On Sunday Jenny Willott wrote an article on LDV explaining the reasons behing Lib Dem MPs voting to reject the Lords amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill. However, I’m afraid that, as someone who has been campaigning on this for several months, I am not satisfied with her explanation and think that there are several flaws in her justifications.
For example, to put what Jenny said another way, 4 in 10 people affected by the time limit will lose ESA completely. That’ll be 280,000 people with long term illness or disability that prevents them from working. Those who lose it completely will be those with household savings over £16,000 or with a partner working more than 24 hours a week. Because, you know, we wouldn’t want disabled people’s partners to be allowed to *work* after all. They might be able to get other support but, without ESA, there is no support specifically for the disabled person as they won’t even be allowed to receive Job Seekers Allowance – they, as an individual, will receive nothing at all.
And, given that the assessment system is so broken that even the man who designed it has called it “not fit for purpose”, her assurance that the sickest will be placed in the unconditional support group isn’t worth anything at all. When you get terminally ill cancer patients being found “fit for work” then you know the system is broken – and, while the time limit will start ejecting people from contributory ESA by April, the assessment won’t be fixed until 2015 at the earliest.
And that’s not mentioning that they’re also preventing severely disabled children from ever being allowed to receive contributory ESA and increasing the DLA payments to severely disabled children by less than £1.50 a week while using that as an excuse to take about £40 a week from all the other disabled children.
And there’s also the small matter that most of those receiving contributory ESA will be unable to return to work after one year. And the government cutting Disability Living Allowance by 20% over five years when the fraud rate is just 0.5%.
But more pertinently, Jenny Willott’s article was misleading about one crucial factor: our MPs did not face a choice between two arbitrary time limits. There was the government’s arbitrary time limit and the Lords amendment for a time limit of no less than two years. Neither was ideal but the former was clearly against party policy on time limiting while the latter was not.
Though, when you come down to it, the bottom line is that 280,000 sick and disabled people will lose ESA entirely. And I don’t think that pulling the rug out from under 280,000 vulnerable people is why we entered government. It’s certainly not what conference voted for.
* George Potter is the Secretary of Guildford Liberal Democrats, writing in a personal capacity.