Disabled peers believe they could still help to secure improvements to the welfare reform bill, despite their anger and frustration with the government over how it has handled the legislation.
The bill is due to return to the Lords on Tuesday (14 February), nearly two weeks after coalition MPs overturned seven key amendments that had been passed by peers.
Among those seven were three amendments that would have eased the government’s cuts to spending on employment and support allowance (ESA) – the new out-of-work disability benefit – and another that would have reversed plans to cut financial support for young disabled people with lower support needs.
Much of the anger has been over the government’s decision to take advantage of the rarely-used “financial privilege” to ensure that peers cannot reintroduce the seven amendments when the bill returns to the Lords.
But Disability News Service understands that crossbench and Labour peers now hope to introduce at least two new amendments aimed at trying again to soften the cuts to disability benefits.
One is likely to be around the cuts to financial support for young disabled people with lower support needs, and the other would reinstate the contributory form of ESA to disabled young people with the highest support needs.
Because of the government’s use of financial privilege, peers will have to ensure that the cost of any amendments they introduce are lower than those MPs have already thrown out.
One of the disabled peers likely to play a key role over the next few days is Baroness [Jane] Campbell, who has now recovered after being taken ill with pneumonia last month, just two days before the Lords was due to debate key measures around scrapping working-age disability living allowance and replacing it with a new personal independence payment (PIP).
She described the way the government had behaved over the last month as “politics at its worst” and “very depressing”, but said she “realised that there wasn’t much that I could have done” if she had been present for the debates.
The disabled Labour peer Baroness [Rosalie] Wilkins said the government’s use of financial privilege had been “outrageous” after the months of work peers had put into improving the bill.
And she said the threats of legal action against the government from disability organisations including the UK Disabled People’s Council and Disability Rights UK – once the bill becomes law – were “justified”.
Baroness Campbell accused Lord Freud, the government’s welfare reform minister, of “putting his own intellectual ambition about how a new welfare state could and should operate, before the detrimental consequences for current disabled people’s lives”.
She said she believed the minister did “not understand the lived experience of disabled people’s lives”.
She said PIP would introduce a “different kind of assessment” that would “leave out a whole range of extra living costs faced by disabled people”.
And she said she also feared that PIP itself would soon be swallowed up by council-managed personal budgets.
Baroness Campbell said she could “almost guarantee” that there would not be a “universal right” to PIP by 2020.
The Department for Work and Pensions declined to comment on any discussions it was having with peers over the bill.
9 February 2012