The government has again succeeded in overturning an amendment to the welfare reform bill that would have protected some disabled people from cuts to their benefits.
The amendment would have exempted many disabled people from a proposal to cut the housing benefit of working-age residents of social housing with spare bedrooms.
It was passed last week by peers but overturned by MPs in the Commons this week, and is now the only remaining element of the hugely controversial bill that has yet to be agreed by both houses of parliament.
Under the amendment, disabled people claiming disability living allowance and those in the support group of employment and support allowance would have been exempt from the cuts – as long as they had just one spare bedroom and no suitable offer of alternative accommodation.
Chris Grayling, the Conservative employment minister, said the amendment was “unaffordable”, at £100 million a year, although he said the government had already provided £30 million for local authorities to help about 40,000 of the claimants affected by the measure, including foster carers and disabled people in adapted accommodation.
But the Labour MP Tom Clarke asked Grayling to “bear in mind the fact that the government’s own calculations indicate that 66 per cent of disabled people will bear the burden of an average loss of £13 a week”.
Stephen Timms, Labour’s shadow employment minister, pointed out that the £30 million was not ring-fenced and so local councils could use it for other purposes.
He said: “Let us call a spade a spade: this is a spiteful cut in people’s income.”
The disabled Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Lloyd said it would be “daft” to force disabled people who had had expensive adaptations carried out on their homes to move house because they have a spare bedroom.
He said: “A number of my disabled constituents, such as wheelchair-users, have had extensive adaptations in their homes – I am thinking of one particular individual… which have made a considerable difference to their lives.
“It took probably two or three years to get the work done in that case, and it would frankly be daft to move that individual out of her home because of the one-bedroom rule. The local authority has already spent £10,000 on those adaptations.”
Because of a time-limit on the debate, Grayling did not have time to respond to Lloyd’s request for “reassurance”, and Lloyd voted with the government, although he insisted later that the government had given a commitment that there would be enough discretionary funds to prevent disabled people in such circumstances from having to move home.
The bill will now return to the Lords, for further debate on the spare bedroom proposal, the final part of the bill still to be approved before it can become law.
23 February 2012