A disabled peer has failed by just two votes to overturn plans that will see a steep cut in financial support for many families with disabled children.
Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson told peers the measure in the welfare reform bill would halve the financial support currently provided through child tax credits to most families with disabled children.
Those whose children do not currently qualify for the higher rate care component of disability living allowance – or who are not registered blind – will see these extra tax credits drop from about £54 to £27 a week.
Most families with a disabled child will lose about £1, 400 a year, affecting about 100,000 disabled children.
The government claims it wants to align the financial support provided to disabled children with that offered to disabled adults when it introduces the new universal credit, its plan for simplifying the benefits system.
Proposing an amendment to the bill that would have prevented the cut, Baroness Grey-Thompson said the government’s measure would “damage thousands of families who rely on this support for their disabled child”.
She received widespread backing, including from fellow disabled peers Baroness [Jane] Campbell, the Liberal Democrat Baroness [Celia] Thomas, and Labour’s Baroness [Rosalie] Wilkins, who said: “Are we really becoming such a mean-spirited nation that we are willing to take away funding from less disabled children as the only means by which more severely disabled children can benefit?”
Lord Freud, the Conservative welfare reform minister, said that, under universal credit, severely disabled adults would receive an extra £45 a week.
He said: “We are trying to get money to the most severely disabled in our community.
“There is a real decision here: maintaining the existing rates for children without doing that – without finding this money – would cost an extra £200 million a year. I simply do not have that money.”
Baroness Grey-Thompson’s amendment was defeated by just two votes.
Later in the week, the government was heavily defeated on another amendment to the bill, which overturned its plans to tighten the rules on unoccupied bedrooms for working-age tenants of social housing.
The so-called “bedroom tax” would mean households losing an average of £14 a week in housing benefit if they had at least one unoccupied bedroom in their home.
Research by the Housing Futures Network suggests that more than 70 per cent of the households affected would include someone with an impairment or significant health condition.
The amendment – proposed by the crossbench peer Lord Best – limits penalties to households with at least two extra bedrooms and those with one extra bedroom who have been offered suitable alternative accommodation.
The amendment was passed by 258 votes to 190, despite Lord Freud announcing an extra £30 million a year to help disabled people in “significantly adapted” housing, and foster carers, who would otherwise have been caught out by the new rules.
But Lord Best’s amendment is likely to be overturned when the bill returns to the Commons in the New Year.
15 December 2011