Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Mr Potter goes to Westminster #wrb

Yesterday I went to parliament to attend a meeting organised by the Social Liberal Forum. The point of the meeting was tolobby our peers to support party policy and party principles by getting them to support the Lords' amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill when they vote on it tomorrow.

Last Friday I wrote an article on Lib Dem Voice about the aims of the meeting so you can read more about those here.

The meeting itself was under Chatham House Rules which basically means everyone could say exactly what they thought as no one is allowed to disclose who exactly said what in the meeting.

I'm grateful to the Lib Dem MPs who turned up at relatively short notice, and I'm fairly confident they'll be able to take the key points raised and answers given, to others.

A number of different groups attended including people from Lib Ded Disability Association, Womwen Liberal Democrats, Social Liberal Forum and Liberal Youth (myself).
Some points raised at the meeting were:
  • The time limiting of ESA, which received particular attention from a lot of speakers
  • The impact of the benefits cap, including that people in receipt of ESA but not DLA would be hit by it and that, unless child benefits were excluded, it would have a massively detrimental impact on child poverty
  • The unfairness of the cuts to and DLA given how low the fraud rates
  • The belief that the cuts were motivated purely for the sake of saving money rather than anything else
  • The fact that some key items in the Welfare Reform Bill go directly against party policy
  • The need for Lib Dem parliamentarians to stand up on this issue
The impression I got is that the MPs who attended the meeting were broadly supportive of what we were saying but I can't say anything more than that.

I think one of the most important things we took away from the meeting is that the vote on Wednesday is not the end, whatever the outcome. The Lords will still need to be persuaded to dig their heels in against the DWP and there will need to be lots of lobbying and engaging with consultations to make sure that the changes we can't stop will be implemented as fairly as possible. The vast bulk of the changes won't be in actual legislation passed by parliament and this is where keeping up political pressure could really pay dividends.

The other thing I took away was that there is, apparently, widespread unease about the bill amongst Lib Dem MPs but that it's unease without direction. This is why it's vital that people lobby MPs and peers about the bill and keep doing so even after the vote on Wednesday.  There's an easy way for you to do this here. You should also sign Pat's Petition.

Finally, one fairly definite bit of good news is that apparently Jenny Willott has indicated that the government is likely to concede to the Lords amendment on disabled children and National Insurance contributions. This was an item in the Welfare Reform Bill which would have meant that severely disabled children would have no longer be treated as having made NI contributions when they became adults. Since they're unable to work and therefore unable to build up NI contributions, this would have prevented them from having access to disability benefits in their own right and would have even denied them access to a proper state pension when they reached old age(UPDATE: As has been pointed out in the comments, I was wrong on this bit). It was an utterly idiotic proposal (especially as it only saved £10 million a year) and it's good to see signs that common sense and decency will prevail on this.

UPDATE: Monday also saw me get an article published in the online version of the Guardian.


  1. Hi George.

    Did you get any vibe with regard to the Government's intention to include child benefit as part of the benefit cap, despite the recent vote?

    I ask because it appears a huge anomaly even within the internal logic of the policy. Given that child benefit is universal, at the level we are talking about anyway, it seems rather strange to include that in a cap that is supposed to clamp down on what a family with non-working parents can achieve compared to a working parent family could earn.

    1. There certainly seemed to be concern about it amongst the MPs who attended the meeting but that's all I could gather. The newspapers are reporting some concessions are going to be made by the government on it but I don't think we'll know what the exact situation is until tomorrow.

  2. Just a very minor clarification, but the ESA Youth amendment would not have meant young people on ESA could not receive a pension. When you are on ESA or JSA you receive credits which count as a year towards your state pension. After time limiting kicks in after one year, people will retain their entitlement to ESA (it's the money which stops, not the underlying entitlement) so they will continue to build up NI credits towards their state pension.

  3. "there is, apparently, widespread unease about the bill amongst Lib Dem MPs but that it's unease without direction."

    In other words, the libdems will continue to enable the nastiest tory government to pass their nastiest bill but hey, it's ok because they feel really bad about doing it? Anyway all this will take ages and ages to actually implement so don't worry?

    No mention of the discredited ATOS assessments? Nothing was said about UNUM/ATOS roles in the Tory/Labour/LibDem rush to dismantle the welfare state? No progressive indignation or Orange Book delight that the new poverty market is ready for exploitation? Will we be seeking advice on PC security and copyright protection from China next? How about getting Netanyahu to write the next edition of the 'Good Neighbour Guide'? Why don't we ask Bashar Al-Assad to rewrite that troublesome 'Human Rights Act' for us?

    Thank Cameron we have the Work Programme to save us. Those of us who wouldn't be considered for work at Tescos or Poundland can now find new dignity in being compelled to work for them for free. How generous are ragged trousered philanthropists expected to be nowadays?


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