MPs help WOW win fight for second Commons debate

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Campaigners have won their fight to persuade MPs to hold a second debate in the House of Commons on the need for the government to assess the overall damage caused to disabled people by years of austerity cuts.

The announcement that a debate will take place is a victory for members of the WOW Campaign, who have been seeking cross-party backing for a follow-up to a high-profile debate that took place in the Commons four years ago.

The second debate, which will call on the government to commission an independent cumulative assessment of the impact of social security changes on sick and disabled people, their families and carers, will be headed by Labour MPs Debbie Abrahams and Kate Green.

Abrahams is a former shadow minister for disabled people and shadow work and pensions secretary, and Green is a former shadow minister for disabled people.

But they have secured strong cross-party backing from about 20 opposition MPs, including the SNP’s Dr Philippa Whitford, Green MP Caroline Lucas, and Liberal Democrat work and pensions spokesman Stephen Lloyd, but also four Tory MPs, Michael Tomlinson, Sir Mike Penning (a former minister for disabled people), Nigel Mills and Dr Dan Poulter.

The need for a debate has been agreed by the backbench business committee, which is given a limited number of slots in the Commons timetable – outside government control – to schedule subjects suggested by backbench MPs.

Abrahams and Green hope the debate will take place in the main Commons chamber and will last three hours. A date has not yet been set by the committee.

In her successful request for a debate, Abrahams told the committee that organisations that have called for a cumulative impact assessment (CIA) include the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, the government’s own social security advice body, and peers on the House of Lords Equality Act 2010 and disability committee.

And she pointed to a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, published in March, which calculated its own cumulative impact assessment of all the tax, national insurance, social security and minimum wage reforms introduced between May 2010 and January 2018.

That report found that some disabled lone parents would eventually lose more than 30 per cent of their income – more than £11,000 a year – due to eight years of cuts.

Abrahams had told the committee: “Given the fact that we have not had a debate in four years and that we have had the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016, the roll-out of universal credit, changes around the criteria for personal independence payment and so on, we hope that the backbench business committee is able to support this debate.”

The WOW Campaign said the need for an assessment of the “human impact” of the government’s cuts to disability support had become “even more urgent” because of the roll-out of the government’s new universal credit, and it called on the government to “show a duty of care” to disabled people.

A WOW Campaign spokeswoman said: “They have all seen disabled people and carers at their surgeries impacted by cuts, they have seen the desperation, they have no excuse for not protecting us and assessing how hard we have been hit to fulfil an ideology.”

Four years ago, nearly 105,000 people signed a petition launched by the WOW Campaign that called on the government to carry out a CIA.

That petition – and the earlier Pat’s Petition – led to a debate in February 2014, the first time that disabled people had secured a debate in the main Commons chamber on an agenda they had chosen themselves.

Michelle Maher, from the WOW Campaign, called on disabled people and their allies to push their own MPs to attend the debate, which she hoped would reveal the truth, “that disability support has been cut by billions” including cuts in areas such as social care, respite care, NHS funding and housing benefit.

She said: “The most severely disabled children and adults have been hit the hardest.

“In whose world is it OK for severely disabled children and their carers to pay for the mistakes of bankers?”

 

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