News that the UK government in the House of Commons forced through the welfare benefit cuts it wanted is not surprising. It used the established procedure known as ‘financial privilege’ to by-pass the opposition in the House of Lords. Anything said to be covered by financial privilege means the House of Lords cannot stop it.
And, as such, it should not be thought strange that most Conservative MPs would follow the government’s ‘party line’ and vote to support the measure which will reduce Employment and Support Allowance paid to people with disabilities in the Work-Related Activity Group from £103 to £73, the same amount that is paid to the unemployed, from April next year. The cut is for new claims only and will not affect existing claimant, the government says.
This cut, along with many others, has been opposed by the MS Society and so, what is surprising is how one Conservative MP can square his support for his party and government, by voting for the cut, with his position as patron of the MS Society in his constituency.
The MP, Kit Malthouse who represents Andover in Hampshire, voted in favour of the cuts and is unrepentant. He said: “This government is trying to break away from the low and limiting expectations previous governments have had for disabled people. 64% of people on ESA want to do some kind of work and we’re putting resources into helping them fulfil their potential.
“I’m disappointed at the misinformation and scaremongering about the changes. There will be no change for people already claiming ESA. There will also be no change for those people who are unable to work. The changes only affect new claimants from April 2017 in the Work Related Activity Group. From that date they will receive the same direct level of financial support as those on JSA (Job Seekers Allowance) with extra help to overcome challenges they face. The government has also lifted the time limit on receiving ESA which means many people will be able to continue to work up to 16 hours a week and now receive this benefit indefinitely.
“I support the government in believing that we shouldn’t write people off and I will be holding a summit for employers in April designed to help them be confident about employing people with disabilities.”
Reaction from the MS Society branch of which Mr Malthouse is patron has been somewhat muted in the form of brief statement from Donna Birch, Chair of Andover’s MS Society. She said: “We feel sadly let down by our patron’s actions. Enough stress has already been put on our members by the upheaval of the benefits system, this just adds to their worries.”
It cannot be right to criticise Mr Malthouse for voting in support of a policy which he clearly believes is right but I would suggest that his vote makes his role, as patron of his local MS Society branch, completely untenable. He should take the honourable course of action and resign from being patron or, if he declines to do that, the branch should remove him.