Sunday, 22 January 2012

A response to "The best kept secret in the Lib Dems"

The other day Mark Pack, one of the editors over at Lib Dem Voice, and someone whose opinion I respect, wrote a piece on his blog entitled "The best kept secret in the Liberal Democrats" which is a response, in part, to my article on Lib Dem Voice last week. In it he argues that the reason for Lib Dem peers voting with the government to time limit contributory ESA is because they must have secured  improvements in the government's plans through negotiation and that the real issue is them failing to communicate this and thus giving the impression of ignoring concerns by disabled people and the party membership.

His exact words are:
"George Potter’s impassioned post, for example is understandable, but wrong. Wrong – because he is judging the peers by how they voted and not by what changes to legislation they have secured before and after votes. When you are negotiating to secure concessions and get concessions in return for votes, you should really be judged by that overall trade-off. But it’s hardly fair to criticise George or anyone else for not judging by the overall package – because given this omerta like news blackout, it’s not exactly easy to extract the necessary information."
I'm afraid I have to disagree.

There's no doubt that, as he pointed out, that some considerable changes took place on the proposals to replace DLA with PIP (something that will also include a 20% cut for a benefit which has a fraud rate of only 0.35%). Now, Mark refers to Sue Marsh's piece on this and I have to agree with her. There have been some improvements. But I also agree with her that they still aren't good enough. They are a lot better than what the government originally proposed though. Whether this is down to negotiation by Lib Dem peers or due to the government wanting to placate enough crossbencher (e.g. non-affiliated) peers to avoid another defeat on the bill is impossible to say. Either or both might be correct.

So, on that basis, we can potentially excuse Lib Dem peers for overwhelmingly with the government on DLA. I still don't think it was right, but the fact is that DLA wasn't specifically mentioned in the motion passed at conference and so they have something of an excuse.

But Mark Pack is utterly wrong about ESA. The fact is that the motion specifically called for
"Liberal Democrats in Government to oppose an arbitrary time limit on how long claimants can claim contributory ESA."
and for
"A presumption that ESA claimants with serious and uncontrollable life-threatening conditions should be allocated to the support group rather than the work related activity group."
The fact is that, two weeks ago, Lib Dem peers voted by a margin of 51 to 2 to back an arbitrary time limit on contributory ESA (the main benefit for people who are unable to work due to disability or illness). This means that long term sick and disabled people who are unable to work, will after one year of receiving contributory ESA, have support taken away. The DWP's own figures show that 40% of people receiving contributory ESA will lose out by the change. This is because after the year is up they will be switched to another part of the system, one which will take away all support for anyone with a household income over £16,000 - because that's clearly enough to support an entire family, including a severely disabled adult, on. And it will also take away money from people with household incomes below this level. 

In fact, the only people unaffected by the time limit will be those with a household income of less than £7,500 - meaning that the majority of them will be sick and disabled people living on their own. But families where one parent is disabled and one works will be placed under financial pressure which will take away much needed support unless they have an income so low that they are actively living in poverty. In fact, it will place many families in the position where they'd be better off splitting up rather than trying to support an entire family , including the costs of sickness and disability, on one person's income or on ESA payment designed only to be capable of supporting one person.

Our peers also voted overwhelmingly in favour of subjecting cancer patients to the stressful ESA assessment process.

So I really can't see how, on either of the two points from the motion above, that our peers upheld the principle or the letter of the motion. More importantly than that, I really can't see how they can justify as in any way "liberal" changes that will put vulnerable people through significant hardship.

Our peers might have got changes to DLA or they might not. But they certainly haven't achieved anything significant on ESA when the most damaging and unnecessary proposal by the government is not only unchanged but also overwhelmingly backed in the lords by Lib Dem peers.

And, if Mark Pack is reading this, I'd like to ask him to also read this other piece by Sue Marsh. And, after reading it, I'd like to ask him if he still thinks we've won on disability benefits:


  1. It would help if you weren't quite so misleading. You know the 20% cut imposed by the Treasury is over 3.5 years, so the annual cut is 20% divided by 3.5.

    You also know that the 2005 report on DLA, commissioned by the Labour Government, was about those whose conditions had improved & so required less support from DLA, NOT just about fraud, which represented only 0.5% of the total.

  2. @Anonymous

    It's a 20% cut in spending on DLA. It might be spread out over a few years but it's still a cut. And given that it's a 20% cut to be made solely from the 50% of DLA recipients who are of working age, for the people affected it will be a 40% cut. That is not misleading, it is a fact.

    Yes, and in 2010 the combined net impact of fraud (0.5%) and money lost through overpayments and money saved through underpayments amounted to a net saving for the treasury. Furthermore, I'd much rather be using modern, up to date figures rather than a report which is 7 years old.

  3. George - if by "won" you mean, "is the legislation now pretty much the same as a majority Liberal Democrat government would introduce?" then the answer we both agree is "no" and even "not by quite a way".

    What it can be judged against is (a) how far away it is from what a Lib Dem government would do and also (b) how far away it is from what a Conservative government would do.

    The smaller (a) is and the bigger (b) is the better. In this case, it seems to me that as what a Lib Dem government would do is quite a long way apart from what a Conservative government would do, it's possible both for (b) to be significant but also for (a) to be big at the same time.

    Where though (I think) we differ is on our own emphasis - your judgement is much more about (a) - and so judging against our motion at conference, for example - whilst mine is much more about (b).

    1. What a conservative government would do is introduce an arbitrary, medically unsound one year time limit. What our peers have voted for is exactly that. What our conference voted for was to ask our peers to find an alternative. They have not done that, they have voted completely for the unaltered tory plan. And, in the process, they have voted for something that will see thousands of disabled people, such as Sue Marsh, suffer real hardship.

      So, aside from the fact that they've voted for something utterly illiberal, they've also voted completely against what an explicitly worded motion at conference asked them to do. So, we certainly haven't won or come even part way towards winning if we are allowing the tories to do something that wasn't in either manifesto but is most definitely against policy made at conference last year.

      More than anything else though, it's impossible to say that our peers have even attempted to listen to the democratic will of conference. So I really can't see how what I said in my original article was wrong in any way.

    2. George, you are absolutely right on this point. This is an issue on which we have unequivocal party policy and no overriding instruction in the coalition agreement - and although the amendment is obviously not in line with the letter of party policy, it's certainly in tune with the spirit.

      To suggest that the entire problem is a matter of commuication is, of course, nonsense; this is an issue of substance much more than spin.

      That's why I've put it on the next Federal Policy Committee agenda. Welfare reform has to happen, and I've actually been impressed with the way the Government has taken this on; the Treasury is the villain of this particular piece.


I'm indebted to Birkdale Focus for the following choice of words:

I am happy to address most contributions, even the drunken ones if they are coherent, but I am not going to engage with negative sniping from those who do not have the guts to add their names or a consistent on-line identity to their comments. Such postings will not be published.

Anonymous comments with a constructive contribution to make to the discussion, even if it is critical will continue to be posted. Libellous comments or remarks I think may be libellous will not be published.

I will also not tolerate personation so please do not add comments in the name of real people unless you are that person. If you do not like these rules then start your own blog.

Oh, and if you persist in repeating yourself despite the fact I have addressed your point I may get bored and reject your comment.

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