DLA Story

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.

Ministers getting ahead of themselves

The DWP has released a ministerial statement from Chris Grayling. Here’s the important bit:

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.

 

Responsible Reform report media roundup

The Responsible Reform report on the replacement of DLA by PIP has slowly been gaining media attention. Here are some of the appearances that I know of.

Sue Marsh on BBC Radio 5 with Maria Miller, minister for disabled people

Sue Marsh on BBC Newsnight with Chris Grayling, Minister of State at the Department for Work and Pensions

Note that what Chris Grayling said here was untrue.

Baroness Meacher on BBC News

Margo Milne on talkSPORT radio

Kaliya Franklin on Technical Difficulties, Resonance FM

A transcript is available at Indigo Jo Blogs.

Latentexistence on The Pod Delusion, also Resonance FM (Starts at 9:36)

A transcript is available on my previous blog post.

Sue Perkins on The News Quiz on Radio 4 (Starts at 8:44)

The News Quiz on iPlayer

More stuff:

For many links to articles around the web please see  the “all big ideas start small” blog.

Read the report: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/files/response_to_proposed_dla_reforms.pdf

Sign the petition: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/20968

The #spartacusreport is on the @PodDelusion podcast

The piece below was written for the Pod Delusion podcast. You can listen starting at 9:36. You can download an MP3 or subscribe on the Pod Delusion website.

This is the full text of my report.

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.

Responsible Reform – the report in full (PDF)

Government filthy tricks subvert parliamentary process

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.

Many thanks to Mason Dixon for uncovering all of this

Live discussion of Welfare reform bill [The Guardian]

Are welfare cuts ‘over the line’? – Radio 4 Today [Radio 4]

Welfare Reform Bill Amendments On Disabled People’s ESA Income Will Be Overturned, Pledges Chris Grayling [Huffington Post]

 

 

Responsible Reform report in simple terms

Clearly we haven’t explained the Responsible Reform report simply enough for busy journalists to take it in. Freedom of information requests were used to gain access to responses to the consultation on replacing disability living allowance with personal independence payments. The response showed that:

  • The government said that the responses support the reforms. They lied. The consultation showed that only 7% do.
  • The consultation did not meet the government’s code of practice. It was too short and it ended two days AFTER they wrote and presented the bill to parliament.
  • The government has consistently claimed a 30% rise in DLA claims. It is 13% and they admit they know this but still claim 30%

In short, this report says that the government broke the rules, LIED, are still lying, and we can prove it. They are lying to force through legislation that will affect millions of people, and could one day affect you. Anyone can become sick or disabled. We simply ask that the legislation is paused and given proper scrutiny.

Surely that has got to be worth a mention in the news?

If you still don’t get why this is important, here is Easy Read version of the report. [PDF]

 

Report on welfare reform shows overwhelming opposition to replacment of DLA

Today sees the release of a report on the welfare reform bill put together under the leadership of Sue Marsh and Kaliya Franklin and with support from sick and disabled people. A freedom of information request was used to obtain some five hundred responses made to the government consultation on Disability Living Allowance reform.

The vast majority of responses were against nearly all of the changes. While most people accept that some reform of Disability Living Allowance is necessary, there is widespread agreement 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 reservations. Of particular note is that Boris Johnson submitted a response to the consultation, in which he slammed the proposed reforms and even questioned the motivation of the government.

“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.”- Boris Johnson

You can read his submission in full at Left Foot Forward.

None of this matters though, because not only was the consultation two weeks shorter than is usual, but it also took place over the Christmas break, eating into the time even more. And the bill was written and presented to parliament two days before this shorter consultation ended. Assessing the results of a consultation ought to take some time, and writing a bill based on the results would take even longer, so it is clear that this bill was written to fit Conservative party policy regardless of any evidence that the consultation presented.

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 reflects improved health care rather than nefarious claims for DLA.

It is important to note that DLA is not an out of work 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.

It is clear that the proposed 20% cut to the budget for PIP over that of DLA is an idealogical one which is not supported by evidence but has been pushed by the government regardless of the facts. PIP would also introduce frequent testing, much like the work capability assessment used for Employment and Support Allowance. 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 them. It seems that the purpose of introducing such tests is to pander to ignorant tabloid media and general public rather than common sense. In April last year Tory councillor Ollie Flitcroft, a wheelchair user, resigned in protest at these changes.

So please, help us put a stop to the welfare reform bill in its current form. Spread this report wherever you can. Post it to Facebook and Google Plus. Tweet it with the hashtag #spartacusreport. Send a copy to any politician that you can find, and to your local newspaper and TV station. Contact a peer in the House of Lords and tell them why they must oppose the Welfare Reform Bill, and tell your MP too. If there is enough of an uproar then maybe there is a chance that this bill can be halted.

Read the report in full: Responsible Reform – A Report on the proposed changes to Disability Living Allowance [Skydrive document]

Read about the problems: What’s Wrong with Personal Independence Payments? [WtB]

Disabled people listened to on welfare plans? It’s a goverernment sham [Sue Marsh writes in The Guardian]

Welfare Reform Bill: Contact a Crossbench Lord

This guest post written by DarkestAngel and provided to me by Sue Marsh.

As you may be aware, the Welfare Reform Bill passed its second reading
in the House of Lords and has now moved onto committee stage.

Last Wednesday, Lords tabled a “highly unusual” motion to send the bill to
Grand Committee, which will take place in side rooms, rather than a fully accessible
public room. The motion was voted through, 263 votes to 211, and the bill will now
be sent to the Grand Committee.

The main difference between a Committee and a Grand Committee is that no
votes take place during a Grand Committee. Therefore, amendments will not
be voted on individually. There is also no public gallery and less room for all
peers to attend at once.

The reasons given for taking this step were that a bill of this complexity would
block up the chamber and delay other bills. Also, that too many people would
want to take part in the debate and it would take up too much time. However,
It now appears that the Main Chamber will actually be sitting empty during Grand
Committee

Several Lords have stated their objections to this:

“There is a great deal of consternation that is being expressed by disabled
people about this decision.
Noble Lords have received a number of e-mails. There is both a practical and
a symbolic significance to this decision. Disabled people feel that their democratic
right to observe the proceedings at the Committee stage is being severely curtailed
by any decision to take the whole of the Committee stage off the Floor of the House.
I think it is wrong . As well as this, we are now starting a week earlier than
previously announced – when some Lord’s may still be on holiday – this is because
the recess dates were changed late in the day. I’m concerned also about my
fellow peers who are wheelchair users. Apparently we may be meeting in a
committee room upstairs, which is larger than the Moses Room, though
still far from ideal. It had already been accepted on this side that some of the
Committee stage should be taken in Grand Committee, but there are clauses
in the Bill that are highly controversial. It is not just about experts coming in;
it is about people who feel that their lives or livelihoods are at stake. “

Baroness Lister

“I am very concerned that we are debating a bill that has many aspects which
are yet to be finalised. This is a most unsatisfactory situation which many
people have expressed concern about. Yesterday matters were made worse
by the Coalition Government insisting that the bill is discussed in Grand
Committee and not in the Chamber of the House of Lords. It will make
scrutiny more difficult and cause real problems for members of the public
who want to come and observe proceedings.”

Lord Kennedy

“I am seriously concerned about the ability of all noble Lords to participate
in the proceedings on this Bill. The noble Baroness has rightly drawn attention
to the shortcomings of the Moses Room. Those shortcomings are just as
apparent on the Committee Corridor. Several colleagues have told me in
clear terms that the rooms upstairs are not much better and that a lot of
furniture will need to be moved to facilitate those who have difficulty with
mobility and to enable lobby groups and those who are interested in the Bill
to participate and observe proceedings.”

Lord Bassam, Opposition Chief Whip

Some also stated their approval:

“I would prefer that every bill were considered in Grand Committee. It avoids
votes at an early stage of examining the bill, the atmosphere is more intimate
and business-like and we can spend more time on the detail. It feels to me
like a more normal less stilted way of discussing an issue. The Education Bill
was on its 10th day in committee yesterday for example whereas in the Chamber
it would be rushed through more quickly. There is room to spread out one’s
papers on a table in front of the speaker, the Minister has his support team
of bill experts immediately behind him to consult and because it is not televised
there is usually precious little grand-standing and posturing. It is easier to
interrupt to question without it seeming rude. A technical bill like the Welfare
Reform Bill in particular is best examined outside the Chamber. Then it
returns to the Chamber for the important Report Stage when the
important votes are taken.”

Baroness Murphy

We have three main concerns regarding this development:

• Firstly, access is poor. We are concerned that wheelchair users in particular
will be affected by this, not to mention members of the public who wish to attend.

• Secondly, we are still unsure if live streaming will be available allowing
campaigners like us and the general public to follow debates and scrutinise
them properly and democratically.

• Thirdly, amendments will not be voted upon in Grand Committee, all
amendments must be agreed upon unanimously. Just one objection can
prevent any attempt to fix the faults of this bill.

We would like to urge you all to contact crossbenchers in the House of
Lords (details below) to express your own concerns over this development.
We suggest asking for live streaming so that we can at least see events as
they happen, not 3 hours later and, of course, raising your objections to
the bill so that the Lords understand how it will, as it currently stands, affect so many of us.

We made a difference last time. We can make a difference this time.

Contact details for crossbench peers in the House of Lords

Continue reading “Welfare Reform Bill: Contact a Crossbench Lord”

What is a Grand Committee and what does it mean for Welfare Reform?

After all the fuss of the Welfare Reform Bill in the house of lords yesterday I wasn’t expecting much for a couple of weeks when it will reach committee stage. However, I woke up today to find that the government had tabled a motion in the lords to send the bill to the grand committee, held in a side room.

This is in fact the normal procedure for legislation moving through parliament. The committee stage is where the bill is examined line-by-line and objections from the debate at the second reading turn into amendments to the bill before it goes back to the house for the report stage and the third reading. Parliament’s own web page states:

Any Bill can be referred to a Committee of the whole House but the procedure is normally reserved for finance Bills and other important, controversial legislation.

So you can see, controversial bills are supposed to be debated by a “committee of the whole house” rather than a “grand committee.” As one lord stated in the debate today, no one can argue that this legislation is not controversial. The peers have stated over and over again during debate that they have been inundated with letters, emails, and phone calls from people concerned about this bill. They show surprise at the scale of concern shown to them. Unfortunately, despite a heated debate this afternoon in the end the lords voted 263 to 211 to pass the motion and move the bill to the Grand Committee. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats voted for the motion, and Labour voted against it. Some of the reasons given were that it would block up the chamber and delay the passage of other bills, and that too many people would want to speak in the debate and it would take too long. (Yes, really! Democracy apparently takes too long.) One lady stated that several of the bills going through parliament are really three bills in one, and that of course it would take longer. (As an aside, I would urge you to look up Shock Doctrine for reasons as to why changes are being made so quickly.)

The difference between the two options for committee stage are quite important, I think. Here’s the official description of the committee stage:

Line by line examination of the Bill

Detailed line by line examination of the separate parts (clauses and schedules) of the Bill takes place during committee stage. Any Member of the Lords can take part.

Committee stage can last for one or two days to eight or more. It usually starts no fewer than two weeks after the second reading.

Before committee stage takes place

The day before committee stage starts, amendments are published in a Marshalled List – in which all the amendments are placed in order.

Amendments on related subjects are grouped together and a list (“groupings of amendments”) is published on the day.

What happens at committee stage?

Every clause of the Bill has to be agreed to and votes on the amendments can take place.

All proposed amendments (proposals for change) can be discussed and there is no time limit – or guillotine – on discussion of amendments.

What happens after committee stage?

If the Bill has been amended it is reprinted with all the agreed amendments.

At the end of committee stage, the Bill moves to report stage for further examination.

Here is the critical part though:

Grand Committee

The proceedings are identical to those in a Committee of the Whole House except that no votes may take place.

As compared to:

Committee of the whole House

In the House of Lords the committee stage of a Bill usually takes place in the Lords Chamber and any Member can take part. The Committee may choose to vote on any amendment and all Members present can vote.

So you can see, apart from being in a less-accessible room, with space for far fewer peers to discuss the bill and no public gallery, sending a bill to the Grand Committee also means that the amendments cannot be voted on individually. I think, on the whole, this can be viewed as a bad thing.

However, please keep sending your messages to peers. They have noticed our objections, and we can’t let up now. Details are in my previous blog post.

***Important Update***

As Sam points out below, in the Grand Committee there is no voting on amendments, which would enable a majority vote to fix some of the worse points. Instead, the committee must agree unanimously on an amendment which means that just one person siding with the government can block any attempt to fix this bill.

 

 

Welfare Reform Bill: what next?

Today I watched the second reading of the Welfare Reform Bill in the House of Lords. The debate lasted more than seven hours; I was not able to follow all of it (After all, I’m not fit for work!) but I did manage to listen to most of it and also to tweet the key points that I heard, as did a few others. See the hashtag #wrb to catch up on that.

A few things of note:

  • Of 55 speakers, only a handful gave their outright support for the bill.
  • Nearly every speaker expressed concern about various aspects of the bill, ranging from mild caution up to wild predictions of doom.
  • Many of the Lords and Ladies asked for parts of the bill to be significantly amended at the committee stage.
  • Many of the speakers noted that they had received a large amount of lobbying, letters and emails concerned about the bill.

The bill sailed through the second reading but this was not unexpected. The next step for this bill is the committee stage. During this stage the Lords will examine every clause in the bill, examining issues raised during the debate and amending the bill where necessary. The committee stage normally starts at least two weeks after the second reading. After the committee stage the bill goes to the report stage and the third reading, so any objections have to be raised before the committee stage. I believe it is still worth contacting a lord in the next two weeks to register your objections.

Some points to raise include:

  • The benefit cap which will badly affect children of large families.
  • Under occupancy rules that will uproot families and remove people from support networks.
  • The time-limiting of ESA which will leave many people without support before they are well enough to work.
  • The arbitrary 20% reduction of the budget for PIP compared to DLA.
  • The problems with the Work Capability Assessment, which definitely should not be replicated with PIP assessments.
  • The unnecessary stress of testing some people repeatedly in spite of permanent or  worsening health problems.
  • The removal of the mobility component of DLA from people in care homes.
  • The loss of the severe disability premium.
  •  Lots more, but I’m half dead and can’t remember! Please add your own points in the comments.

You can adopt a peer on this handy website which will help you pick someone and contact them. (After you have written a letter about the welfare reform bill, please also write something about the health and social care bill, which is what that website is really aimed at.)

You can follow the progress of the Welfare Reform Bill and sign up for email updates at the parliament website.

If you want to know more about how legislation passes through parliament, read all about that on the parliament website too.