Labour urges welfare reform rethink
The Government is being urged by Labour to abandon contentious welfare reforms after a series of defeats in the Lords.
Planned restrictions on employment and support allowance (ESA) affecting cancer patients and the disabled were overturned by peers considering the Welfare Reform Bill. The Lords also rejected a proposed one-year limit on ESA claims.
Labour said the coalition had been defeated for trying to "cross the basic line of British decency" and urged ministers not to try to reinstate the measures in the Commons. The Government was defeated by 234 to 186, majority 48, over a plan to limit to one year the time people can claim ESA.
Peers agreed a move to replace the one-year cap with the ability for the Government to specify a limit of no less than two years.
Leading medic Lord Patel, an independent crossbench peer, said: "I am sympathetic to cutting the deficit, but I am highly sympathetic to sick and vulnerable people not being subjected to something that will make their lives even more miserable."
The Government was also defeated when peers voted by 222 to 166, majority 56, to accept another amendment by Lord Patel removing the time limit on contributory ESA payments from people receiving treatment for cancer.
Shadow welfare minister Lord McKenzie attacked the Government's proposal as "fundamentally unfair" and called for a limit to be reached after "an evidence-based process" and not chosen as an "an arbitrary figure".
But Welfare Reform Minister Lord Freud said the effect of increasing the time limit from one to two years would be £1.6 billion over five years. He said the proposal to time-limit contributory ESA only applied to people in the "work-related activity group" and not those in the "support group" who were deemed incapable of work.
"Those in the support group and those claiming income-related ESA are unaffected by these proposals," he said. "We will always provide a safety net for those with limited income and people will still be able to claim income-related ESA."
Employment minister Chris Grayling told BBC Radio 4: "We have said very clearly that we will seek to reverse the amendments in the Lords when it comes back to the Commons. We are dealing with some extraordinarily difficult times economically and financially, we are having to bring down the cost of the welfare state."