The Lords debate the welfare reform bill today. Photograph: Tim Graham/Getty

Powered by article titled “Welfare reform bill – Lords debate and live discussion” was written by Patrick Butler, for on Wednesday 11th January 2012 19.58 Europe/London

7.58pm: Here’s more reaction to that incredible triple defeat for the government:

Claudia Wood, welfare expert at the think tank IPPR tweets:

1 yr limit of ESA was least thought through aspect of #wrb, wholly abritrary weilding of axe. Defeat has restored my faith in parli process

Richard Murphy tweets

Isn’t it absurd that it takes the Lords to stand up for the sick and disabled? Reform it? Not at this rate. Brave Labour peers!

7.49pm: To sum up: the government has astonshingly lost three straight votes in the Lords. They are for the following amendments:

• To retain automatic eligibility for ESA for young disabled people who are unable to work
• To impose a two year time limit for ESA claimants, overriding the government’s proposal that claimants be reassesed after 12 months
• To exempt cancer patients from the proposed ESA limit.

This is an extraordinary start to the welfare reform bill voting season. More votes will take place on similarly controversial issues in the next fortnight, including next week on disability living allowance.

Meanwhile here’s a tweet from the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee:

Remarkable triple defeat for government in Lords. Shame again on most LibDems, voting to cut benefits to dying and life-long disabled young.

Her’s a tweet from disability campaigner and blogger Kaliya Franklin, who tweets as @bendygirl:

I can’t believe it!!! Time for a little cry. We did it guys, we did it!!

7.33pm: It’s a hatrick! For 222, against 166. This is astonishing. It is an incredible victory for campaigners, a real kick in the teeth for the government and a personal humiliation for Lord Freud

7.25pm: There’s a real buzz in the chamber tonight. The government has suffered two defeats already, and a third, on exemption for cancer patients from the 12 month limit looks distinctly in the offing. Twitter already on fire with the news.

Here’s Sunny Hundal the Liberal Conspiracy blogger:

GOVERNMENT DEFEATED in limiting time-limiting ESA for disabled people! OMG! Lord Patel FTW!

7.17pm: They’ve done it again! 234 in favour of the amendment, 186 contents against. This is the two year limit. Again unexpected. Now voting on the cancer exemption. The government being slaughtered tonight!

7.10pm: The Lords are now voting on two amendments. The first will extend the time limit for ESA benefit from one year to two; the second will exempt cancer patients from the 12 month rule.

People who understand these things better than me are expecting the first ammendment to fall.

But the second, on which the Lib Dems are apparently not whipped, could be close. A lot will depend on how may crossbenchers stick around – it was they who triggered the first defeat of the day for the government.

7.01pm: Lord Patel points out that we are talking about a reduction in savings, not extra funding. The amendment is not about adding to expenditure but refusing to take £1.3bn from the most vulnerable. He’s quietly furious:

“If you are going to rob the poor to pay the rich we have entered a different form of morality.”

Cancer patients, he points out, are not “not skivers, not benefit cheats”.

The Lords now go to a second vote. This will be interesting.

6.53pm: Lord Freud says that the amendment to extend the limit on ESA to two years will cost £1.6bn over the next five years. He asks:

Where are we going to find those sums?

On the second amendment, which would exempt cancer patients from the one year limit, Freud claims that two thirds of cancer patients would retain their elegibility for for ESA after the 12 month limit.

That depends of course on those tricky Work Capability Assessments diagnosing claimants correctly. Freud says he is “absolutely committed to making the WCA more effective.”

Then he loses his train of thought momentarily “I’m not sure where to go,” he mutters in momentary confusion. Gentle Lordly laughter all round.

6.41pm: Here’s the breakdown of that government defeat on ESA eligibility for disabled young people. The “contents” are those peers who voted in favour of the amendment.

Contents Total: 260
Bishops 4
Crossbench 68
Labour 178
Liberal Democrat 3
Other 7

Not Contents Total: 216
Conservative 144
Crossbench 10
Liberal Democrat 61
Other 1

The crossbenchers clearly came out in force on this. I’m told the three Lib Dem peers who rebelled were: Lord Taylor of Goss Moor, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, and Baroness Tong

6.33pm: The amendment is going to cost money, points out Conservative peer Lord Blencathra. It may be morally sound, but the amendment could cost between £200m and £400m a year. Who will lose out, he asks.

Lord Wigley points out that if the bill is unamended it will be disabled people who lose out. Why should they bear the burden of the financial crisis?

6.25pm: Baroness Lister quotes from an account of the implications of losing ESA by disabled writer Mark Sparrow published in the Guardian this morning, in support of the amendment:

The satisfaction of being able to contribute to the family budget with a benefit that has been earned and paid for will be removed. The last shred of dignity will be stripped from people who have already lost a great deal in life and who may already feel a burden on those who care for them.

You can read the full article here

6.15pm: Lords now lining up to attack government proposals on ESA limits. Lord Low slams their “draconian” nature of the reforms and calls on Lib Dems peers to “search their consciences” when it comes to a vote.

The Lords are particularly exercised about the idea that people who have contributed to national insurance will see their “something for something” entitlements taken away.

6.04pm: Lord Patel is now talking about amendments that call for an extension of the proposed time limit for people on ESA from one year to two. He calls for a review of of the 12 month time limit.

He wants to cut the deficit, he says, but not at the cost of making the lives of sick and vulnerable people more miserable.

A second amendment to be considered will exempt cancer patients from the 12 month limit on ESA. With the mood the Lords are in this evening, there’s a real chance this will result in another defeat for the government.

5.50pm: This is a shock. Lord Patel’s amendment to protect the automatic right of young disabled people who are unable to work to qualify for ESA has been carried, by 260 votes to 216.

This was supposed to be a “too close to call” vote but the margin of victory was extraordinarily comfortable. Labour can normally expect to count on 230 peers, so this means that around 30 crossbenchers and Lib Dem rebels came out in support.

I spoke to a Labour advisor just now and he described the victory as “totally unexpected”. The opposition have got wind in their sails now, with two key votes to go. A humiliation for the Coalition. As my my Labour advisor exclaims:

“It’s game on!”

5.42pm: Government defeated! 260 votes to 216? That’s a huge surprise. More detail soon.

5.38pm: While we are waiting for the Lords votes to be counted, here’s a video film shot by my colleague John Domokos, who went to Westminster today to talk to welfare reform bill protestors.

5.25pm: Baroness Meacher questions the £70m savings figure used by Freud. She says it is £10m. She calls her amendment:

“An attempt to protect the dignity of a very very vulnerable, severely disabled group of people at a cost of only £10m.”

Meacher proceeds to a vote and they are voting now.

5.20pm: Lord Freud says the ESA youth condition reform would deliver savings £70m by 2016-17. Those savings would be jeopardised by retaining the automatic payment system he suggests, adding:

“It’s a very hard thing, finding bits of money”.

He adds that 90% 15,000 children affected would retain ESA after assessment, suggesting that 10% would fail on the grounds that they have sufficient financial means.

5.13pm: Significant numbers of disabled young people who might currently expect to be receipt of ESA when they enter adulthood are comfortably off with resources of their own, claims Lord Freud. But again he can’t say how many.

This seems a familiar government welfare reform trope: conspiring to deny the majority of benefit claimants on the basis there might be an unspecified minority of claimants who are easily wealthy enough to look after themselves.

5.07pm: Lord Freud says the principle behind abolishing automatic elegibility for ESA for disabled young people is about focusing “scarce state resources” on the poorest. He thinks it is unfair that a young person who gets ESA without having “paid in” should continue to get it even if they were to inherit a lot of money.

But he doesn’t say say how many children might theoretically be in line for such a windfall. Labour peers have pointed out how the bulk of this group are the very poorest and most vulnerable in society, some of them in care.

5.00pm: Lord McKenzie, who is a co-signtary of the ammendement, calls the government’s proposed abolition of the youth condition “spiteful”. Lord Freud to respond for the government.

4.52pm: Baroness Lister points out that 15,000 sick and disabled young people will be affected by the removal of elegibility for ESA. The average cut to their income will be £25 a week.

Around a tenth of those affected will be left with no entitlement to ESA because they have a partner who is working, she says.

Although the principle of welfare reform is that ESA is a contributory benefit, Lister says an exception should be made for this small but hugely vulnerable group:

“We can all agree that something-for-something principle can be suspended in this case.”

4.42pm: Lord Patel is talking about the “youth condition” or clause 52, which proposes to stop eligibility of contributory ESA for young disabled people. He says the bill fails to recognise that young disabled people are already hugely financially disadvantaged. Removing elegibility will have a “devastating impact” on disabled and sick young people.

4.25pm: Lord Freud says a few words about the controversial work capability assessments. He claims that the tests – which are notorious for misdiagnosis and have generated huge backlogs of appeals – are improving.

There’s no data to prove this, he admits, but anecdotally “things are getting more “encouraging”.

What do you think?

Meanwhile, campaigner Sue Marsh has tweeted this:

Can anyone even believe that we are arguing over how “terminally ill” you have to be to get benefits?

4.09pm: The Lords are now up and running on the welfare reform bill debate. If, like me, you are baffled by the blizzard of references to amendments and technical terms, its worth noting that in political terms, the first important debate is expected at around 4.45pm, with a vote at 5.45pm.

This will discuss the Listowel ammendment which will enable young people unable to work to qualify for ESA.

The second important debate will then take place, on the time limiting of ESA. The key vote on the amendment exempting cancer patients from the one year ESA limit is expected at 6.45pm.

This is the key amendment Labour is hoping to get crossbench and Liberal Democrat support for, and which it hopes will trigger a government defeat.

You can follow the bill live on parliament tv here

3.35pm: My colleague John Domokos has been to Parliament to talk to campaigners who are demonstrating against the Welfare reform bill.

Here’s his report:

About forty protesters from a range of welfare activist groups such as Single Mothers’ Self Defence, Mad Pride and Right to Work gathered at outside the House of Lords to protest the welfare reform Bill and lobby members. They handed out leaflets to passers by to inform them of how the welfare reform bill would affect them.

Kim Sparrow, a single mother said the benefit cap would badly affect mothers as it includes all child related benefits. She was also protesting the abolition of the social fund: “Many of us use this to escape violent and abusive relationships and set up new homes. The conditions of our lives are going to plummet with this bill.”

Dave Skull from Mad Pride said the Work Capability assessment was “unfit for purpose” for mental health conditions, moving them onto Jobseekers Allowance and being forced into new ‘Work for your benefit’ schemes. A fellow member was worried she would lose the money she gets under DLA when it changes to Personal Independence payments, as it was “just a tick box excercise”.

John Packer, the Bishop of Rippon and Leeds, is a member of the house of lords and is due to table an amendment to remove child benefit from the benefit cap. The lords is playing a “very significant role” in the bill, showing were the bill is “really damaging, for instance for those who are disabled, single mothers, and to say ‘come on government, we can do better than this'”

Labour MP John McDonnell addressed protesters and said “we need much more serious and severe opposition from the Labour party” to prevent parts of the the legislation going through, in particular the benefit cap.

We’ll be putting up some of John’s video interviews later.

3.15pm: The Lords are beginning to file into the chamber now. What I’ve heard from my colleague Patrick Wintour is that the government may suffer a defeat on one of this afternoon’s amendments. Here’s his prediction:

• An amendment to extend the one year time limit on ESA to two is likely to fail
• A Labour amendment to exempt cancer patients from the one year limit may succeed
• There’s a possible deal over ESA contributions for young people who are unable to work

It seems the Liberal Democrat peers have been allowed off the whip on the cancer vote, so some may rebel, as they have done before on the bill, or abstain.

You can follow the Lords debate live on parliament TV here

2.26pm: The Lords debates on today’s amendments start in around an hour’s time. I asked Labour’s shadow work and pensions minister in the Lords, Lord McKenzie, this morning about the prospects for this afternoon. He told me:

It is always really difficult to gauge. It’s how the crossbenchers’ split on this. The Employment Support allowance (ESA) amendment is being led by Lord Patel, so that helps. It also depends on the Lib Dems and whether enough of them will pull away.

Labour is backing an extension of the time limits for ESA for cancer patients to two years, not one year as proposed in the bill, as well as Lord Listowel’s amendment to give disabled young people who are unable to work to qualify for contributory ESA. Labour is also seeking a ringfence for the social fund to ensure local authorities do not spend the cash on other services.

McKenzie said that while Labour supports the concept of ESA it is unhappy with the the government proposes to implement it. He was critical of the controversial work capability assessments which identify whether sick and disabled people are “fit for work. He was also critical of the backdating of ESA claims, so that if and when the bill is passed, many claimants will immediately lose this benefit

There will be 100,000 people who will lose their benefits overnight. It’s extraordinary. It is clear the government is simply trying to claw money back. But on who should this burden fall? Half of the people adversely affected [by the ESA time limit] are in the bottom three percentiles of income. What is fair about that? What is fair about hard-working families losing £94 a week?

1.06pm: I’ve just been reading Declan Gaffney’s powerful blog post on Clause 52 of the welfare reform bill.

The clause proposes to remove the provision that allows people under the age of 20 with work-limiting conditions to be treated as if they had “paid in” to national insurance and therefore able to qualify for Employment Support Allowance (ESA).

Declan points out that while the savings for the government from this could be considerable, they will be offset by the cost to the taxpayer of the likely rise in partners who give up work and claim carer’s allowance. The burden of the savings will be found by shifting extra costs onto families and carers. He writes:

I don’t believe that anyone of any political persuasion seriously believes these effects are desirable. For thirty years there has been a clear direction of policy on severe long-term disability, accepted and promoted by all the main parties: towards greater independence and community support, away from segregation, institutionalisation and constrained dependency on others. Nobody believes this process of change is complete, but until now it seemed clear that everyone was on the same road. Of course there will always be a need for debate about ways and means but unconditional financial support in one’s own right is one of the more uncontroversial building blocks of any strategy for greater autonomy and integration for the most severely disabled. Clause 52 thus represents a major departure from decades of progressive policy making by successive UK governments.

Declan, a respected researcher, blogger and former civil servant is withering in his assesement of how the clause came about:

My guess, for what it’s worth, is that this policy has never been properly thought through. It bears all the marks of the sort of quick and dirty proposal for cutting expenditure that every permanent secretary in Whitehall keeps in their back pocket to offer up if necessary in negotiations with Treasury: a price to be paid in the hope of getting the go-ahead for more important and expensive priorities (such as the massive administrative costs of Universal Credit to take a random example). This sort of thing goes on all the time, and many of the coalition’s supposedly ‘radical’ proposals for welfare reform have been dug out of ancient inherited files that civil servants have scarcely bothered to blow the dust off. With civil servants under an imperative to put every possible expenditure cut on the table, this proposal was able to slip through when under less pressurised circumstances it wouldn’t have stood a chance.

Lord Listowel’s amendment to the clause, allowing disabled young people who are unable to work to qualify for ESA, will be debated in the Lords this afternoon. This could be a critical vote for the government.

12.28pm: The Macmillan Cancer charity has warned that cancer patients face more financial difficulties if the welfare reform bill proposals to limit Employment and Support (ESA) allowance to one year go through today.

Mike Hobday, the charity’s director of policy and research, said:

While we recognise the benefits system is in need of reform, if the Welfare Reform Bill goes through unamended it will have a devastating effect on cancer patients who are already struggling. We know many Lords oppose these proposals and hope they will show their support for cancer patients when it comes to a vote in Parliament.

Macmillan points out that 40% of the callers to its helpline last year asked for advice on financial issues, compared to 2% who asked about death and dying. Calls about finances went up by a third last year, the charity says.

It estimates that 7,000 cancer patients stand to lose up to £94 a week as a result of the reforms. Lord Patel is proposing an amendment this afternoon to extend the ESA limit to two years.

The Department for Work and Pensions, however, has insisted that “everyone who has cancer will get the support they need.”

Reader Mike Sparrow (the author of this morning’s First Person piece on the removal of ESA payments) has tweeted me to point out that it is not just cancer patients that will be affected, but many other people with “chronic and debilitating conditions.”

12.02am: My colleague Randeep Ramesh, the Guardian’s social affairs editor, alerts me to a damning verdict on the reforms by the children’s commissioner, Maggie Atkinson, who has just published her assessment of the impact of the Welfare Reform Bill on children’s rights in England.

She welcomes the idea that the universal credit will help incentivise work – and lift people out of poverty. However she takes a dim view of the bill, saying that there are real risks to the rights of children.

The UK is party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and Atkinson notes that in December 2010 Children’s Minister Sarah Teather promised that the government would give “due regard” to the convention when making new policy and legislation.

Given this Atkinson says the “following risks are of real concern”:

• An increase in child poverty as a result of the household benefit cap and housing benefit changes, resulting in poor health and educational outcomes for children

• The threat of a potential increase in household rent arrears due to reduced housing benefit payments

• Families living in poverty diverting money away from necessities for children’s health and wellbeing such as heating, warm clothing, and nutritious food in order to cover their housing costs

• Children becoming homeless as a result of unaffordable housing for their families

• A disproportionate impact of some of the Bill’s benefit changes on children from some BME groups, disabled children, and children of disabled parents

• Families having no crisis support in the event of flood, fire, or serious illness as a result of the Bill’s abolition of the Social Fund.

Atkinson says:

“We have identified groups of children whose rights may be breached by the implementation of the Bill. Children whose families receive welfare benefits are particularly vulnerable due to the high level of poverty amongst this group. Children have no power to take up incentives in the Bill to find work or move to cheaper accommodation in order to have more money to live on. Creating such incentives may have a serious impact on them as independent rights-holders.”

Randeep’s full story will be up soon.

11.32am: The proposed scrapping of the social fund is debated this afternoon. We are keen to hear from people have used the social fund about their experiences, good and bad. We want to know:

• Will this affect you or a family member?
• Have you relied on the Social Fund in the past?
• Would the proposed cuts have affected you?

You can tell us in confidence using this confidential form

11.23am: The Guardian has some excellent coverage of the welfare reform bill today: Nick Watt’s story sets out the political agenda in the House of Lords today, while Tom Clark’s fantastic interactive puts the welfare reform bill in context and provides a guide to what’s being debated and when over the next fortnight.

There’s a moving first person account by Mark Sparrow on the prospect of losing £94 a week in ESA benefit.

Also check out our leader column on Ed Miliband, Labour and the cuts: there’s an interesting passage on the welfare reform bill:

If Labour flashed a little cold steel on serious future problems, it would win a fairer hearing on the immediate deficit – and the most damaging immediate cuts. On Wednesday the Lords will debate two prime examples: the time-limiting of incapacity benefits and the abolition of the discretionary social fund. The former will shred the contributory principle which the party’s welfare spokesman Liam Byrne recently hailed, even while he put Labour in a position where it is opposing the detail and not the principle of a time limit. The latter provides emergency loans for cash-strapped families – saving them from loan sharks. Labour is quite right to insist it should not be scrapped without a proper replacement being in place, and yet until it is listened to this will count for little. Credibility will not be earned by a cavalier embrace of cutting, but by adopting clear principles about what gets cut when – and then being resolute in resisting the rest.

Also worth checking out my colleague Amelia Gentleman’s piece for Society Guardian on the “fit-for-work” tests undergone by sick and disabled benefit claimants.

A study by Citizen’s Advice finds evidence of widespread innacuracies in the much-criticised work capability assessment programme. Millie’s piece quotes Chris Linacre, who found herself turned down for sickness benefits and passed as fit to work, despite long standing spinal problems and arthritis:

“I think they [the assessors] expect you to be a Beano cartoon character, with ouch bubbles above your head, but people tend to be stoic. I try not to labour the fact that I’m in pain. I wasn’t going to tell them that some days I can’t even put my knickers on I’m in so much pain.”

Linacre is now appealing the decision. As I’ve written before, the backlog of appeals against the test is growing rapidly.

There are fears that the same diagnostic problems that have dogged the ESA benefit test will affect the proposed assessments for disability living allowance (DLA) under the welfare reform bill’s proposed new Personal Independence Payments.

10.30am: Welcome to Day Two of the Welfare Reform bill live blog. There are crucial votes in the House of Lords this afternoon which we’ll be keeping an eye on:

• Crossbencher Lord Patel’s ammendment increasing the elegibility of period for contributory employment and Support Allowance (ESA) ffrom one year to two. Labour is supporting this ammendment, where much of the focus will be on cancer patients who would lose up to £94 a week in sickness benefit as a result of this proposed change. The Macmillan Cancer charity estimates 7,000 patients could be affected.

• An amendment put down by crossbencher Lord Listowel to ensure those who are disabled at a young age (and therefore have been unable to build up national insurance contributions) will still be able to claim ESA. Labour peers are supporting this.

• Proposals to scrap the Social Fund, which supplies crisis grants to vulnerable people who need emergency help.

We’ll be examining the issues in more detail over the day. We also hope to carry an interview with Lord McKenzie, Labour’s work and pensions minister later on. We also hope to speak to protesters against the bill outside Westminster, and carry live coverage of the debates.

Please tell us how the proposed changes will affect you: leave a comment below, or tweet to @patrickjbutler, @lauraoliver, @hrwaldram or #wrbliveblog © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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2 thoughts on “

  1. Debs Gunn says:

    i am one of the many who are on DLA and also contribution based ESA even if it does stretch to two years i am severely disabled with 3 conditions and the loss of the money will kill my family with shortage of money, i will have to stop home care etc have they no idea how this affects people while they sit in thier posh houses and plenty money in the mean time playing god with disabled peoples lives, dont they understand how hard it is for some disabled people just its a fight to just get up in the morning and your taking this away…. youve caused the state of the country sort it another way not picking on the the bloody poor and vulnerable…

    1. Kiz says:

      You are in the same situation as me. I suffer just like you and have the same opinion. It is not even just the money, but if they cut our DLA we will use our status as disabled and lose access to services such as Occupational Health and Blue Badges. They have so much money and good health they don’t realise the difficulties we have. When I lose my money we will likely end up bankrupt. I am very scared about the future.

      Cameron was quick to claim DLA and stuff for his disabled son, even though he is a millionaire. now his son is dead, he is treating all disabled people like scroungers. Well Cameron was more of a scrounger when his son was alive, cos he did not even NEED the money!! Boo to him. Bet he would not even touch disability benefits if his son were still alive!! He has corrupted and demeaned his son’s memory with his nasty policies and bad mindedness!! Shame on him!!

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