Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/701/13525
Welfare Reform Bill: Lords compromise is no victory
A disabled activist
On 11 January, the House of Lords rejected the Con-Dem coalition government's proposal in its misnamed welfare reform bill to limit the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) that is contribution-based for disabled and sick claimants to one year.
But instead of moving a motion to try to remove this proposal altogether from the welfare reform bill, Lord Patel put forward an amendment that extends this time limit to a minimum of two years.
ESA replaced incapacity benefit and income support for new claimants in 2008 as part of New Labour's welfare reform policy to drive a million people off incapacity benefits. The brutal Work Capability Assessment was also introduced at the same time.
The Lords 'victory' may now mean tens of thousands of disabled people will have the privilege of an extra year to think about how they will cope when moved onto Jobseekers Allowance, equivalent to a 30% cut in their income.
About 60% who will lose contribution-based ESA will be able to claim income-related ESA, but this is means-tested. Anyone who has a partner in full-time work will receive little or no ESA.
The Lords also voted against a time limit on contribution-based ESA for cancer patients and the removal of it from severely disabled young people, some of who would lose up to £100 if they were means-tested on income-related ESA.
Labour shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne sanctimoniously declared: "The government has been defeated because quite simply they tried to cross the basic line of British decency." No doubt Byrne as a minister did not feel this line was crossed when Labour's Welfare Reform Act, which has led to so much misery for disabled claimants, was passed in 2007.
The fact that The Hardest Hit campaign welcomed these votes as significant victories demonstrates the limited ambitions of a campaign strategy based on amending the Welfare Reform Bill in the Lords, rather than building a mass campaign to oppose this bill and all welfare reform outright.
The continuation of ESA in any form will mean claimants will, unless they have very complex conditions, have to show they are actively preparing for work or face sanctions and the possible loss of benefits.
Tory employment minister, Chris Grayling, has made it clear the government will press ahead with its Welfare Reform Bill despite the defeats last week in the Lords or any others it may face when changes to Disability Living Allowance are discussed this week.
In The Socialist 18 January 2012:
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Youth fight for jobs
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party feature
Socialist Party campaigns
International socialist news and analysis