Benefits bill is miserable and mean-spirited, says disabled peer


theweek120by150A disabled peer has attacked a “mean-spirited”, “miserable” and “dishonest” government bill that will see disabled people in 3.4 million households across Britain facing further cuts to their income.

Lord [Colin] Low told fellow peers that the welfare benefits up-rating bill would see “a real-terms cut in vital support for many disabled people”.

And he criticised the “myths” that the government had used to justify the bill, including the claim that “the most vulnerable are protected”.

Lord Low told fellow peers debating the bill’s second reading: “You do not protect the poor by cutting welfare, since it is the poor who rely on welfare.”

He said the treatment of disabled people in the bill showed the “essential dishonesty of the government’s propaganda”, with disabled people already experiencing a drop of £500 million in their income since the emergency budget of 2010.

The bill will see many benefits up-rated by only one per cent in 2014-15 and 2015-16, in addition to the one per cent increase already due to be implemented this year, far below the expected rate of inflation.

Although disability living allowance and disability-related premiums will be protected from the one per cent cap, the main element of employment and support allowance (ESA) will rise by just one per cent, as will the extra element for claimants in the ESA work-related activity group, for those disabled people expected to move eventually into jobs.

Other disabled people who fail to qualify for out-of-work disability benefits, and are forced instead to claim jobseeker’s allowance, will also see their benefits cut in real terms, as will those claiming housing benefit.

Lord Low said that households in the ESA work-related activity group would be £87.65 a year worse off as a result of the bill, while those in the support group would be £62.76 a year worse off.

He pointed out that – when extra disability-related costs were taken into account – almost half of households with a disabled member were already living in poverty.

And he called on the government to uprate the whole of ESA in line with inflation, and to exempt disabled people from the reduced uprating of other benefits, including housing benefit.

His fellow disabled crossbench peer, Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, was also heavily critical of the bill.

She said: “The government have already reduced the welfare budget for working-age people, so this bill will be yet another blow for low earners and unemployed, sick, or disabled people.”

She added: “The numbers going to food banks are rising steeply. These proposed changes impact disproportionately on those with a low income because more of their income goes on buying essentials, and it is these essentials such as fuel and food that are subject to high inflation.”

And she said that disabled people who cannot work or cannot find work, and those on low earnings, were already being affected by other benefit cuts.

She said: “Decisions on uprating should not be taken without recognising the cumulative impact.”

Lord Newby, the Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman, insisted that the coalition’s intention was not to “demonise”, “stigmatise”, or “brand the poor as undeserving”, but to “help – albeit painfully – provide a sustainable platform for the public finances and the economy going forward”.

He claimed the government had “protected those benefits designed to reflect the additional costs that disabled people face as a result of their disability”, but admitted that some disabled people would be affected by the bill.

13 February 2013