cruel, highly unethical cuts being announced. Social security provision is being dismantled incrementally, whilst the Conservative justification narrative becomes less and less coherent. Despite the arrogant moralising approach of Tory ministers, and the Orwellian rhetoric of “helping” and “supporting” people who are too ill to work into any job, or face the threat of starvation and destitution, none of this will ever justify the unforgivable, steady withdrawal of lifeline support for sick and disabled people.

Baroness Meacher warned that for the most vulnerable the cut was “terrifying” and bound to lead to increased debt.

Condemning the “truly terrible” actions of the Treasury, she urged ministers to monitor the number of suicides in the year after the change comes in, adding: “I am certain there will be people who cannot face the debt and the loss of their home, who will take their lives.” Not only have the government failed to carry out an impact assessment regarding the cuts, Lord Freud said that the impact, potential increase in deaths and suicides won’t be monitored, apart from “privately” because individual details can’t be shared and because that isn’t a “useful approach”.

He went on to say “We have recently produced a large analysis on this, which I will send to the noble Baroness. That analysis makes it absolutely clear that you cannot make these causal links between the likelihood of dying—however you die—and the fact that someone is claiming benefit.”

Actually, a political refusal to investigate an established correlation between the welfare “reforms” and an increase in the mortality statistics of those hit the hardest by the cuts – sick and disabled people – is not the same thing as there being no causal link. Often, correlation implies causality and therefore such established links require further investigation. It is not possible to disprove a causal link without further investigation, either.

Whilst the government continue to deny there is a causal link between their welfare policies, austerity measures and an increase in premature deaths and suicides, they cannot deny there is a clear correlation, which warrants further research – an independent inquiry at the VERY least. But the government are hiding behind this distinction to deny any association at all between policy and policy impacts. That’s just plain wrong.

Insisting that there isn’t a “causal link” established, whilst withholding crucial evidence in parliament and from the public domain is what can at best be considered the actions and behaviours of tyrants.

 

Related reading

House of Lords debate: ESA – Monday 07 March 2016 (From 3.06pm)

Thatcher’s policies condemned for causing “unjust premature death”

MP attacks cuts hitting disabled people – Debbie Abrahams

Leading the debate against the Welfare Reform and Work Bill – 3rd reading – Debbie Abrahams

My speech at the Changes to Funding of Support for Disabled People Westminster Hall Debate – Debbie Abrahams

The government need to learn about the link between correlation and causality. Denial of culpability is not good enough.

The new Work and Health Programme: government plan social experiments to “nudge” sick and disabled people into work

A Critique of Conservative notions of “Social Research”

The DWP mortality statistics: facts, values and Conservative concept control

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

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Have your say on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill

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Do you have relevant expertise and experience or a special interest in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill which is currently passing through Parliament?

If so, you can submit your views in writing to the House of Commons Public Bill Committee which is going to consider this Bill.

Welfare Reform and Work Bill 2015-16

Aims of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill

The Government website claims that the Bill would make provision about reports on progress towards full employment and the apprenticeships target; to make provision about reports on the effect of certain support for troubled families; to make provision about social mobility; to make provision about the benefit cap; to make provision about social security and tax credits; to make provision for loans for mortgage interest; and to make provision about social housing rents.

However, many of us see the Bill as a further economic attack on Britain’s poorest families. I’m concerned it includes many measures that risk trapping more children into poverty.

Beyond the well-publicised cuts to tax credits, which will leave many families on low wages struggling to buy basics, the government also plans to cap benefits. For the moment this will be set at £20,000 (£23,000 in Greater London), but a clause in the Bill allows the government to change the amount in future too – without consulting parliament. This paves the way for the threshold to sink ever lower, consigning children from larger families to the breadline without any democratic scrutiny or safeguarding.

Perhaps the most worrying element of the Bill is the government’s decision to abandon the duty to end child poverty by 2020. Instead this Bill would redefine “poverty”, scrapping income as the way we measure being poor and replacing it with worklessness, addiction and educational attainment. Given that two-thirds of our poorest children already live in low-paid “working” families, this is a completely unacceptable way to measure hardship. Furthermore, addiction is not a class-based problem, it affects wealthy people too, in fact substance abuse – especially alcohol related – is something that affects people who aren’t in poverty more than those who are. As for educational attainment, well Iain Ducan Smith has no qualifications, but he isn’t poor. I’ve a first degree and a Masters and I am poor.

If the causes of poverty, according to Duncan Smith, were in any way correct, we’d see the same people on the dole, year in year out. But we don’t. Instead we see  a “revolving door” of claims from people who take low paid, insecure work for months or a couple of years at the most and end up out of work again. Through no fault of their own. This revolving door is consistent with the structural explanation of povertythat government decision-making and socieconomic circumstances are the causes poverty.

This Bill would make the government dramatically less accountable for its policies, leaving poor families worse off and limiting children’s life chances.

Javed Khan
Chief executive, Barnardo’s

Other Briefings

Welfare Reform and Work Bill 2015 final – Unison

Welfare Reform and Work Bill: what might this mean for carers – Carers UK

Briefing: Welfare Reform & Work Bill – Shelter England

Joseph Rountree Foundation: Welfare Reform and Work Bill: Second Reading | JRF

Briefing on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill FINAL -TUC

The Children’s Society Briefing: House of Commons Second Reading of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill

Follow the progress of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill

The Bill was presented to the House on 9 July 2015. On Monday 20 July, the Bill received its Second Reading in the House of Commons where MPs debated the main principles of the Bill.

The Bill has now been sent to the Public Bill Committee where detailed examination of the Bill will take place. The Bill Committee is expected to hold its first oral evidence session on 10 September.

Guidance on submitting written evidence

Deadline for written evidence submissions

The Public Bill Committee is now able to receive written evidence. The sooner you send in your submission, the more time the Committee will have to take it into consideration. The Committee is expected to meet for the first time on Thursday 10 September; it will stop receiving written evidence at the end of the Committee stage on Thursday 15 October.

Please note: When the Public Bill Committee reports, it is no longer able to receive written evidence and it could report earlier than Thursday 15 October 2015.

What should written evidence cover?

Your submission should address matters contained within the Bill and concentrate on issues where you have a special interest or expertise, and factual information of which you would like the Committee to be aware.

Your submission could most usefully:

  • suggest amendments to the Bill with explanation; and
  • (when available) support or oppose amendments tabled or proposed to the Bill by others with explanation

It is helpful if the submission includes a brief introduction about you or your organisation. The submission should not have been previously published or circulated elsewhere.

If you have any concerns about your submission, please contact the Scrutiny Unit (details below).

How should written evidence be submitted?

Your submission should be emailed to scrutiny@parliament.uk. Please note that submissions sent to the Government department in charge of the Bill will not be treated as evidence to the Public Bill Committee.

Submissions should be in the form of a Word document. A summary should be provided. Paragraphs should be numbered, but there should be no page numbering.

Essential statistics or further details can be added as annexes, which should also be numbered. To make publication easier, please avoid the use of coloured graphs, complex diagrams or pictures.

As a guideline, submissions should not exceed 3,000 words.

Please include in the covering email the name, address, telephone number and email address of the person responsible for the submission. The submission should be dated.

What will happen to my evidence?

The written evidence will be circulated to all Committee Members to inform their consideration of the Bill.

Most submissions will also be published on the internet as soon as possible after the Committee has started sitting.

The Scrutiny Unit can help with any queries about written evidence.

Scrutiny Unit contact details

Email: scrutiny@parliament.uk
Telephone: 020 7219 8387
Address: Ian Hook
Senior Executive Officer
Scrutiny Unit
House of Commons
London SW1A OAA

Debunking the myths on Commons procedure and the Welfare Bill part two – Peter Kyle MP

Many thanks to Peter Kyle MP for this explanation of his decision to abstain on a vote for the second reading of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill.


The Welfare Bill

Last night I abstained on a vote for the Second Reading of the Welfare Bill. I did this after a lot of thought and I want to explain why. There’s already some myths about what was being voted on last night and also misunderstanding of parliamentary procedure and I want to tackle all these issues, too.

When I first read the Bill it became abundantly clear what the government was up to. They had lumped together measures that Labour – and many of you – would wholeheartedly support with other policies that we would rightly hate. These are the games they are playing simply to divide the left – that’s right, they’re playing games with welfare simply to get one over on us.

On the issues that I support in this Bill, the three most significant are the creation of three million new apprentices (many are the higher and advanced ones included in the Labour manifesto); lowering of rents for social housing; and more investment into the ‘troubled families programme’ which has its origins in the early intervention policies I worked on in 2006 and 2007. Each of these measures would directly benefit us in Hove and Portslade and I want them as soon as possible.

Then there are some really terrible policies that will damage not just our community but society too, such as scrapping targets on abolishing child poverty, and cuts to funding for people with disabilities or living with cancer or Parkinson’s disease, or are declared unfit for work. These I obviously oppose with all my heart.

So you see my predicament: people have suggested to me that it is a matter of principle that I should have voted against this Bill. But for me, as someone who has worked so hard to end youth unemployment, it is also a matter of principle to vote for the very apprenticeships that will help me honour my pledge to you. To vote against that part of the Bill would mean I also vote against my principles. I also see the suffering of people in arrears in social housing, it would have also meant breaking my principles to vote against help for them, too.

So, as a way forward, Labour tabled what is called a ‘reasoned amendment’. This is a way of stating which parts of a Bill you oppose and which you support when you abstain. It enabled me to not vote for or against the overall Bill, but instead make a public statement about why that course of action was taken and which parts I supported and opposed.

And there’s more. There are three more stages that this Bill must pass through in the House of Commons before it moves to the House of Lords. The next is Committee Stage (which is what I just sat on for the Education and Adoption Bill) where you can scrutinise the Bill line by line and table amendments to each section of it. Labour have already published some of the amendments we will seek to introduce at this stage and I’ve included them at the bottom of this update. Each one of these will have to be voted on by MPs and you should all lobby the MPs who are on this committee to support them. All it would take is for two or three Tories to do the right thing and the amendment will become law.

Then the Bill returns for its Report Stage, and finally it’s Third Reading. At these points it is still possible for me to vote against the entire Bill if I believe that is the only course of action left. After that, the Bill passes to the Lords where the government lacks a majority and the Labour team there can try to bring further influence.

Some people have said on social media that I am now supporting cuts to Tax Credits which contradicts an interview I gave to the Argus recently, so let me clear this up: cuts to Tax Credits are not included in this Bill, they will be introduced later in the year by another parliamentary procedure called a ‘statutory instrument’ and I will vote against them. The only time I will vote for cuts to tax credits is when wages are already at a level at which they are no longer needed, not before, as the government are doing

There’s one more myth doing the rounds that I’d like to debunk: Labour could not have won the vote last night because not a single Tory voted against this Bill. Some people are suggesting that because not every Tory voted last night, we could have beaten them. The truth is that if it had looked like we were going to vote against the Bill the government would have simply forced all the ministers and cabinet to break free of meetings to come and vote. It is a heartbreaking truth but because we lost the election we cannot beat the government unless Tories vote with us.

I won’t pretend that this has been easy for me because it hasn’t. Because we lost the election we don’t get to choose the battles we fight or the battleground. The Tories chose to put all these conflicting policies into one Bill to make it difficult for people like you and me. They are hoping that the general public’s lack of awareness of the intricacies of how laws are made will force the left to split and for Labour to crumble yet further after our defeat.

I told you during the campaign when I wrote about other tough issues like my Israel / Palestine visit that I would not dodge difficult decisions but I would always be available to explain myself, to listen, and to learn from your perspective and experiences. I didn’t reach the conclusion to abstain simply because the whips told me to.

For me, it was the only way I saw of moving forward while being true to my principles even though I knew a lot of people would be shocked and concerned upon reading the headlines. Believe me, I’d rather that hadn’t been necessary.

I want to get going and solve the tough challenges we face, like youth unemployment and the cost of housing and families that need support, and I want to oppose the vindictive nature of the way this government are using welfare reform to demonise the poor and vulnerable. I will do both with all the strength I have, even though sometimes it will mean taking difficult decisions that risk upsetting the very people I have gone into politics to help. I knew this job would have its difficult moments and this is one of them. I’m doing the best I can to deliver positive change on your behalf even though it is the Tories who are dealing the cards in parliament.

I’ve had my say now, and I’m really looking forward to hearing what you think, so please post and share your thoughts and experiences and I’ll do everything I can to respond to as many as possible.

All the best, Peter.

Here are some of the amendments Labour will try to have included in the Bill:

  • An amendment to prevent the Government abolishing the targets for reducing child poverty;
  • The Government are also trying to delete child poverty from the remit of the ‘Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission’ so that it becomes just the ‘Social Mobility Commission’. An amendment will prevent that taking place; 
  • An amendment which will mean that the household benefit cap would not apply to persons who are responsible for a child under 2 years old, are a carer, or are in temporary accommodation because of domestic violence; 
  • A new clause which will require the Secretary of State to report each year on the impact of the household benefit cap, particularly on child poverty;
  • An amendment which will require the level of the household benefit cap to be reviewed every year, rather than only once in a Parliament. The review would be based on the new clause above requiring the impact of the benefit cap on child poverty to be assessed each year;
  • An amendment which will require the Social Security Advisory Committee to review the Discretionary Housing Payments fund each year to ensure that sufficient resources are available. Discretionary Housing Payments are used to support those who are unfairly affected by the benefit cap; 
  • An amendment which will set the target of full employment as 80 per cent of the working age population – in line with the Labour Government’s definition and recent research which shows that this would be an ambitious target. The Bill includes a process for reviewing progress towards ‘full employment’, but does not define what is meant by that; 
  • An amendment to require the UK Commission on Employment and Skills to assess whether the Government’s target for apprenticeships is being met, so that the Government can be held to account. There is significant concern among businesses and others that the quality of apprenticeships is being watered down in order to increase the numbers; 
  • An amendment which will require the resources which are being dedicated to helping troubled families to be clearly set out; 
  • An amendment which will ensure that interventions to support troubled families are focused on helping people into work; 
  • An amendment to prevent the Bill restricting Universal Credit for three or subsequent children even when the third child is born before 5 April 2017;
  • A new clause preventing the restrictions to tax credits applying to three or more children where a third child is born as a result of a multiple birth, where a third of subsequent child is fostered or adopted, where a third child or subsequent child is disabled, or where a family with three or more children moves onto tax credits or universal credit in exceptional circumstances – including but not restricted to the death of one member of the family, the departure of one parent or loss of income through unemployment – which would be set out by the Social Security Advisory Committee. It also sets up an appeals process for all cases covered by this clause; 
  • An amendment preventing cuts in the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for the WRAG group of around £30 a week. People who are in the WRAG group have been through a rigorous test which has deemed them not fit for work, for example because they have Parkinson’s or are being treated for cancer;
  • An amendment requiring the Government to produce a plan to offset the impact of lower social rents on housing associations. Labour supports the reduction in social housing rents, which will help low-income families and bring down the housing benefits bill. However, we must protect against impacts on the ability of housing associations to build new affordable homes and maintain their existing properties;
  • An amendment which subjects the four-year benefit freeze to an annual review subject to changes in inflation.

    ___

    See also: Emma’s statement on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill


    Michael Meacher MP said:

    It is extraordinary that the Labour party could have got itself into such a muddle over welfare reform (which is Tory-speak for crippling welfare cutbacks) when Osborne’s sole motive for this bill, which had its second reading today, is to create divisions within Labour and label it as the party of shirkers.  The bill is awful.