Liberal Democrat conference voted on Saturday for a motion criticising employment support allowance and Atos work capability assessments. In addition they passed an amendment to the motion which contained much more interesting statements. Page 20 of Conference Extra [PDF] gives details of amendment one for motion F6.
This amendment means that LibDems oppose limiting ESA to one year for those that have made national insurance contributions, demand that people with “serious and uncontrollable life-threatening conditions” are given unconditional support instead of having to attend work-focussed interviews, and are in favour of giving legal help to those appealing against being declared fit to work. They also want Atos to be forced to improve their performance, and in future, for the role of assessing people as fit for work or not to be carried out by government or non-profit groups.
While this has come late in the day, the Welfare Reform Bill has not yet been passed by the House of Lords and so now that the LibDems have adopted this motion and amendment I am hopeful that LibDem peers might oppose aspects of the bill that conflict with it and either amend the bill or send it back to the house of commons to start again. I don’t know how binding this motion is on the LibDem peers but their previous stance does not have the backing of the party. In fact, when this motion was voted on there were very few people that voted against it at all.
There were some excellent speeches in favour of this motion and amendment and I have uploaded some of the best to Youtube – see further down. You can also view the whole afternoon’s proceedings on iPlayer for a limited time. The motion was originally written by George Potter who contacted a few different people for help. In his speech he used Sue Marsh of Diary of a Benefit Scrounger as his main example.
However, it’s not all good news. Many LibDems wanted to debate the governments plans for the NHS in the Health and Social Care Bill, also waiting to pass through the Lords. They held a vote on whether or not to debate and vote on the bill during the conference. The vote was 235 in favour of debating it versus 183 against, but unfortunately they needed a two thirds majority to win and so the bill will not be debated. This means that the Health and Social Care Bill will still go through the house of Lords with LibDem support although it might just about be possible to stop it if all the cross-bench peers vote against.
Nick Clegg and Simon Hughes spoke during the opening of the conference and talked about opposing ruthless and extreme right-wing policies that the Conservatives are pushing through. They seem to think that they can win back support by opposing the Tories. I think they are wrong. The biggest things that they needed to stop were the cuts to welfare and the massive changes to the NHS, and before that, the scrapping of funding for universities and the introduction of huge tuition fees. I think it’s too late for the LibDems. They don’t seem to have noticed.