UK Government plans to cut welfare benefits still further were, as expected, put back on track last night, Wednesday, when the House of Commons voted 309 to 275 to throw out an amendment passed by the House of Lords last week after an impassioned plea from a well-known former wheelchair athlete.
The bill, when it is finally approved and given the formality of Royal Assent, will hit people with disabilities who are assessed, often wrongly, as being fit enough to work This includes those with multiple sclerosis.
Indeed, a huge proportion of such people who have been judged as ‘fit to work’, under the Employment and Support Allowance’s Work Capability Assessment, have had their assessments overturned on appeal.
Last night, the Welfare Reform and Work Bill was back in the House of Commons as the latest stage of what has been labelled parliamentary ‘ping pong’ with the bill being played back and forth like a table tennis ball between the two Houses that together form the British parliament.
The bill aims to implement a number of changes including lowering the benefits cap, reducing support to low income in-work families through cuts to child tax credits, toughening work-related requirements for Universal Credit, changing Support for Mortgage Interest from a grant into a loan and, most controversially, cutting the Work Related payments of Employment and Support Allowance, for new claimants, by around £30 a week.
Before last night, this had been approved by the Commons, thrown out by the Lords, re-approved by the Commons and delayed by the Lords a second time on Monday this week when the Lords voted to approve an amendment, by 289 and 219, to delay the ESA cuts pending a parliamentary report on the impact on claimants.
Crossbench (unaligned) Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson, a former international wheelchair athlete, made a passionate speech urging the Lords to oppose the cuts.
If allowed to remain, the amendment would have meant that the cut could only be implemented once a full impact assessment had been carried out. The report would then be put before both Houses and they would vote on the legislation.
But the Commons, as the elected House, has rejected this particular Lords’ amendment.