This Wednesday, the Government will attempt to overturn the amendments to its Welfare Reform Bill made by the Lords in the House of Commons.
Last week I reported that over 50 former Lib Dem candidates, including several Leadership Programme hopefuls and asked people to write to Liberal Democrat MPs to try to secure their support for the amendments passed by the Lords.
The vote on Wednesday is not the end of the story. If the Commons and Lords can’t agree on the final wording of a Bill, it falls. That will only bring about a year’s respite, though, as the Government will simply put it through without Lords’ consent under the terms of the Parliament Act. The Government will be keen to avoid this, though, as it would delay implementation – and the Treasury’s sums are based on the assumption that it will be put into practice from April this year. It would also mean the delay in the good parts of the Bill, like the Universal Credit which removes the poverty trap which prevents people from taking jobs.
Yesterday, I e-mailed all our MPs. This is what I said to them:
I write as a party member who feels deeply uncomfortable that the Liberal Democrats are being associated with measures in the Welfare Reform Bill which, without justification, will make life much more difficult for many sick, disabled and vulnerable people.
I’m asking you to do what you can to ensure that the measures are changed ahead of the votes in the House of Commons on Wednesday. Ideally, I would like you to vote against them, but I’m enough of a realist to know that that will not happen. I have enough faith in our parliamentary parties to know that many members in both Commons and Lords will have already secured worthwhile changes on parts of the Welfare Reform Bill, but I still think that there are some elements that are unacceptable.
I spoke at a fringe meeting on this issue, run by RNIB Scotland, at Scottish Conference last Autumn Their incoming chair, Ken Reed, asked us to imagine being blinded in an accident tomorrow. He said it would take a year to get used just to being blind, let alone having to compete in an ever more difficult labour market. Four years as a Lib Dem MP’s caseworker convinces me that there are many people, with quite serious conditions who are not well enough to work, who have been put into WRAG, despite the Harrington reviews.
I personally know a number of people who have worked for their whole lives, only to fall ill in their 50s. They stand to lose £400 a month which they can’t afford to lose. Had they been on benefits when they fell ill they would still qualify for income related ESA. This does not fit in with the Government’s stated aim that work should always pay.
The income limit for income related ESA is not very high – well below average earnings. Being ill can be costly – for example, if you can’t move around much, you’ll need to keep your house warmer. If you need regular hospital treatment, transport costs can quickly mount up.
Liberal Democrat conference has made its position on this issue quite clear. Last September a motion was passed overwhelmingly which called on Liberal Democrats in Government to oppose arbitrary time limits for contributory ESA.
I hope that you will agree that the above factors make a compelling case against the proposed time limit. The Lords’ amendment was not perfect and I would prefer an arrangement which would not
I also do not believe that charging for child maintenance services is fair. Absent parents who don’t want to co-operate have no incentive to go to mediation because they know that there will be no consequences for them.
The reforms to DLA seem to be based on flawed figures, over estimation of both cost and fraud and should be properly reconsidered.
If we need to save money, there are plenty other things the Government funds which could be stopped before taking essential cash from sick and disabled people. Please do what you can to secure realistic change, at a minimum letting the Lords Amendments stand.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.
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