Thursday, 12 January 2012

ESA amendments success in Lords

Yesterday the Welfare Reform Bill (WRB) was debated in the House of Lords. Specifically three amendments that relate to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

These amendments were to keep the automatic entitlement to ESA for young disabled people. In order to qualify for the contribution based ESA a person must have made a certain level of NI contributions in the two years before the claim. Previously people such as myself who had never been able to work were given an exemption from this requirement if their disability started before age 20. A kind of levelling of the playing field for those of us who've never had the chance to earn and make NI contributions. If I hadn't had that automatic entitlement to Incapacity Benefit (one of the benefits ESA is replacing) I wouldn't have been able to leave home and go to university. My parents would still be my carers and my mum wouldn't be running her own business.

The government had intended to remove this aspect under the WRB. The amendment called for it to be kept.It was believed that this would be a "too close to call" vote but the Government were defeated with 260 votes for the amendment and 216 against.

The second and third amendments related to the plans to limit entitlement to contribution based ESA to just one year. Some claimants would then be able to go on to claim income based ESA if this time limit did come in in the WRB. But those who had a partner who was working would lose out entirely even if their income is as little as £16K a year. This is likely to lead to increased poverty and knock on affects such as worsening health. Campaigner Sue Marsh has shared how if she lost her ESA the only way they could cope would be if her husband gave up his job to become her carer.

So the second amendment called for the time limit to be increased to two years. This was passed with 234 voting for the amendment and 186 against.

The third amendment called for cancer patients to be exempted from ESA time. In this vote 222 lords voted for the amendment and 166 voting against. This meant an unprecedented third defeat in a row for the government and a much needed boost for campaigners after the work that had gone into promoting The Spartacus Report etc. We haven't won and we can't rest yet but we have achieved something.

Unfortunately however later that evening after most of the Lords had left Lord Freud proposed another amendment to take out the entitlement to ESA for young people. This was passed 132 for, 49 against. At the point this happened the WRB debate had ended. It was restarted for this. As Steven Sumpter explains this is against usual parliamentary procedure and I for one would like to know about the legality of what happened.

The Guardian and The BBC have good coverage of the debates although neither of them cover the sneaky fourth amendment of Lord Freud. The results of the votes are also available.


  1. The real test however is getting these amendments back through the Commons when in Grayling's interviews today he has made it clear that he will do all he can to have them removed.

  2. I was watching as it happened, the debate was adjourned until 8:32 in the evening, when they came back they carried on debating amendments to the bill. I was tweeting about it as it happened and was effectively told to, "shut up we've won."

  3. How can you put a time limit on getting better. As my Doctor says there are no rules on getting well. two years is not sufficient not only cancer is a long term illness. We have not won!