Jenny Willott MP writes… The Welfare Reform Bill – What’s happened on ESA?

Benefits are not an easy subject to get your head around: we have a benefits system with enough acronyms, assessments, taper rates and tax credits to make your head spin. That’s why this Government is finally undertaking a hugely important and long-overdue reform of benefits.

Universal Credit will replace the complicated mix of tax credits, JSA, ESA, Housing Benefit and so on with one simple benefit. And the Universal Credit is why the Welfare Reform Bill is so crucial. It will revolutionise the way we support those who are unemployed, disabled, sick or caring for a loved one and is why we have to support the Bill and ensure it becomes law.

However, alongside this important measure, the Bill included proposals to reduce spending on various parts of the welfare budget. Across Government, departments are having to cut their budgets in order to reduce the deficit, and since DWP has the biggest budget by a long way, if we don’t make savings here, every other department would face impossible cuts.

Cutting money from DWP is not easy, as by definition it goes to those most in need. But the Government is trying to protect the most vulnerable from the cuts it has to make and I believe that this means protecting the sickest and the poorest.

The most controversial proposal in the Bill was the plan to limit to one year the length of time someone receives Contributory Employment and Support Allowance.

I want to make it clear that no-one has found this Bill easy and all Lib Dem MPs were acutely aware of the Conference motion rejecting any arbitrary time limit on ESA payments. But I also want to explain why we made the decision to support the Government.

Firstly, let me be clear – the choice before us last week was between two arbitrary time limits. One was just longer than the other. And the Lords’ Amendment would have cost £1.6b a year, money which would have to have been found from elsewhere in DWP’s budget.

To explain the policy itself: the time limit only applies to those in the Work Related Activity Group, who need support but are likely to be able to return to work in the future. The sickest and most disabled people go into the Support Group, and they are not affected by any time limit.

The proposals also do not affect the poorest people. Anyone with savings below £16,000, who has a partner working fewer than 24 hours will still get ESA for as long as they need it. Because of this, 6 out of 10 people will continue to receive some or all of their ESA after the end of their year on contributory benefit.

And those who don’t receive ESA after the 12 months will be entitled to housing benefit, council tax benefit, working tax credits and child tax credits, so many will still receive a significant amount of support.

So, given that these proposals won’t affect the sickest, as they will be in the Support Group, and they won’t affect the poorest, as they will still receive ESA, I think this is the fairest way of implementing a cut that no-one wants to bring in.

For me the most important thing is to make the system fairer; to ensure that people get into the right group in the first place, so that those who need it go into the Support Group with no time limit.

This means making sure that the Work Capability Assessment works, and that is why I strongly support the work being done by Prof Harrington. His first recommendations on improving the WCA have already been implemented and they appear to be making a difference. The Government has promised to follow his future recommendations as well, especially on chronic pain and fatigue. These are often huge barriers to work for many of those with chronic conditions but they are not properly picked up in the assessment.

The Government is also currently consulting on changing the rules for those with cancer, so the presumption is that they should go into the Support Group and as a result receive indefinite support.

I accept that many Lib Dem members are disappointed that we MPs supported the Government on Wednesday. But the Bill has changed in many ways during its passage through Parliament, and we can be proud of driving many of those changes. I hope that you can understand why we voted the way we did and see that it was all with the aim of improving the system and making the cuts as fair as possible.

Jenny Willott was the Co-Chair of the Parliamentary Party Committee on Work and Pensions until last Friday.

* Jenny Willott was the Lib Dem MP for Cardiff Central and chaired the working group on working age social security policy in 2016.

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53 Comments

  • PeterTaylor 5th Feb '12 - 8:26pm

    Thanks for outlining your position Jenny. There are a couple of things I don’t understand. In your second paragraph you state that the great advantage of this bill is that Universal Credit will replace lots of other benefits, including tax credits and housing benefit. However, later on when explaining why you voted to end ESA for some after 12 months, you state that they will be entitled to “housing benefit, council tax benefit, working tax credits and child tax credits”. I thought the point was that these were all going?

    I also don’t understand the logic of the provision which states that people whose “partner [is] working fewer than 24 hours will still get ESA”. Does it not matter how much someone earns each hour? Won’t this mean that we are penalising households where people are choosing to work, which seems to go against the thrust of our policy?

  • Peter Taylor: alternatively, this provides an incentive for a household to split up (as does any cap on benefits)

  • (I should have said – “any *household-based* cap”)

  • Jenny – thanks for writing, it’s good to have communication on the issue, but I have several concerns:

    1. What are we going to do about the people who stand to lose contributory ESA in April 2012 or over the following months, and who have been wrongly classified as belonging in the WRAG group? (I believe very strongly that we shouldn’t have voted to introduce a one-year time limit without evidence that the WCA (and the appeals system) is no longer dysfunctional. Too many changes seem to be still in the future – we’re still consulting on people with cancer, chronic pain rules haven’t been proposed yet – and yet people stand to lose their contributory ESA now, regardless of the state of the WCA (and I don’t think we even gave them a year’s notice). I think that in the debate you asked Chris Grayling about transitional measures, but as far as I remember he didn’t reply. What’s going to happen?

    2. What about the abolition of the ESA youth passport? (i.e. the abandonment of the convention whereby people severely disabled from childhood could claim contributory ESA without having paid NI contributions). During the debate you suggested that there was some misrepresentation here, but I didn’t follow what – what do you see as the misrepresentation?

    3. It’s good that we got a concession on deteriorating conditions, but what’s going to happen when someone just isn’t better at the end of the year (or 18 months with sick pay) but isn’t actually deteriorating and would conceivably be able to work in, say, another year? I think this issue was raised in the Lords, but the Lords don’t get another chance now.

    4. What about the apparent disincentive to work for the partners of people who are losing cESA? (as Pete asked)

    5. It would be great if at some point your successor could outline what we are doing to make sure that the criteria and testing procedures for Personal Independence Payments (the replacement for DLA) are fair. We inherited the dysfunctional WCA from Labour – we have to do better on the PIP assessments.

  • Lets be honest here for one moment.

    The idea of the welfare reform bill, cutting the welfare bill and introducing universal credits has 1 motive and 1 motive only.
    To penalize the poorest, sickest, most vulnerable people in society who are the easiest targets for the cuts and reducing the deficit.

    Isn’t it Ironic that the government aims to cut £20 Billion from the welfare Budget. It would do well for people to remember that £20 Billion is exactly the same amount money that is spent in total on Incapacity Benefit and JSA.

    So ask yourself the following question, WHY £20 Billion?
    The total Welfare Bill is £185 Billion, so why does the £20 Billion pounds worth of cuts seem to be aimed at the unemployed and the sick or disabled?

    Be under no illusions, this universal credit system is a farce, It will not protect the poor or the vulnerable in any shape or form, I think it is a disgrace that any MP would support this bill, especially a Liberal democrat whose party constitution is supposed to not enslave anybody by poverty.

    The universal credit will not go to those that need it most, especially when the government is constantly moving the goal posts on criteria on what they define as being sick or disabled.

    How many Billions is being spent on HS2 again?
    How much is it costing to reintroduce weekly Bin collections?
    How much do we spend on oversea’s aid again to countries like India? who have recently reported that they did not even want or need the aid and they even went so far to say that it was “peanuts” compared to the Billions that the country plough’s into its own developments. And lets not forget that India is no longer a 3rd world country and according to figures will have a larger economy than us within the next 10 years. India even plough’s money into foreign aid budgets themselves for other countries. But apparently THIS government pleaded with India to accept the foreign aid if not it would cause huge embarrassment for the government.

    So it makes me really angry Jenny when you and your government trots out lines like “The Lords’ Amendment would have cost £1.6b a year, money which would have to have been found from elsewhere in DWP’s budget.

    How many Million was it going to cost the government to allow severely disabled children who have never been able to work to automatically be entitled to contributory ESA? No where near the Billions that are being wasted in other government departments clearly.

    This government has lost all it’s moral fiber, it is disgrace and Liberal Democrat MP’s should be ashamed for their part in it

  • £1.6 billion is nothing compared to either the total welfare budget or the deficit. There are many non-means tested benefits that could’ve been hit before targeting the disabled (although they’re more electorally difficult). I do hope that the effect of this on people will be less than anticipated and that there will be no disabled people who have their freedom to work or get around restricted through cuts to this benefit. I also hope that if the worst fears of the campaigners on this issue are realised then our parliamentarians and the government as a whole will consider reversing this cut. To coin a phrase: We can’t balance the books on the backs of poorest.

  • Barry George 5th Feb '12 - 11:51pm

    So ask yourself the following question, WHY £20 Billion?

    Well they need to raise £33bn for this…

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-16494354

    You can’t have both sick, disabled and unemployed people taking all the money as well as allowing the men in suits an extra 20 mins in bed each morning. It is all about priorities…

    @ Jenny

    I assume you wrote this article with party members in mind so I will leave them to judge for themselves. However as a mere Liberal Democrat voter I am disgusted and ashamed at your actions against the most vulnerable in society and I am shocked that you even feel there is a case in defence of your choice to vote the way that you did.

    If I am persuaded to vote Lib Dem again at the next election it will be to the credit of George Potter et al who brought this very issue up at conference and secured a vote on party policy that you have blatantly ignored…

    You could leave the poor alone and save even more money by cancelling an unwanted train line so please don’t think for one second that anyone is going to buy the argument that these particular cuts are necessary.. They are ideological , they are Conservative and the parliamentary party has fallen for it…

    Please save your pseudo justifications… They are as worthless as your promises on tuition fees…

  • I worked non stop for over 25 years, paying tax and NI into a system which promised to support me if the worst ever happened.

    Well 2 years ago it did. I suddenly got chest pains, went to the doctor, broke down completely and was diagnosed with clinical depression and acute anxiety. The relentless stress of work had taken it’s toll. I took some time off, then made a phased return to work as I hated not working. As soon as I had got back to full time, my company requested a letter from my doctor to say that I was fit to work, then immediately made me redundant!

    The shock and upset made me suicidal. I was put in the WRAG group of cESA even though I was a jibbering wreck at the interview and my mental health helper had to talk for me. I was so ill I could not take my company to tribunal as the head psychiatrist said it could take me over the edge and my health was worth more than compensation.

    That was last April. Last week I finally got my first session of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy which will hopefully help me get my life back together. The waiting list is so long it took 9 months. 9 months of hell. 9 months of constant nightmares. 9 months of living with the debilitating side effects of all the antidepressants etc. I am on.

    I get about £90/week ESA to contribute to the family finances. When I worked I earned £500/week plus a company car and pension. In April the £90/week will be taken off me and I will get nothing as my wife is a nursery assistant and works more than 24 hours a week. My last shred of dignity will be stripped away. The support I paid for all my working life stops. If the Govt were an insurance company they wouldn’t be allowed to change the rules. But they are a Govt who care only about themselves and their own.

    I can’t work for a company, psychologically the scars are still too great, and with my illness no company would have me anyway. Another year of help would have made so much difference. As it is I will have to do what I can, working for friends doing odd jobs to try to help my family get by.

    It’s very interesting reading how the Jenny Willotts can justify to themselves the disgusting and inhumane attack the Govt has made on the sick and disabled. I’m glad they will be able to sleep at night believing that it’s fair and reasonable to take money from the weakest in our society, while paying huge amounts for a new rail line to make their journey into London more comfortable, and an Olympics which no doubt they will be able to attend while the rest of us suffer. I don’t actually think they do believe this. I think they sleep at night because they simply don’t care. I wish I could sleep at night. I wish they could be me for a week, but I sure as hell would not want to be them !

  • @ Matt, @ Barry George

    I think you’re getting confused by this £20 billion figure. That is the total spending reductions in DWP over the spending period (i.e 2011- 2015). You are talking about what is spent per year. Also- not all of this is coming out of benefit, almost £2.7 billion is departmental running costs. http://www.nao.org.uk//idoc.ashx?docId=4b5c8614-513d-47b3-bff5-f41d8b655dba&version=-1 – page 5.

    I think suggesting that this £20 billion is somehow calculated as an attempt to just abolish JSA and IB is frankly conspiracy theory. It doesn’t do anyone any good to throw around this kind of rubbish.

  • Its not conspiracy rubbish at all thank you,

    What I said was the Benefit bill For Incapacity Benefit ESA and JSA is £20 Billion

    Coincidentally the same figure that the government wants to cut from the DWP Budget, now I am sure the nasty Tory party wouldn’t come to these figures just because they equate to those people in society they despise the most would, the “feckless & Work shy” That’s not how this government works at all.

    The entire benefit bill for the DWP is £185 Billion

    Over half of this is made up of pensioners related benefits.

    Then we have working tax credits and child tax credits as the next largest bill.

    Followed by Housing Benefit, which is claimed by families up and down the country some in work, some out of work and some even old age pensioners.

    Now from that £185 Billion Budget, where are the government seeking to make the savings??

    By kicking genuinely sick and disabled people of Sickness Benefits, removing entitlement if you have a partner earning over £7.5k
    12 month arbitrary limits in the WRAG group
    Young disabled people who have never been able to work or paying NI no longer having a right to claim contribution ESA
    Government moving the goal posts with DLA and PIP changing the criteria and the level of support they can get.

    So please don’t tell me I am talking conspiracy and Rubbish, I put forward my arguments and opinions for which I am entitled from the facts as I have understood them. Maybe you should arm yourself a little more before attempting to belittle others

  • Barry George 6th Feb '12 - 1:39am

    Chrome

    I think you’re getting confused by this £20 billion figure

    I was merely replying to Matt’s figure , I did not claim the £20 billion figure was correct (or not)

    I really couldn’t care less if the figure is double or half or a quarter of that.

    My point is that the attacks on societies most vulnerable are ideoligicaly based on not economy based. Money can be found for far less worthy causes than the sick and the disabled but it is Conservative ideology that drives them and not austerity.

    The Liberal MP’s who voted against the will of conference should be ashamed of themselves.

    The Liberal MP’s who voted to place financial penalties on cancer patients who don’t die quick enough to not get a job should in my view resign.

    The Liberal MP’s who voted to support a cap that is so unbalanced it simply creates a financial incentive for families to separate and live apart should feel sick to their stomach.

    The Liberal MP who comes on here trying to justify these illiberal policies deserves all the criticism that she gets and will get…

    Where are the Jobs for these people ?
    Where is the new social housing for all the people affected by the cap ?
    Where is the punishment of greedy landlords who are in all cases the recipients of all this money ?
    Where is the outrage at the right wing press for dehumanising the sick and disabled as “scroungers” , “workshy” and “lazy” ?

    What has happened to the sense of morality that was once so strong in this party ?

    Jenny should feel ashamed for her betrayal of those most in need , She should feel embarrassed about coming here and trying to justify the unjustifiable and in my view she should get in line with party policy and condemn these atrocious policies whilst there is the smallest inkling of credibility left in the party…

    But she won’t

  • Jenny,
    I am glad you seem to be enjoying your promotion at work, but I believe the governments attitude towards the sick,disabled and unemployed amongst others to be abhorrent. Their methods are also fatally flawed.
    WCA is not fit for purpose. The amount of appeals and tribunals is ever increasing,and with this costs against the government are also increasing. This does not even begin to take into account the level of stress,anger and downright misery these measures are imparting onto people. People who are sick and disabled Jenny. Not scroungers,not mickey takers or people who know how to play a system. The most disadvantaged and needy in our society.
    How can you without any sense of shame or self -reflection carry out these measures and be happy about this.
    Do you honestly believe that the findings against companies such as ATOS are invented? lies? what do you really think is going on ? do you even make it your business to know what is going on? or are you just someone who believes something someone else ,who has a vested interest has told you.? I would really like to know your answer to this. How can a system you want to assess people find such sick people completely and utterly fit for work? a blind man with arthritis? is just one example. You say that people who are very sick will be placed into the support group and have nothing to fear. Jenny this is simply untrue and not happening. People are being put into not only the incorrect group but very often no group at all. I would like to know why ATOS is being engaged to do these assessments. What is so very wrong ( and less expensive I may add) with a claimants GP or other medical support services advising on their medical condition. Is this because you know they will not give the results you and your government so desperately seek,which is to drop many numbers of people from any entitlement at all.What gives you and your government the right to rewrite what a disability is? do you fully understand what it means to be disabled and all that entails?.Do you know how long and how hard many disabled people have fought to be heard ? how many tears have been shed by so many to get just a sense of equality with the able bodied and mentally sound?.
    If ATOS are impartial why do you need them?at a cost of millions whilst taking money away from those who so desperately need it and who whether you like it or not are entitled to if not literally now but morally.
    I along with so many are sick to the back teeth of hearing ‘difficult decisions’ as an excuse for idealogical policies brought in by the tories and aided by the lib dems. ?
    Do you really believe that the public are convinced that you have no other choices? really?
    You should honestly be ashamed of yourself.
    You and your government have got a big wake up call coming ~ I just hope you are prepared for it. You will need to be.

  • Mike Barnes 6th Feb '12 - 1:48am

    “Universal Credit will replace the complicated mix of tax credits, JSA, ESA, Housing Benefit and so on with one simple benefit.”

    I think you’re giving far too much credit to the universal credit, so to speak.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9038568/Why-Iain-Duncan-Smith-is-heading-for-a-date-with-disaster.html

    A dodgy untried IT system and a reliance on all employers updating every member of staff’s records every single month. No problem for your large corporations with huge admin departments, might get a bit tedious for small businesses though.

    Seriously, his life’s work is to reform welfare and that is the best IDS can come up with?

  • just too, add

    Whenever the government talks about the spiraling welfare bill out of control at £185 Billion

    They then sneakily then move on to the needs to reform welfare of those of “working age” on “out of work Benefits” which of-course include, sick, disabled and unemployed for the £20 Billion pounds worth of savings.

    Please if you can tell me how you think this is justified and why other groups should not be taking a hit from the welfare bill, please feel free to share.

    Personally, I am of the belief that the money could be found, they just don’t want to, and it is simple as that

  • Barry George 6th Feb '12 - 3:05am

    why other groups should not be taking a hit from the welfare bill, please feel free to share.

    Many MP’s get more than 26K in pension benefits … Should they cap themselves ?

  • Jenny Willott Caron Lindsay 6th Feb '12 - 8:03am

    Jenny, thank you for writing this. However, I’m disappointed it’s taken so long for any sort of communication to come from the parliamentary party to members on an issue where so many of us feel so strongly.

    Regarding the time limit, a two year time limit wouldn’t have been ideal, but by its very nature is going to give more people the chance to recover. And the partner working 24 hours or less sounds much better than the reality which is that they must have an income lower than £7500. To deny help to those earning whose households earn just over a quarter of average earnings is serious especially when you consider the extra costs illness can bring.

    Then there’s the matter of housing benefit cuts – the extra bedroom issue being a case in point. If people lose their jobs, they are hardly going to be in a position to afford to move, and it’s unfair to ask them to leave their family home.

    And one of the worst is penalising usually women who will now have to find £100 in order to get the Government to chase their ex partner for child support. There is absolutely no incentive for the absent parent to comply with mediation and in fact, those irresponsible people who don’t want to pay for their children will be rubbing their hands in glee because they know that they are less likely to be pursued.

    I don’t doubt for a moment that Liberal Democrat MPs’ hearts are in the right places and I recognise that this Bill is not as bad as it would have been if the Tories were governing alone. We already know that Osborne would not have raised benefits by the rate of inflation, for example, so they would have had no compunction about cutting deeper.

    Our influence can’t be measured though, in the way that votes and amendments are tangible. We should long ago have been communicating our message. I feel it’s been a big mistake on Nick Clegg’s part not to take on Cameron when he’s made very offensive and inaccurate comments about people claiming sickness benefits. We’ve allowed ourselves to be associated with things said by the Tories and have failed to show our distinctivenes on this.

    For me, the Welfare Reform Bill is by far the worst thing this Government has done. I feel a lot worse than I ever did over tuition fees and I can only feel pride in those MPs who voted against the worst parts of it. At least those affected by tuition fees had better life chances from the start.

    We have done much right in this coalition. The Welfare Reform Bill will go down as one of our failures though.

  • Richard Shaw 6th Feb '12 - 8:39am

    @George Potter

    16k in savings is a lot of money, about a year’s wage to some people. I don’t think it unreasonable to target money at those with less substantial funds . If it is indeed being saved for a pension then it should be invested in an actual pension scheme which offers a better return and presumably wouldn’t count towards the limit.

    Would people please use something other than HS2 as example of “something I don’t approve of diverting money from something I do”? The £32bn is going to be spent over 20 years and is forecast to give a 2:1 return on investment.

  • Gemma Roulston 6th Feb '12 - 8:44am

    Jenny thank you for writing this supposed defence. Sorry but I do not believe a word of it. I live in the real world and know plenty of disabled people who are worried stiff about the changes that the parliamentarians seem happy to be going along with. I am worried myself and for my children. I hope that the leadership will be pleased when the severely disabled children are kicked out of the family home as they are not getting any money. You will never have to worry about applying for ESA or PIP.
    I have read with amazement Jenny’s post – and I cannot agree with a word she said. I agree with George ‘Biggles’ Potter and Caron Lindsay and others who have been criticial of her and the rest of them. If you have disabilities – and have support from health and social care, and adaptations in your house – under the proposals of the wrb – they will be expected to move to somewhere smaller – or be penalised because of the high rent they are paying. However, the support and adaptations are not going to follow you around the country – everywhere you go – there will be reassessments, to see if you have met the new areas criteria. Disabled people may need the extra room – so that any carers are who they need overnight have somewhere to stay. Also there are families that are split up – need an extra room for the children to have somewhere to stay. Severely disabled children – when they reach 18 become adults – and yet they cannot get benefits in their own right – and yet a non disabled child will be – so where is the justification and fairness in that? Removing the disabiltiy element from child tax credits is wrong – It is costly having disabilities – no one chooses to have a disabled child, have disabilities – and yet they are going to lose their benefits so that we can have a HS2 the olypmics the new yacht for the queen. I am struggling ot stay in this party – and glib comments from Tim – in his reply to George, and in your piece Jenny do not help – how can the disabled be persuaded to vote and join us?? I just do not know.

  • Andrew Suffield 6th Feb '12 - 9:03am

    Where are the Jobs for these people ?

    In this thread you have simultaneously called for job creation (here) and against it (complaining about money being spent on projects like HS2).

    I don’t think you actually care about these people at all. You just want to bash the government coming and going.

    One might wonder what group you could be representing that is willing to act in such a manner…

  • James Sandbach 6th Feb '12 - 9:34am

    The Lords amendment was a just and politically adept compromise solution to the problem – please don’t try and defend your rejection of it in terms of it being another arbitrary cap and therefore against conference policy (that is letting the good be the enemy of the best) – just stick to the line that Ministers were not prepared to shave around 1.5 billion of their savings and liberal democrats in Government were not prepared to argue that this would be a just thing or worth a fight with tory colleagues.

    You should be doing not the easy thing but the right thing!

    The Commons may have claimed “financial privilege” on this one – but the moral privilege of recognising that the ESA and other provisions in the Bill are unjust rests with the Lords who have discharged their constitutional duty well on this occasion.

  • Andrew Suffield… Posted 6th February 2012 at 9:03 am……… I don’t think you actually care about these people at all. You just want to bash the government coming and going……….
    ……One might wonder what group you could be representing that is willing to act in such a manner…

    A perfect case of trying to discredit the messenger rather than the message.

    I, for one, would far, far rather believe the concerns put forward by G.W. Potter and others (with a real understanding of the effects) rather than the ‘spun’ message of this thread

  • Tim Nichols 6th Feb '12 - 12:58pm

    This is happening simply because the Lib dems have agreed – against economic sense and social ethics – to go along with the Conservatives 80% cuts and 20% tax attempt at deficit reduction.

    The hard choices have been dodged not taken. It would have been harder to not let the Tories run circles around our Lib Dem ministers and to stand up against the conservative media’s black propaganda campaign against the welfare state and benefit claimants.

    The £18 billion of benefit cuts will not only be a social disaster, but they represent a massive package of fiscal hindrance. Our economic problems are because of lack of demand. Low income housholds have the highest marginal consumption rates and are therefore crucial to maintaining demand.

    It is hard to know what upsets me most – the lack of any intellectual and economic coherence, or the dereliction of moral duty.

    Thank you to all the Lib Dem MPs and Peers who voted against the government and with the mainstream of the party.

  • Simon Bamonte 6th Feb '12 - 1:03pm

    I hope everyone will take a minute or two to read this article, which was the headline front-page story in the Guardian today:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/feb/05/benefit-cuts-fuelling-abuse-disabled-people

    At least 5 charities have banded together to beg the government to stop this. They blame government and DWP language, labeling genuine disabled people as “scroungers” and “fakers” for the rise of verbal and physical attacks on disabled people. People who simply look disabled are now facing taunts, threats and highly personal accusations of being a faker due to the government’s attacks on disabled people, through what ministers and their press releases alike say.

    Am I the only one who is disgusted that this is happening in a government comprised of LibDems? Am I the only one who is horrified that LibDem ministers seem to let our Tory “friends” get away with this? Make no mistake: disabled people are facing attacks from strangers due to a government which we are taking part in. A government which colludes with the Sun, Mail and Express by sending out highly misleading and often plainly inaccurate press releases that later get retracted on page 15 in the small print?

    How is this Liberal? How is this happening when there are LibDems in government? What kind of government attacks its own vulnerable people in the press? And how much longer will this go on? What must happen for the government to start using more responsible language? MORE suicides? How long until we see a disabled person brutally attacked or killed simply for being on benefits?

    And what are LibDems going to do about this, if anything?

  • Ruth Bright 6th Feb '12 - 1:41pm

    Jenny – I salute your courage and courtesy in at least communicating with us the poor (and dwindling?) infantry who have to attempt to defend this stuff on the ground.

    Unfortunately, as Melanie points out, the idiosyncracies of the Work Capability Test mean that your distinction between the Support Group and the Work Related Activity Group is neither clear nor scientific. To stake so much on that distinction is deeply troubling.

  • I too am appalled, but not at what Jenny Willots had to say. My anger is at the language and temper of the debate taking place. Accusations of lying, of bad faith or a determination to do down the poorest in our society are the least of it. Is anyone surprised that parliamentarians won’t engage in debate if that’s the response they get?

    I am retired or at least working only intermittently. The joint income of my wife and myself after tax is less than £26,000. We get no additional help whatsoever from the state, though our income this year is £400 higher thanks to Lib Dems in Government. By careful planning and not running a car we can manage reasonably well on the money we have. We can even put a bit by for an annual holiday.

    It seems to me that the people attacking Jenny Willotts and her colleages have no idea at all what being in coalition means. It means you don’t always get what you want and you sometimes get things you’d rather not have. I have had 15 years experience of being in a hung council situation and have had to negotiate compromises time and time again. It’s not easy and it means you have to accept things your partners want in order for them to accept what you want. When the Lib Dems were a smallish third party in opposition, then the MPs could support conference decisions almost all the time, because we rarely if ever got our policies adopted in parliament. Now we are enacting our policies in Government for the first time in my lifetime and I believe we should be proud of that.

    Let’s come to the issue of a benefit cap. I can tell you as a parliamentary candidate in a predominantly working class constituency that one of the biggest topic of complaints I got was about the benefit system. The biggest complaint? That it was possible to choose a life on benefits and never work at all. Now please don’t come back and tell me that doesn’t happen or that it’s just because of unemployment. I had my eyes well and truly opened when campaigning in a council by-election. The candidate pointed out to me house after house where the occupants didn’t work, their parents hadn’t ever worked and their children expected the state to support them. he was like me a radical Liberal and had not believed it was true either.

    I do not believe – and the wider public certainly don’t believe – that a benefits cap of £26,000 is unfair or harsh. Yes, it may need adjusting in London, but far better would be to tackle the high rent culture that has been encouraged by almost unlimited housing benefit payments to landlords.

    No-one should be able to choose living on benefits as a lifestyle choice. The welfare state was always intended to be a short term cushion to those temporarily thrown on hard times. Countries like Sweden have a much more rigorous approach to work than we have and insist people take a job whether they like it or not, if they haven’t found one they want after 6 months of state support.

    What is needed now is much more attention to creating jobs, so that people won’t have to rely on benefits, because they are working.

    As Jenny said in her post, help will continue for the long term sick and those unable to work. Pensions are increasing year on year with the triple lock put into the coalition agreement by the Lib Dems.

    Welfare reform is badly needed. It will never be popular. Jenny Willetts are her colleagues need our support, not vitriolic abuse of the sort that has sadly appeared in this thread.

  • Andrew Suffield 6th Feb '12 - 5:22pm

    A perfect case of trying to discredit the messenger rather than the message.

    When the messenger is simultaneously arguing two opposing points, I would suggest that they don’t really have a message, and this is what we must fall back on.

    They blame government and DWP language, labeling genuine disabled people as “scroungers” and “fakers” for the rise of verbal and physical attacks on disabled people.

    Their case is rather more one of blame than evidence, but such labels are clearly inappropriate.

    You seem to have a surplus of question marks, but to pick up a few of the more pertinent ones…

    Am I the only one who is horrified that LibDem ministers seem to let our Tory “friends” get away with this?

    What Tory friends would those be? I hope you didn’t think being in coalition made them friendly, or subordinate.

    How is this Liberal?

    Well, it isn’t.

    How is this happening when there are LibDems in government?

    Because the DWP, and disabilities in particular, are run by Tories and not Lib Dems. Your culprits are Maria Miller and Iain Duncan Smith. The only LD in the department is Steve Webb, and he’s running pensions.

    And what are LibDems going to do about this, if anything?

    Probably nothing more than point out that this is the Tories and not the Lib Dems. It’s a coalition, not a marriage – can’t actually stop a Tory from putting out Tory press releases. The Tories don’t get to censor what the Lib Dems say, and the Lib Dems don’t get to censor what the Tories say, except for the inconvenient slice of things covered by the collective responsibility rule.

  • Simon Bamonte 6th Feb '12 - 5:58pm

    Your reply, Andrew, is basically: “not my department, guv.” You’ve absolved yourself of any responsibility. Surely, since we only run pensions in the DWP, that leaves us the freedom to say we oppose this and it is not LD policy. We did so when Cameron used his EU veto, yet our “leaders” don’t do the same on this issue. In fact, they’ve come out in full support of Tory welfare policy and have said nothing about the way the Tories, DWP and media have attacked disabled people.

    All it takes for evil to prevail (and I do consider these attacks on vulnerable people to be evil) is to stand by and do nothing, or worse, blame someone else and absolve one’s self of any responsibility.

  • Barry George 6th Feb '12 - 7:48pm

    Andrew Suffield

    One might wonder what group you could be representing

    I would laugh but I fear you are being serious…

    Your comment fails on two counts .. Frst for being an Ad hominem attack on me and secondly for your attempt to poison the well…

    I won’t respond to logical fallicies but I would suggest you get some help for your paranoia 🙂

  • Barry George 6th Feb '12 - 8:48pm

    Of course there is always the novel idea of using the money being wasted on HS2 to build more social housing which would create jobs and also create affordable homes for the “work shy sroungers”

    Then no greedy landlord… (sorry i meant benefit claimant) will be recieving more than £26k a year thus negating the need for any cap at all…

    The cuts “needed” from the welfare bill could be made without hitting the sick, disabled and unemployed and people would find employment building these new houses…

  • David Allen 6th Feb '12 - 11:43pm

    I have opposed our incorporation into the Greater Conservative Movement ever since Clegg announced it, just a few months after his deeply dishonest leadership coup, with his clarion call at the 2008 Conference for “big permanent tax cuts” (code for dismantling the welfare state). So you might expect me to oppose Lib Dem capitulation to the Tories’ disabled-bashing Bill. And indeed I do. However, let me make some comments.

    First, let’s not get too precious about the fact that our leadership has ignored a Conference decision. Lib Dem leaders have been doing that since time immemorial, even when not in government. Compromises happen. Defeats happen. The question is, do we ever see wins that might compensate for all the defeats?

    Then, let’s take a hard look at the oft-repeated claim that Lib Dems are moderating the severity of Tory cuts and the Tory class war being fought by the rich against the poor. Norman Tebbit says that the claim is wrong, and that on the contrary, Lib Dem support is enabling the Coalition to move faster and further to the right than would be possible for a Tory party governing alone. Who is right?

    Well, if our Coalition apologists were right, we would be seeing evidence of hard-fought compromise. For example, we might have expected to see our leaders demand that at least some of the Lords amendments on welfare must not be overturned, and get their way, some of the time. Do we see that? Or do we see a string of articles like Jenny Willott’s, which seek to persuade us that each reverse is temporary, and each half-hearted rebellion is only a prelude to the real thing next time around, and to some future triumph for the Lib Dems – some time?

    When the Coalition was formed, I confess I was briefly persuaded that suave Mr Cameron might turn into the Harold Macmillan of our times – a “one nation” Tory who would get our finances straight and seek business prosperity, while avoiding anything too radical or contentious. That, after all, what what Cameron promised. It is worth considering why, with Clegg’s help, he has in fact delivered the polar opposite.

    First of all, when Macmillan sought to unify the nation, it was the Tories who took credit for that. When Macmillan far-sightedly recognised the “wind of change” blowing through Africa, it was the Tories who were seen to show realism and broad-mindedness. What would have happened if a Con-Lib Coalition had acted in an analogous way? Why, the Lib Dems would have gained the bulk of the credit, this time around. They would have boasted about how they had taken the lead, both in playing to Tory strengths in financial management, and in keeping down right-wing bogeymen like Tebbit and Redwood and blocking all the crazy ideas like selling of the NHS. That risk that the Lib Dems would get the credit was, of course, not acceptable to the Tories.

    So the Tories adopted a very different strategy, one which was designed instead to humiliate and marginalise their Lib Dem partners, weaken them to prevent their effective rebellion, and promote a Michael Howard – style right wing populism based on social conflict, increased inequality, and scapegoating the weak. It has all been planned. The benefit cap was not necessary to save money (it will save little and may even cost money). It was necessary as a stunt to build up and develop anti-benefit claimant feelings, to make the Tories popular, and to make the Lib Dems look split, disorganised and weak. That’s what it was for. Tebbit was correct. Our presence in Coalition has helped the Tories move to the right. Clegg and his allies have demonmstrated that they are entirely comfortable with that.

    SLF half-measures, hand wringing, tough talking, and resolutions to win the next fight are getting us nowhere. Clegg and Alexander are winning so blatantly they can get blase about it, with their open planning for a permanent alliance with the Tories after 2015. It isn’t enough to strive to humanise the Coalition. We have to get out.

  • Barry George 7th Feb '12 - 12:39am

    It is interesting to note that Jenny is the author of no less than 6 articles on this site. All of which contain many questions and concerns from readers of the said articles. Yet Jenny has yet to reply to any question or any comment on any article that she wrote.

    I fell for it myself and directed part of my first comment to Jenny but be under no illusion these articles are a one way process.. They feed the members the current parliamentary party line but there is no acknowledgement or feedback or discussion or debate taking place here.

    I would like to think that Jenny actually takes the time to at least read the comments but there is currently no evidence of that on LDV.

    I hope you guys in the members forum have a better dialogue with our MP’s then the occasional bone we get thrown out here to make us believe that this really is a party that listens as well as speaks… rather than the occasional one way broadcast with their ears and eyes firmly shut..

  • Jayne Linney 7th Feb '12 - 8:07am

    Why don’t you concern yourselves with collecting unpaid taxes instead of looking to steal from those who have paid theirs through NI contributions – HMRC Writes Off Nearly £11bn In One Year Of Unpaid Tax, Finds Public Accounts Commitee?

  • Andrew Suffield 7th Feb '12 - 10:19am

    I would laugh but I fear you are being serious…

    It is trivial to verify my assertion that you are simultaneously bashing the government for spending money on creating jobs and for not spending money on creating jobs. That’s straight out of the opposition playbook so it’s a pretty safe bet who you’re campaigning for.

    Your reply, Andrew, is basically: “not my department, guv.” You’ve absolved yourself of any responsibility.

    Are you suggesting this is in any way unreasonable? I’m pretty damn sure that I’m not responsible.

    Are you suggesting that the Tories should not be permitted to say what they believe?

    Surely, since we only run pensions in the DWP, that leaves us the freedom to say we oppose this and it is not LD policy.

    Yes, that’s why LDs have been saying it for months. Tories say they hate the poor and LDs say they disapprove. That is how a free and open society works. Your argument seems to come down to “Liberalism is bad because it lets people say things I don’t like”. I disapprove of this idea.

    Note that this does not mean LD ministers in other departments have any business briefing against the DWP on behalf of their own department. Each department only comments on its own business. Also note that the media tend to run the Tory statement in the headline and the LD response at the bottom of the page. This is a persistent annoyance.

    All it takes for evil to prevail (and I do consider these attacks on vulnerable people to be evil) is to stand by and do nothing

    That has got to be one of the most perverse arguments against free speech in politics that I have ever heard.

    Why don’t you concern yourselves with collecting unpaid taxes instead of looking to steal from those who have paid theirs through NI contributions – HMRC Writes Off Nearly £11bn In One Year Of Unpaid Tax, Finds Public Accounts Commitee?

    This is a significant aim of the coalition government, from day one. Please note that the report you are referring to is discussing the 2009-2010 tax year, which the current government can hardly be held responsible for.

    However, you should also note that the Treasury has stated over 90% of these write-offs were due to companies becoming bankrupt, in which case the law prohibits the tax from being collected. This statistic is a lot less interesting than it sounds.

  • Barry – there aren’t any MPs in the members’ forum, although I hear there have been on occasion. We do of course have a Lord.

  • @ Barry George
    “It is interesting to note that Jenny is the author of no less than 6 articles on this site. All of which contain many questions and concerns from readers of the said articles. Yet Jenny has yet to reply to any question or any comment on any article that she wrote”

    Actually I was wondering just the same thing the other day and after what Valerie T has just said with regards to MP’s not even participating in the members forum either, I think it just goes to show the contempt that the party leaders have towards their constituents and the grass roots.

    Nick Clegg promised a different kind of politics based on honesty, what a joke when he and his colleges cant even be arsed to respond to it’s own members.

    Liberal Democrats claimed to be different from the other parties, But if Liberal Democrat MP’s and Ministers are ignoring motions passed by conference, Ignoring it’s members and grass roots, what hope does the rest of the country have in hoping Lib Dems are listening.

    I thought a vote for Lib Dem was not supposed to be a wasted vote!!!

  • I don’t expect MPs to hang out in the member forum, and I don’t for a minute think it shows “contempt” if they don’t. But it would be nice if they came back to the comments section on the main board (as some of them do).

  • I don’t expect them to “hang out” in the members forum either. However, I do expect them to have the courtesy to reply to threads that they themselves have started.

    In My opinion it is rude and it reinforces peoples perceptions that the government is not listening.

    To write an article and not have the courtesy to respond comes across as dictating rather than explaining

  • Barry George 7th Feb '12 - 5:04pm

    @ Andrew

    I informed you that I do not respond to logical fallacies so you reply with this…

    “That’s straight out of the opposition playbook so it’s a pretty safe bet who you’re campaigning for.”

    That’s you poisoning the well again which is yet another Ad hominem ….

    Try reading

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fallacies

    If you have anything of substance to say about the content of my posts rather than the author of the posts then I will be happy to respond….

    You did say….

    ” It is trivial to verify my assertion that you are simultaneously bashing the government for spending money on creating jobs and for not spending money on creating jobs “

    Which if you read my comment Posted 6th February 2012 at 8:48 pm you will clearly see that your “assertion” is also fallacious because it has no bearing on what I said.

    My argument was against wasting money on projects such as HS2 rather than using that money to build social housing which would create jobs…

    I Respectfully have no need or desire to respond to magical thinking but I will (I am sure that it is pointless) inform you that I have never worked, volunteered, supported or even voted for the opposition. Though if I am unwittingly working for them could you please have a word because they have failed to pay me a single penny in the last 40 years.

    Now unless you have something to say about the substance of my posts we have nothing further to discuss.

    @ Valerie

    Thank you for enlightening me on the amount of MP input on the members forum I agree that some MP’s do show the courtesy of coming back to respond to a few comments. My concern is that Jenny has failed to do so in any of her articles at all and that concerns me greatly.

    @ Matt

    I agree that it is rude to post article after article without ever returning to respond . It belittles the “democrat” in “Liberal Democrat” when there is no dialogue or discussion between The MP who wrote the articles and those of us that read it and want to question it.

  • I watched the debate and Jenny Willott speeding through her speech and agreeing to cuts aimed at sick people and disabled children.
    I thought she was a Tory.
    Her promotion sends out a very clear message.

  • Jenny

    When there was a lot of discontent over the NHS bill in the party, conference passed a motion calling for specific changes to that bill. There was then a pause in the bill and changes were made. A statement was issued which said that all the changes called for in the conference motion had been made. This was trumpetted at some length as a way in which the grassroots of the party can influence legislation.

    With the Welfare Reform Bill, there is a lot of discontent in the party, conference passed a motion calling for specific changes to that bill. However no pause, no changes and no statement issued about what changes we were able to get to the bill as a result.

    So was that:
    A) because we no longer have any negotiating power to influence such things.
    B) that we gave up influencing this bill as part of negotiations to secure concessions in other bills. If so what were they?
    C) We didn’t try as our MPs agree with this bill.

    The party deserves at the very least to have an explanation of why a similar situation regarding the two bills has resulted in two completely different approaches in Parliament.

  • Just like to add, the “Work Capability Assessment” for ESA had just killed another one:-

    http://www.derbyshiretimes.co.uk/news/local/fit_to_work_dad_had_heart_attack_1_4228295

  • martin sweetland 14th Feb '12 - 10:42pm

    Jenny , why did you become an M.P. ? Quite clearly you are totally out of touch with reality . Just about anyone who becomes ill , if not terminal is placed in the back to work group on contributions based ESA . The jobcentre fully acknowledge that my wife will never be able to work again , after suffering a stroke 4 years ago , yet was put into the back to work group . We took out a mortgage 3 years ago and based our affordability on the basis that my wifes income from ESA would cover the cost of food etc , until she gets her old age pension in 2015 . As of april 1st our income will reduce by almost £400 a month . Result , i have had to borrow more money to bridge the deficit in income until 2015 .Your statement that “if your partner works less than 24 hours a week , etc” is also incorrect . If your partner earns over £150 a week (£7500 a year !!!!) , you lose ALL of your ESA . iF you seriouly consider a couple can live on £150 a week you belong on another planet . Same limit applies to council tax etc No doubt you will be surprised when you lose seat at the next election.

  • I think Jenny Willott needs to be reminded of parliaments own conclusions and recommendations regarding the ‘Implementation of the right of disabled people to independant living’ as out lined by the Human Rights Joint Committe;

    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt201012/jtselect/jtrights/257/25709.htm

    Its clear that the cuts to disabiity benefits mean that many claimants and former claimants will No longer be able to live independantly which goes against the intention and the implementation.

  • So benefits reform is a done deal,is it? Oh, well. 32 co-codamol from Boots, 32 co-codamol from Superdrug, 32 co-codamol from Bodycare, and 32 co-codamol from Lloyds Pharmacy before doing the whole thing again two weeks later. A far less painful way to die than starving to death as a result of these ‘reforms’.

  • “Just about anyone who becomes ill, if not terminal, is placed in the back to work group on contributions based ESA.”
    This is inaccurate. People with end-stage terminal cancer have also been placed in the fit for work group.

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