Sefton Central Labour MP Bill Esterson will today (March 10) vote not to give the Welfare Reform Bill a second reading as it will hit the most vulnerable in Sefton Central the hardest.
Bill was convinced by the story of his 73 year old constituent who was told to go for a medical assessment when he clearly needs his benefits to make his life bearable. He, like many others, is terrified the government will withdraw his benefit leaving him trapped in his own home.
While it is right to take away benefits for those not entitled, Bill is very concerned that the government’s plans will hit thousands of vulnerable people many of whom are already reeling from the cuts made by Sefton Council last week.
Bill was also impressed by the evidence given by a number of charities about the devastating impact of the bill on many elderly and disabled people. The evidence also shows that the bill is likely to increase the welfare bill not reduce it as it will make it harder for people to get off benefits and into work.
The Government needs to get a grip on its welfare reforms as major problems continue to emerge which threaten the bill. There is cross-party consensus that the welfare system needs reform. However, the government has so far failed to show that they are listening to the concerns of people up and down the country who will be affected by these reforms.
Labour’s amendment to the bill states:
“That this House, whilst affirming its belief in the principle of simplifying the benefits system and good work incentives, declines to give a Second Reading to the Welfare Reform Bill because the proposal of the Universal Credit as it stands creates uncertainty for thousands of people in the UK; because the Bill fails to clarify what level of childcare support will be available for parents following the abolition of the tax credit system; because the Bill penalises savers who will be barred from the Universal Credit; because the Bill disadvantages people suffering from cancer or mental illness due to the withdrawal of contributory Employment Support Allowance; because the Bill contains no safeguards to mothers in receipt of childcare support; because it proposes to withdraw the mobility component of Disability Living Allowance from people in residential care and fails to provide sufficient safeguards for future and necessary reform; because it provides no safeguards for those losing Housing Benefit; because it fails to clarify how Council Tax Benefit will be incorporated in the Universal Credit system; because it fails to determine how recipients of free school meals and beneficiaries of Social Fund Loans will be treated; and because the proposals act as a disincentive for the self-employed who wish to start up a business, and is strongly of the opinion that the publication of such a Bill should have been preceded by both fuller consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny of a draft Bill.”
Bill said: “Our amendment reflects the position of the vast majority of charities and welfare reform stakeholders who are in favour of the principle of a Universal Credit, while holding serious concerns about certain components of the Welfare Reform Bill."
Charities including Disability Alliance claim the proposals are not about simplifying the system but are about removing 380,000 claimants from it.
Bill said: “The Disability Living Alliance along with other benefits allow many people to do those daily things that everybody else would take for granted.
"It's a very specific allowance and it makes an enormous difference to the quality of life. The impact of removing the DLA would be devastating to many.”
There is also the argument that the changes being proposed could be unlawful if they denied individuals the right to quality of life.
The human rights act says individuals have a right to family life, have a right to a quality of life, the whole purpose of the DLA is to put them on an equal playing field with everyone else. Any proposal that fails to appreciate those fundamental rights could find it is an infringement of the law.
Bill added: “My view is even if it’s not against the letter of the law; it is against the spirit of the law."
Also the Housing proposals outlined in the Welfare Reform Bill will do little to support the Government’s aim to get people back into work.
Plans to remove the link between housing benefit and the housing costs people pay will push those seeking work out of their homes and into areas with fewer job opportunities.
Bill said: “In the current economic climate when further job losses are predicted over the coming months, now is the very worst time to make it more difficult for people to find and keep employment and to take away the housing safety net that helps those who do lose their jobs to stay in their homes.
"While I support the aim to simplify the benefits system and make work pay, there is a real concern that we will see a further rise in homelessness, a rise in housing benefit costs, and thousands of vulnerable people becoming prisoners in their own homes if these changes go ahead. The Government needs to go back to the drawing board on this and listen, rather than just grabbing headlines.”