Opinion: getting the welfare reforms right

Today an open letter, signed by well over forty of our parliamentary candidates from 2010, will be sent to Nick Clegg. And, on Monday, a meeting, organised by the Social Liberal Forum, will take place in the Palace of Westminster in Committee Room 18 (made infamous by the story about Sir Bob Russell MP allegedly pulling the door off of its hinges).

The subject of both the letter and the meeting will be the recent voting record of our peers on aspects of the Welfare Reform Bill ranging from sickness and disability benefits, to the household benefit cap and child benefits.

The meeting in particular will be a chance for our MPs and peers to hear from representatives of organisations such as Liberal Youth, the Social Liberal Forum, the Liberal Democrat Disability Association, the Welfare Reform Consortium, the Children’s Commissioner Office and others. Both the letter and the meeting will allow voices within the party and wider society to explain to our parliamentarians our concern over the way they have voted on the Welfare Reform Bill.

In particular, three weeks ago 51 Lib Dem peers voted for a one year time limit to ESA, directly opposite the request of a motion passed last conference, and the government’s benefits cap, as currently planned, is at odds with policy made at conference on reducing child poverty and safeguarding universal child benefit. More important than raising concerns, however, is to discuss productive ways of moving forward.

Above all, the organisers of the meeting and the letter hope to ensure that voices within the wider party are listened to on future votes on the Welfare Reform Bill in order to guarantee that the final welfare reforms implemented by the government are in keeping with not only party policy made by conference, but also with the spirit and fundamental values of the Liberal Democrats as described in our constitution and as felt by ordinary party members up and down the country.

* George Potter is the Secretary of Guildford Liberal Democrats, writing in a personal capacity.

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13 Comments

  • It is indeed vital that we get the welfare reforms right, and in particular that we ensure the one-year time limit on contributory ESA for those in the WRAG group is voted down, or we’ll be reaping a whirlwind.

    If we think that private insurance is the way to go for disability benefits, then let’s make that argument. I haven’t heard it. If we don’t think private insurance is the way to go, then let’s not hang out to dry the people who’ve been paying National Insurance contributions all their lives. How can we even think of introducing a time limit when we haven’t yet sorted out the mess that Labour left us with the introduction of the poorly-functioning WCA testing on which ESA depends, and which means that all sorts of people are being put in the wrong group?

    I hope you have a productive meeting, and look forward to hearing more. (I heard it was close to 50 candidates? I hope they’re joined by more, anyway).

  • Rachel – we did get a big concession on DLA in that the regulations on testing etc. will have to be approved by parliament. But, as I understand it, they can only be approved or rejected (not amended) so we’ll have to have the gumption to reject them if we think they’re no good. We don’t want to end up with something as much of a mess as the current WCA assessment for ESA.

    On ESA, though, I’m completely at a loss to understand why so many Lib Dem Lords voted the way they voted, i.e. why there wasn’t a bigger rebellion.

  • George Potter Caron Lindsay 27th Jan '12 - 2:45pm

    This is great stuff, George. Looking through the signatories of the letter, they include our new MEP, and at least four from the Leadership Programme, our star candidates of the future.

    This meeting on Monday is very important, but I also think that people need to make their views known to the leadership.

    Nobody has come out and defended these cuts to ESA and DLA for any other reason than “we can’t afford it”. Actually, we need to afford it if we are to be the sort of compassionate society that we want to see.

  • I think a lot of people must just be saying “well, I assume we’re cutting the fraud, I’m all for that”. But we have an assessment system that *doesn’t work*, on the basis of which we’re planning to introduce a one-year-limit that will affect *the wrong people* because they’ve been put in the wrong group.

    Not to mention one year being too short in any case – if you became disabled in some way right now (you went blind, say) and you did hope to work again in some way at some point, would it take you just a year from now to find a job? Is that the sort of insurance policy you signed up for in paying NI contributions?

    And the DWP is trying to get this policy through with the aid of much massaging of the press and manipulation of facts. If we were cutting fraud, that would be great. But we’re not, we’re on course to stuffing a whole lot of people, and ourselves as well.

  • Barry George 27th Jan '12 - 9:09pm

    Keep up the excellent work George.

    If being in a coalition means that you no longer need to vote in line with party policy then democracy is well and truly dead, I support you fully but wish you were going even further…

    Nick Clegg and co have zero possibilty of gaining back the electoral support of this life long Liberal voter. But you and other hard working members just might 🙂

  • Eduardo Reyes 28th Jan '12 - 11:09am

    An important meeting – I hope the parliamentarians are listening. I remain unconvinced by the argument that we are somehow to be given credit for getting ‘important concessions’. We are this government’s working majority, and no change goes through without our support. I therefore find it a hard line defend us with as a party. Good luck organisers.

  • martin sweetland 28th Jan '12 - 11:48am

    My wife received a letter from jobcentre plus this week , advising her that her contributory ESA benefit would be increasing on April 12th , She rang them , and the conversation was ;- Wife ” why have i been sent this lettter when my benefits are to stop on April 1st ?”. ” well we know there are changes , but we are not sure what, so dont get too worried for now”. wife ” well i am worried because we have a large mortgage payment to meet , and i will have no income until i get old age pension in 2015″ , “you may be able to get tax credits in 2015 . so dont worry too much”,wife ” i just told you i will be retired by then, but what am i to do in the meantime as my benefits are to be time limited and i have reached the 2 year threshold. I am not able to work again , so why am i in a back to work group?”.
    “We are aware that you cannot return to work , but you are put into that group automatically ” Wife “why ? ” Because you are not terminally ill . Dont worry too much though ” . Wife ” of course i worry , i am to lose my income for 3 years.” ” How do you know this ?”. Because my husband has been following the progress of the bill via the internet”. ” How did you find out about it in the first place? “. Wife ” because you wrote to me 4 months ago to advise me i would lose my benefits, and i have been worried ever since”.
    Sadly the above is fact , not fiction , and its great to know that my wife has been paying contributions for forty odd years , not , as we thought , to help out in the event of becoming too ill to work , but to pay the wages of numpties who do not know what day of the week it is. Also demonstrates that timelimiting ESA is very,very , wrong. Any member that votes with the government on this issue should have their names printed in every newspaper.
    People on ESA are “categorised” into convenient slots which do not necessarily reflect the severity of their illness . Some may be able to return to work after 6 months , many will never be able. If your partner has a salary over £35 k , you may not feel the effect of losing ESA .For the majority , the effect is far reaching and can be financially devastating.

  • Good luck at your meeting on Monday, and before you go, read this, which tells you what your opponents are up to:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jan/27/bash-poor-wave-flag-tory-trick

  • MPs of all parties need to wake up to the fact that they have been misled deliberately time and time again by Ministers and the controlled media. The Spartacus Report proved this over DLA.

    The ATOS assessment is NOT being put right under Harrington. A man in a coma has just been found fit for work.
    Benefit fraud on IB/ESA is 0.3%. DLA fraud is 0.5%. Read the governments own report, not what they TELL you.

    Before your meeting, please ask Danny Alexander why he utterly condemned the ESA medical as “finding hundreds of thousands of sick people unfairly fit to work”, only a few weeks before the election? Yet now supports it and abolishing DLA as well. A taste of power goes a long way to overriding a man’s conscience doesn’t it?

    You can see his interviews scattered throughout the BBC Scotland documentary “Who’s Cheating Who” on You Tube.( In 3 parts)

    Part 1
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yop7L95NyIU&feature=related

    43 seconds in Alexander predicts that the number of appeals from the genuinely ill will cause meltdown in the Appeals system. (Seems his powers of prediction were greater then than his honesty now)

    Part 2
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0GiLGDgk0M&feature=related

    “people genuinelly in need are being denied money they are entitled to”

    Part 3
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQ8zgGN-zU8&feature=related

    “The fact is the process is not working”

  • Please remember, you WORK FOR US, not them.

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