My report from the Invisible Invincible protest is now on The Pod Delusion podcast. Unfortunately it had to be cut by quite a lot to fit the available space, but you can read my original text below. It is largely based on a previous blog post with some added explanation.
There have been lots of articles and blogs about things that are wrong with the Welfare Reform Bill, but strangely there doesn’t seem to be one complete list. Please comment below to help me create such a list and I will update this text as comments come in. The Welfare Reform Bill will
Replace DLA with PIP, introducing a 20% budget cut and regular assessments.
Limit contribution-based ESA for people in the WRAG to one year, after which people may only claim income-based ESA if their partner earns less than £7,500 per year.
Reduce child tax credits (not sure how exactly)
UC will not cover spare bedrooms in social housing.
Charge parents for the use of the CSA after breaking up.
Limit total household benefits to £26,000 per year. (Except when on high rate PIP?)
No longer count disabled children as having paid national insurance contributions.
Abolished the social fund, to be replaced at the whim of local authorities.
Many of you reading will already know what I was doing on Saturday, but I want to get this written up anyway. So here goes.
My alarm went off at 6:30am. Being a chronic insomniac, it was pure luck that I had actually got to sleep by about 2am and so had had some sleep before hand. Strangely I find it easier to function after four hours sleep than after seven, if not for very long, and so I forced down a double dose of painkillers and coffee and managed to get washed and dressed – no small feat for me at any time of day. The I bundled myself into my powerchair and we were off.
First stop was a bus into Evesham. Karen and I walked/rolled to the bus stop and waited in the cold. Eventually the bus arrived (We knew it would be wheelchair accessible this time because Karen had phoned to check the day before) and we travelled twenty minutes or so into town. Then we had to go on half a mile from the bus station to the train station. I had pre-booked assistance to board the train but not tickets, so we went via the ticket office to buy the tickets. £74 of tickets, which went on credit. Protest is costly, in more ways than one. Trains to London actually depart from the other side of the platforms and my chair wasn’t going to go over the footbridge and so we left the ticket office and went around to the other side via the main road, which took a few minutes. After a few minutes wait in the very cold waiting room (people in wheelchairs are told to arrive half an hour before the train is due, as well as to book 24 hours in advance) the train arrived. Unfortunately when I found the car which I had been booked into, it turned out to be beyond the end of platform. The train manager looked a bit harried as we walked all the way to the other end of the train so that he could put us in first class where there was another wheelchair space. The next hurdle was that there was hardly any room to manoeuvre on the way in to the train and I got stuck trying to get past the luggage space. I had to get out of the chair and the train manager actually lifted it clear of the obstruction, all 90KG of it. Once we were underway I settled down with a coffee and tried to eat the bacon roll which we had brought with us, and I wrote a blog post to explain why I was protesting.
In London I got off the train after a brief delay while the ramp was taken to the wrong end of the train, and we made our way out to catch a bus to our meetup location. I must say that I am very impressed with the wheelchair ramps on London buses. There is a button next to the middle door to alert the driver of a wheelchair, and then after passengers have disembarked the doors close again while the motorised ramp is lowered. Then the doors open and allow the wheelchair to board, with plenty of space to get to the designated wheelchair spot. I wish these buses were everywhere.
We got to the McDonalds where we were meeting far earlier than we needed to but we started to bump into other people arriving for the protest anyway. I was pleased to recognise someone that I had seen at a march in Birmingham the previous June, and even more pleased when I realised that it was in fact @pseudodeviant who I knew from Twitter. It turns out that we had met, and had been talking to each other online but not realised who we were! We were approached by John Domokos, a video journalist from The Guardian who interviewed us both about our reasons for protesting. The first of many interviews I would do that day. After a few minutes I met and talked to one of the organisers of our protest about our plan. The number of wheelchairs and other disabled people hanging around outside was making us a bit conspicuous so he suggested I go to meet up with another group a short distance up the road. I was really please to find people from UK Uncut waiting there to assist us, including some people that I had been talking to over the internet for more than a year but had never met. There was much chatting and smiling.
Then just before twelve we all moved off towards Oxford Circus. Volunteers from UK Uncut waited for the lights to go red and then ran across the Regent Street crossing with a chain, locking it at both ends. A line of people disabled people followed rapidly and took up their places along the chain. I was near the back of the line as I was waiting for Karen to return with food for me (I’m diabetic and had realised that I would miss lunch) so I rolled into place right at the end of the line across Regent Street, actually still on the pavement. We all locked on to the chain with D-locks and a cheer went up. We had done it!
After that events were hectic and a bit of a blur to me. Being on the end of the line I was the prime target for hoards of journalists. I did interviews with more than I can remember. I did pieces to camera, for podcasts and radio, talked to journalists scribbling notes, to people from the BBC, The Guardian, The Times, LBC, to more than one team from each of those. I talked constantly for two hours, and my head was spinning. I did a live piece for the One O’Clock news on BBC London radio. The noise of the crowd and the samba band was quite overwhelming and it was only adrenaline from the audacity of what we were doing that kept me going. In between the journalists I met people who I had been talking to on Twitter for months. A great many people seemed to recognise me, which frankly I found quite scary! I also was very pleased to meet Laurie Penny, if only for thirty seconds or so. Throughout the protest people from UK Uncut and others constantly checked if we were OK, offered tea and coffee, and kept us updated with what the police were saying.
I was quite impressed with the police, the Met were calm and pleasant and smiling, which was unexpected. They did pull up with sirens blaring, but then who doesn’t like a good excuse for blues and twos? Two police vans stopped in front of the line and blocked us from the rest of the junction and a row of police lined up in front of the vans facing us. Police did try to take down a banner that was being held across the Tube entrance, and there was a Met cameraman carefully videoing us all, no doubt for the database of protesters that they deny keeping. After about an hour the police made an announcement. I haven’t got a clue what they said, because it was completely incomprehensible, even without the sign-language interpreter that one of the other protesters asked for!
As we neared half past one it seems that the police were getting a little impatient. They informed some of our group that they would tolerate us if we moved aside to only block one side of the road, otherwise they would “take appropriate action.” I almost wish I could have seen what that appropriate action was, because I don’t think the police had any idea. No doubt they had disturbing visions of what the many journalists there would say about police dragging away people in wheelchairs, blind people, people on crutches. And it’s not as though their vans had wheelchair lifts or spaces.
By the time the police had made their feelings on this matter known many of us were quite cold and uncomfortable. This protest was extremely draining for most of the people involved. Although many of us wanted to stay until forced to move, the fact is that most of us could not, and so we all agreed that we would leave at 2pm. In the end it was really chaotic. We all unlocked from the chain and a speech was made, but then no one quite knew which way we were going. Some people had mentioned adjourning to a pub to get warmth and food but as no one knew which one that didn’t happen quickly. We actually ended up milling around in the road and chatting until the police started to look quite stern at about quarter past two.
On the way to the pub there wasn’t room on the pavement for all the wheelchairs, so they ended up in the road. We were in a walking pace procession right down the road in Oxford Street. Eventually it became possible to get on to the pavement but some stayed in the road and a few minutes later some police vans came speeding down the wrong side of the road and then crept along next to the crowd. Eventually everyone reached a pub and tried to cram inside, although it wasn’t possible for everyone in wheelchairs to get in. Several other people and I ended up in a pub next door for an hour or so before moving across to the first pub were we were finally able to get some food and seats.
We had a lovely time in the pub and I met yet more people who I previously knew only through Twitter. I stayed far too long for my own health but I had already condemned myself to days in bed in pain and not moving and this was a very rare opportunity to meet people and so I pushed through with help from copious painkillers.
Eventually Karen and I left the pub and returned to Paddington station. The train back to Evesham is only every two hours and we had more than an hour and a half to wait. We passed the time sitting in a coffee shop at the station and I began to zone out from exhaustion and the strong painkillers that I take. At this point the crowds and the noise of the station seemed like distant things and I was floating in a haze of opiates and tiredness.
When we went to find our pre-booked assistance for boarding half an hour before the train was due to leave the manager told us that Evesham station was unmanned after lunchtime, which we already knew, but he also didn’t think there would be any staff on the train who could place the wheelchair ramp for me instead of station staff. This caused me to panic a bit but the station manager called another manager who called the train driver who thought there might be staff on board after all. I went to board the train, which is where we discovered that the train did not have a wheelchair space at all. I eventually ended up blocking the door area with my wheelchair for the whole journey. I am quite surprised that the assistance booking line were not aware of the situation with the station staff, the train staff or the type of train. I was really uncomfortable so I moved to a seat next to Karen, and after Oxford I moved to an empty double seat where I tried to stretch out to relieve some of the pain. I crashed completely at that point with horrific burning and aching pain in spite of my double dose of painkillers. I was in so much pain that I was crying, and trying to hide it from the other passengers.
When our train arrived at Evesham sometime around midnight I had passed out from pain and exhaustion. Karen tried to get me to move back to my powerchair but was unable to wake me up. My memory of this is hazy but I know that I did stir a little and try to stand but could not, and I ended up on the floor of the train and then slumped across the arm of my wheelchair. I understand that a stranger on the train helped Karen to lift and drag me into my chair. Unfortunately when we arrived the ticket inspector could not unlock the ramp at the station. She had been given the code for the lock but it did not work. My family had come to meet me at the station to drive us home and so I was carried off the train into a manual wheelchair by my brother, mother and wife, apparently dropped near the edge of the platform on the way. They also carried my extremely heavy powerchair off the train. Between them my brother and my wife got me into the car and then from the car to my bed, although I was almost completely unable to move.
And so that is where we are now. I am still in bed at the end of Monday, 48 hours later. I have managed to visit the toilet a couple of times, and I eventually managed to change my clothes this afternoon, but I’m in a lot of pain and I can’t really do much. This is all completely in line with what I expected and I am doubtful if I will be spending any time out of bed before next weekend. This is what the protest cost me, what I knew it would cost me. All I can do is hope that the politicians notice and reconsider their policies.
This video is my personal update from Sunday afternoon.
This is my live interview with BBC London radio – 1pm 28/01/2012
This is the email that I have just sent to my MP ahead of the Welfare Reform Bill activity in parliament this week.
Dear Mr Luff,
I am writing to you once again about the welfare reform bill, which as I am sure you know will return to the commons on Wednesday.
I have received your previous letter dated 11th January 2012 and I am sorry to say I feel that your response was inadequate. In that letter you assured me that the the changes to DLA are the result of one of the biggest consultation ever carried out by the Department of Work and Pensions; however I must inform you that the report which I sent to you and asked you to read proved without a doubt that the government had not only ignored the results of that consultation, but had completely lied about the results in order to claim support where there was none.
You may be aware of a protest that took place at Oxford Circus in London this Saturday just passed. I was one of the people involved in that protest and as a result I have been interviewed by LBC, The Guardian, The Times, The Sunday Times, and many more. I was interviewed live as the top story on BBC London Radio news. I can safely say that there is a lot of interest in our objections to this bill and that the people affected do NOT trust either Iain Duncan Smith or your government. If you care to look I have included links to many of the news stories on my own blog, a link to which is at the end of this email.
I have many objections to the Welfare Reform Bill. By the government’s own admission, the change to PIP will remove support from a great many people. The cumulative effects of this change, and other proposed changes, will be to leave people dependent on more expensive and more acute services. In the end this will cost the government far more than is saved, and will lead to people moving out of communities and back into care homes and institutions.
There are a great many other things wrong with the Bill but what is even more concerning is that way that the government has lied – and I use that strong word quite deliberately – and misled the public to promote their position. They have ridden on the back of scrounger rhetoric from the tabloids, rhetoric which Anne Begg of the Work and Pensions select committee said was being fueled by careless press releases from the DWP. I would go further and suggest that the DWP and the ministers involved are deliberately providing incomplete and out-of-context information to provoke these headlines such as “75% are faking” and other similar attacks.
In short, I do not trust the government, I believe the welfare reform bill to be an irresponsible, mean, penny-pinching and harmful piece of legislation that was drafted without thought or care for the evidence of its impact. I urge you to pause this legislation and review its impact, or at the very least, do not overturn some of the meagre efforts that the Lords have made to mitigate some of its worse effects.
Kaliya Franklin spoke to Radio Merseyside at 7:40 this morning. Listen on iPlayer. (Jump to 1:40 in.)
Home Affair editor Mark Easton outlines the history of the allowance. And Minister for Disabled People Maria Miller and Lord Colin Low, president of the Disability Alliance, debate opposition to proposed changes.
The Victoria Derbyshire show on Radio 5 discussing the Welfare Reform Bill on the 17th January 2012. With Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, Kaliya Frankilin, Louise Bolotin, Jane Young and Minster for disabled people, Maria Miller.
I’ve been sick for more than a decade. I have struggled to keep working for as much of that as I can, even starting my own computer maintenance business, but I have spent a lot of time unable to work. A few years ago I claimed Disability Living Allowance as I had mobility problems and needed care. I was initially turned down and although I eventually won on appeal the process took more than a year.
That was awarded for two years from the date that I first applied and so it soon ran out and required a fresh application. Unfortunately I was too ill to face completing the fifty page form, collecting medical evidence and going through the medical check again and since I was working, I let it go despite being entitled to it.
In August 2010 I became seriously ill once again and eventually in October 2011 I accepted that I wasn’t going to improve any time soon and so I applied for DLA again. This time I received help from the Worcester branch of the DIAL network who asked me questions and filled in my forms for me. The process was still long and exhausting but at least it got done. A few days ago I heard that I had been awarded DLA with a high rate mobility allowance and middle rate care allowance for a period of five years. I was taken by surprise about this as other people with M.E. often have to take their application to appeal.
DLA will make a huge difference to my life. The first thing I did was use the 17 weeks of backdated DLA to pay off my credit card, which had been racking up debt because of the extra costs of living with my illness. Last week I ordered a car from the Motability scheme, which I will pay for by handing over all of my DLA mobility allowance – about £50 per week – for the duration of the three year lease. Having a car will mean that I can leave the house – which I rarely leave at all apart from to go to medical appointments – and I will be able to go shopping with my wife, collect my own medicines from the pharmacy, visit the doctor and the hospital without having to take my father out of work to drive me there, and visit friends who I can only talk to over the telephone or internet at the moment. This car will open up a whole new life for me.
In addition to the car my DLA will pay for things like pre-prepared food that I can access when my wife is unable to be at home to care for me, and to cover the costs of the more expensive specific foods that I need if I am to keep my meals down. It will also pay for extra energy costs for the hot baths that I need to get some pain relief in my aching burning muscles, and air conditioning when the summer heat makes me so ill that I collapse.
In short, my DLA will be life-changing. The government’s plans to replace it under the welfare reform bill and cut 20% of the cost by withholding it from people that desperately need it are a dangerous and heartless thing. Please, sign the petition to pause the welfare reform bill.
The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Chris Grayling): The Department for Work and Pensions has obtained approval for an advance, prior to Royal Assent, from the Contingency Fund of £1,000,000. The funding will allow for the development of the IT changes required to introduce new benefit fraud and claimant error sanctions.
A tougher fraud and error regime was set out in the “Tackling fraud and error in the benefit and tax credit systems” strategy published in October 2010 and changes to sanctions and penalties are included in the Welfare Reform Bill. They provide for the introduction of a Civil Penalty for claimant error and strengthen sanctions for benefit fraudsters. To enable their introduction changes to the Departments’ IT systems will be required. The contingency advance will enable the IT provider to begin work in January 2012 giving them sufficient lead in time to commence changes in 2012.
Did you see what I saw? The DWP are getting their IT provider to start re-writing their computer systems so that they can fine people who make mistakes on their benefit claim forms. In order to do that, Chris Grayling has asked for and received one million pounds to pay for it.
Apart from my immediate revulsion at them penalising people for making mistakes on a very complex form at a time when they are vulnerable, and actually spending that quantity of money to enable them to do so, what makes me the most outraged is that they are spending this money when this bill hasn’t even become law! The welfare reform bill is controversial enough that it has every chance of being sent back to be re-written from scratch and it certainly hasn’t received royal assent. This is actually a trivial example of this behaviour compared to what else they have done though. The DWP has already spent eighteen million pounds out of two billion pounds on starting work on the computer system to run Universal Credit.
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr Iain Duncan Smith): The Department for Work and Pensions has obtained approval for an advance from the Contingencies Fund of £18 million to allow for the development of IT for universal credit before Royal Assent. This amount is part of the proposed investment in universal credit of £2 billion agreed at the time of the spending review.
Apparently the DWP has already awarded contracts to Accenture and IBM worth £500m and £525m respectively. It seems that Atos is the sub-contractor of choice for Accenture so a significant part of that half a billion pounds goes to them.
Spending such massive sums of money before the welfare reform bill has even become law is a huge assumption by the department of work and pensions that the bill will pass into law. It seems that it is common practice for them to start implementing other legislation before the end of the process, and I am unsure what I think of that, but I am sure that this case is too much too soon.
There is something that the DWP has started implementing around the DWP that has me more furious than even the money. The DWP recently sent a letter to every person who claims Contribution-based ESA and is in the Work Related Activity Group. In that letter they warned that the government wants to place a time limit on their benefit and that this could happen in the spring of 2012.
This letter no doubt cause a huge amount of fear and worry for nearly fifty thousand people, warning them of something that might not happen. In this case it might be unfair to blame the DWP for sending warning letters, since we would complain if they did not give any warning. The real fault lies with the government ministers who wrote the legislation in such a way that this benefit would be removed from some people as soon as the bill became law instead of after an appropriate period. I do not think that a bill with such an impact as this should start to be implemented before it has passed the vote. As it is, the house of Lords has amended the bill so that the time limit will be no less than two years and so thousands of people have been put under huge stress about losing their income without reason.
This all comes on top of the finding that the welfare reform bill was written and presented to parliament before the consultation on DLA reform had even finished. Government has got the whole process wrong. The correct order is consult, write legislation, debate, vote, implement law. Not the way that our backwards government does it.
On Monday a report on the welfare reform bill was released, put together under the leadership of Sue Marsh and Kaliya Franklin of The Broken of Britain, and with support from countless sick and disabled people. It has already received support from such names as John Prescott, Caroline Lucas, John McDonnell, Stephen Fry and Tim Minchin. The report, titled Responsible Reform and referred to on the internet as the Spartacus Report, used a freedom of information request to obtain some five hundred responses made to the government consultation on the reform of Disability Living Allowance.
The report is unique in that it was entirely researched, written and funded by disabled people. Funds to enable this report to be produced and to be printed and delivered to MPs and peers were raised through donations from sick and disabled people contacted through social media. They raised more than three thousand pounds. Volunteers were found to contact their MPs to discuss the report, and thousands more helped to promote the report on social media and in the physical world. Press releases were sent out and the authors of the report talked to journalists. Before I tell you what the report found I would like to first tell you what this cost some of the people involved.
First Dr Campbell, who wrote a large part of the report. This is what she said:
I read and recorded the data for the Spartacus report on my daybed.
I wrote the first half of my section of the Spartacus report on my daybed.
I became more and more sick as I wrote it and by that stage became virtually unable to leave my bedroom. My painkillers were now at maximum dose.
I wrote the third quarter of my section of the Spartacus report from my bed.
By this stage I was only able to work for a quarter of an hour at a time and then had to sleep for the rest of the hour.
I wrote the rest of my section of the Spartacus report in bed as and when I could, working through the night as the pain now meant I couldn’t sleep anyway. I no longer left my bedroom.
After sending the report to Sue I spent 5 whole days in bed, only leaving it to drag myself to the loo. I only started to sleep again on day 3 when the pain started to abate.
When the spartacus campaign was launched I tweeted, emailed and facebooked from my daybed. By early evening (6pm) I had to retire to my bedroom.
On day 2 I was bedbound and unable to leave my bedroom. I tweeted etc from my bed. Painkillers once again to max.
Today, still confined to bed.
Sue Marsh described her effort like this:
I pushed myself to the absolute limits and each time I did, I had to go to bed or be threatened with hospital.
I did the first two weeks of #spartacusreport from bed, barely able to get myself a drink.
Then, when I realised what I’d taken on, I gave my life to it. I worked from 6am til midnight, I didn’t wash any clothes or play with my children for 6 weeks, I didn’t cook, I didn’t appeal my DLA decision, I didn’t sort my housing benefit out, I didn’t go out, I didn’t do anything but work on #sartacusreport.
Immense thank yous to my Mum, Husband and children for making it even vaguely possible.
I had three chest infection, a crohn’s flare a fractured rib, two atrial fibrillations and I didn’t even tell anyone about the last thing cos I knew they’d make me stop.
By the end of the second day of pushing this report several of the people involved were so ill that they were hospitalised. Kaliya Franklin recorded a video in which she told us about these events but she was unable to speak above a whisper and was very close to hospitalisation herself.
So now you know just what went into this report, but what did the report actually find?
The report found that the vast majority of responses to the consultation were against the introduction of Personal Independence Payments to replace DLA. While most people accept that some reform of Disability Living Allowance is necessary, there is widespread agreement in the responses that Personal Independence Payments are not it. Of the five hundred responses to the consultation, 74% were against the proposals for PIP, and 19% had serious reservations. A mere 7% supported the proposals.
One very unexpected find is that the Conservative mayor of London, Boris Johnson submitted a response to the consultation in which he slammed the proposed reforms and even questioned the motivation of the government. He concluded with:
“While some reform may be necessary and some proposals are positive in terms of simplifying the benefit and reducing bureaucracy, the Mayor is concerned that if the focus of this reform is solely efficiency driven government, may fail to ensure that the needs of disabled people are adequately met and many will suffer additional hardship and isolation.”
This story was unexpected enough that it made it into the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Mirror, and even the Daily Mail.
So the first find is that despite government claims to the contrary, the consultation was overwhelmingly against the proposed reforms. This hasn’t stopped the government continuing to claim support.
The second important find is that the consultation, which was two weeks shorter than required by the governments own code of practice and took place over the Christmas break for good measure, ended two days AFTER the welfare reform bill was written and presented to parliament. The bill clearly could not have been written based on evidence submitted during the consultation even if it were written by hummingbirds on speed.
This is not the only problem with the behaviour of the government. They have consistently claimed that there has been a 30% rise in claims for DLA, but it is actually 13%. The government has even admitted that this figure is “distorted” but continues to claim 30% which is the figure that MPs and peers have been told and have used in Parliamentary debates. The government has failed to note that much of the 13% rise in claims for DLA is due to an increase in diagnosis of mental health problems and learning disabilities. This is likely to reflect improved health care rather than nefarious claims for DLA.
The report notes that DLA is not an out of work benefit but is a cost-saving benefit. DLA is paid to cover some of the extra costs incurred when living with an illness or disability, and is paid regardless of income. By covering those costs DLA allows independence and freedom to people which they would not otherwise have, and if taken from them would cause them to fall back on other health care and welfare services instead. Many people are able to work only because DLA provides them with the ability to travel or make expensive adaptions, and without DLA will be forced to claim other benefits instead. As such DLA actually saves money by preventing the need for much greater expenditure elsewhere.
One expectation of the welfare reform bill is a 20% cut in the budget for welfare costs. One of the ways in which they intend to accomplish this is that the new personal independence payments would introduce frequent testing much like the work capability assessment used for Employment and Support Allowance. The report notes that this testing is pointless in a great many cases where disability is permanent and may be degenerative, which given how hard it is to get DLA, is a lot of cases. It seems to me that the purpose of introducing such tests is to pander to tabloids and their readers rather than common sense. The policy defies logic enough that in April last year Ollie Flitcroft, a Conservative councillor for Barrow Borough Council and himself a wheelchair user, resigned in protest. Even the Daily Mail has featured an article favourable to the spartacus report.
There were several other important point in the report but I will leave these for you to read for yourself. The link to the report is at the end of this article.
The spartacus report found that the government has comprehensively mislead parliament and the public about the facts behind these reforms. The report says “We argue that reform must be measured, responsible and transparent, based on available evidence and designed with disabled people at the very heart of decision-making. Currently, we do not believe this to be the case.”
Since the release of the spartacus report and all of the campaigning that has gone with it, the debate of the welfare reform bill has resumed in the house of lords. Having already been through detailed examination at the committee stage but having most amendments blocked by conservative peers, the bill is now the subject of a flurry of amendments at the report stage through January. On Wednesday heated debate in the Lords surrounded amendments to the government’s key policies on Employment and Support Allowance. Lord Patel and Lady Meacher argued the case for their amendments from a very strong position which Lord Freud was unable to counter. In an embarassing turn for the government, three amendments were passed by substantial majorities which overturned plans to time-limit contribution based ESA to one year, exempted cancer patients from time limits all together, and restored access to ESA for children with severe disabilities so that they would be ensured the support that they need in the future.
Despite this defeat, which is perhaps the largest defeat for the government since the election, this fight is by no means over. The report stage continues in the house of Lords through January, and after the third reading it must return to the house of commons for approval of the amendments. I still believe that the whole bill is flawed, and I and countless other disabled people call for the welfare reform bill to be put on hold and reconsidered in light of proper evidence.
Disability campaigners went to bed smiling last night after an apparent victory when the government suffered a huge defeat over key policies of the Welfare Reform Bill. Three amendments were passed that would change the new time limit on contribution-based ESA from one year to a minimum of two years, remove the limit altogether for cancer patients, and would ensure that disabled children with no chance to make national insurance contributions would still be able to receive ESA in their adult life.
But Lord Freud did not accept his crushing defeat so easily. Although the debate on the welfare reform bill finished earlier that day, it resumed again around 8.30pm and Freud introduced a vote on amendment 45a that would render the earlier amendments irrelevant.
Earlier in the day Lord Patel’s amendment 45 had removed clause 52 from the bill, which related to children with no national insurance contributions. Amendment 45A rendered amendment 45 useless by re-inserting the content of clause 52 and thus removing future ESA from disabled children. Since amendment 45 had been voted on and passed by the full house, it is against normal procedure to vote on an amendment that contradicts it. Lord McKenzie furiously tried to oppose the amendment but many of those in opposition to the bill had gone home already and so the amendment was passed by 132 votes to 49. It is just speculation but I wonder if Conservative peers were briefed to stay behind. Of the amendment McKenzie said:
“This amendment was in the same group as the amendment on which the Government were defeated but runs contrary to the decision that the House made previously. The assumption is that this matter will not be pressed. Otherwise, the Government give us no alternative but to force a vote on it.”
After his first sneaky win Freud attempted to overturn his other two previous defeats however at this point peers were getting very angry with him. Baroness Hollis said:
“I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Freud, does not wish to appear to be subverting the view of the entire House, which was expressed in the full knowledge that the amendment which we voted on was devised—I devised it—as a paving amendment to a substantive one, so that we could debate it in good time. Most of the population of the House has gone home, believing in good faith that the previous vote has established the principle—as it has. However, the noble Lord is trying to renege on that by forcing a vote despite the late-night keeping of the roster. That would be quite improper and quite unprecedented, and I strongly suggest that he think again.”
Lord Bassam said
“My Lords, this is somewhat unprecedented”
At this point it appears that Lord Freud backed down and did not attempt any further amendments.
This behaviour by Lord Freud and the government is astonishing. It cannot be interpreted in any way other than that the government tried to subvert the will of parliament. The language of Hollis and Bassam is important here. Their phrases “quite improper and quite unprecedented” and “somewhat unprecedented” are strong language when it comes to parliament and translate to something more like “what the hell are you doing”.
This morning Chris Grayling said to Radio 4 that the government will reverse the amendments to the bill when the welfare reform bill returns to the House of Commons. Grayling does not live in the real world on these matters. He talks about children inheriting money and still receiving benefits. This is confusing, since I think very few people outside of the circles that Chris Grayling moves in will inherit that much money, and in any case, this bill doesn’t take benefits away from children who inherit money, it takes it away from ALL of them. Current income related benefits already ask the question about savings and these benefits are not given to people with a few thousand in the bank. Baroness Meacher said on the same programme “The British public do not accept that banks screw up and very severely disabled people pay the bill.”
If anyone had previously thought that the government were simply misguided as to what their policy would do they should revise their opinion. This government is corrupt.
Thank you to Karen Sumpter for helping me get my insomnia-addled brain around all of this before noon.