A benefits bill that will see disabled people in 3.4 million households across Britain lose out looks certain to become law.
The welfare benefits up-rating bill was passed by MPs this week and will now be debated in the House of Lords.
It 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.
The disabled Liberal Democrat peer Baroness [Celia] Thomas , her party’s former work and pensions spokeswoman, told Disability News Service (DNS) that she feared the Lords would be powerless to prevent the bill being passed.
She said this was because the government would inevitably use the much-criticised “financial privilege” procedure in the Commons to overturn any amendments passed by peers, as the changes would almost certainly result in extra spending.
Baroness Thomas said the bill would “come in for some stick” in the Lords, but she said: “I am not going to waste my energies on something we will not get anywhere near.”
She said some of her fellow Liberal Democrat peers would “almost certainly” vote against the government on the bill, but she added: “I personally am not sure I will. I like to pick my fights.”
She and other disabled peers are focusing much of their energy on other key issues, particularly on pushing for changes to crucial regulations that will decide eligibility for the new personal independence payment.
Four other disabled peers, Baroness [Jane] Campbell, Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, Lord [Colin] Low, and Baroness [Rosalie] Wilkins, all told DNS they hoped to speak against the up-rating bill.
During this week’s Commons debate on the bill, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, Liam Byrne, said 3.4 million households that include a disabled person would lose out from the one per cent cap by an average of £156 a year, even though the chancellor, George Osborne, had promised disability benefits would increase in line with inflation.
Labour’s shadow employment minister Stephen Timms described it as “a terrible bill that is being rushed through in a disgraceful manner”.
And Dr Eilidh Whiteford, the SNP’s work and pensions spokeswoman, said it was “a sad state of affairs when disabled people who, through no fault of their own, cannot persuade an employer to give them a job, are being pushed further into poverty and are being blamed and vilified for the state of the wider economy”.
But Iain Duncan Smith, the Conservative work and pensions secretary, said the main argument for the bill was “the need to reduce the historic deficit left by Labour”, while the second reason “relates to the issue of fairness”.
He said: “We do not do these things lightly, but we do want to make sure that those paying the tax bill for those receiving it in welfare recognise that their taxes are well spent; we want to ensure that those in work paying their taxes do not see the rises for those on welfare outstripping their own.”
The second reading of the bill in the Lords is due to take place on 11 February.
23 January 2013