11 March 2011

There is evidence that  opposition to the coalition’s welfare reform plans  is rapidly growing.  Whether it will be  strong enough to force the government to make changes remains to be seen, but it is heartening that the unopposed demonising of claimants in the media and parliament seems to be drawing to an end.

In the House of Commons, the welfare reform bill survived its second reading with ease yesterday, with a government majority of 73 against a labour amendment.  However, twelve labour MPs then went on to defy their own whips by voting against giving the bill a second reading, rather than abstaining as instructed.

There is now a real possibility that labour will be prepared to vote against a third reading unless the coalition gives considerable ground and adds greater detail to the bill. 

The likelihood is increased by the fact that a growing number of charities are joining forces to speak out against the reforms.  Prior to yesterday’s debate, no fewer than 30 cancer charities jointly condemned aspects of the welfare reform bill, including the time limiting of contributory employment and support allowance and the increase in the waiting period for personal independence payment to 6 months, compared to three months for disability living allowance.

There is a detailed look at the debate on the Where’s the Benefit blog.

Meanwhile, the intention to end Personal Independence Payment at 65 has been thrown into doubt by comments in a debate on DLA earlier in the day.

In addition, the harsh new work capability assessment, due to begin on 28th March is still not entirely certain to come into force.  Opposition to it is growing in the House of Lords, where a debate on the new WCA is due to be held on 16th March.

Meanwhile, proposals to cut housing benefit are to face a legal challenge mounted by Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG).   CPAG have launched a judicial review against plans to limit housing benefit to homes with four bedrooms or fewer and to impose a cap on how much housing benefit can be paid.

CPAG is arguing that the effects of these changes would be to drive claimants out of large parts of the south of England, including parts of London, in particular.  CPAG’s chief executive, Alison Graham,  described the government’s plans as ‘social cleansing’. 

The charity has a very impressive track record in bringing and winning cases against successive governments and the move is likely to be causing real concern within the DWP.


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