Campaigners are hoping to persuade peers to make significant changes to the government’s welfare reform bill, after coalition MPs approved measures that could see hundreds of thousands of disabled people lose some or all of their benefits.
The bill passed its report and third reading stages in the Commons, despite Labour opposition and now passes to the Lords.
But campaigners believe that peers – seen as more independent-minded than MPs – will secure important changes to the proposed legislation.
Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance, said it was “disappointing” that the bill had been approved by MPs, but added: “We are hopeful for significant change in the House of Lords.”
He said MPs’ decision-making had been “hampered” by the “deeply harmful” refusal of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to provide “even a rough estimate of the number of people who stand to lose out”.
He said: “We are desperately trying to find out who is affected, so decision-makers [in parliament] can have that information to hand.”
Among the measures still causing concern are proposals to remove the mobility component of personal independence payment (PIP) – the planned replacement for disability living allowance (DLA) – from most disabled people in residential care.
Maria Miller, the disabled people’s minister, said during this week’s report stage debate that the government does “not intend to remove somebody’s ability to get out and about”, but she has so far failed to explain what mobility support will be available for those in care homes.
There are also serious concerns over the draft “descriptors” for the new PIP assessment, which will decide who is eligible for the benefit.
Coyle said the descriptors suggest that “many thousands more people could lose out than we originally expected”, and focus on “very, very restricted” questions such as whether claimants can feed and toilet themselves, when the government claims PIP is designed to support active, independent people.
Other measures causing concern include proposals to increase the qualifying period for PIP from three months (as it is with DLA) to six months.
Campaigners are hoping the government will agree to keep this figure at three months, but instead extend the further length of time that the impairment is expected to last from six months to nine.
Miller said during the report stage debate that the government had “been listening to the arguments regarding the return to a three-month qualifying period”.
And there will also be intense lobbying of peers over plans to impose a 12-month limit on disabled people receiving “contributory” employment and support allowance – the replacement for incapacity benefit – for those in the “work-related activity group”.
The impact of this change on people recovering from cancer was raised during this week’s prime minister’s questions by Labour leader Ed Miliband, who claimed it would leave “7,000 cancer patients worse off by as much as £94 a week”.
16 June 2011