Thursday, 7 April 2011

Welfare Reform Bill Committee Update (3rd Week)

A member has just pointed out that there seems to be a fair amount of doom and gloom on this blog and its comment threads in the past few weeks. The despondency many are feeling is understandable, as the pitfalls of welfare reform loom large. But remember, we have not lost yet and there are real prospects of amending the Welfare Reform Bill.

The Welfare Reform Bill Committee met on Tuesday for its  9th and 10th  sitting. Parliament is now in recess and the Committee will not meet again until the 26th of April.

When it does there is hope, primarily due to this statement by Margaret Curran, Shadow Minister for Disabled People:
I caution him that in any discussion about disability, the disability movement will say, assertively, “Yes, of course you must look at the needs of the most severely disabled, but you must be very careful how you define that.” If we do so at the expense of those who have moderate disability, such as learning difficulties, or those who are, perhaps, autistic—I shall provide examples as I make my comments—we do them a profound disservice. We should look at disability in the round rather than simply at the most severe cases.
Kate Green MP supported this by saying:
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Does she also agree that one of the reasons for ensuring adequate financial support for people with less profound disabilities is that they are precisely those who may be able to enter paid employment? To remove the extra financial support that might enable them to make that move—because they are required, or choose, to do so—seems short-sighted in the context of the universal credit.
This exchange is heartening, as it shows that the Opposition are beginning to understand our arguments. and particularly so as it demonstrates that lobbying by The Broken of Britain is at least having some impact. Although the Bill is unamended as yet, Margaret Curran did manage to extract a policy commitment from Chris Grayling to examine the interaction between the support group of universal credit and those who currently receive the severe disability premium, which is a small victory.

The mountain we have to climb was summarized by Chris Grayling, Minister for Employment, who said:
The focus of our support, and the place we have chosen to invest the resources available, is the support group. There are a small number of cases where, as a result of programmes such as Work Choice, which is operated by the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller), some people have the opportunity to get back into work despite having a severe disability, although there is no obligation on them to do so. People in the work-related activity group are judged to have some potential to return to work, either now or in future, and they have an obligation to take part in work preparation activities.
We have made a conscious policy decision to concentrate our support on people in the support group, to increase the resources available to them and create a simplified and more streamlined system. Where adjustments must be made because people are moving around between different categories of support, we have put in place transitional protection to ensure that nobody loses out in cash terms. That is our approach and we have made provision in the Bill to help the most severely disabled people.
It seems that this Government's narrow view of what constitutes a disability will not be changed easily. The other good news is that Kate Green managed to extract reassurance from Chris Grayling on the continuing rights of the claimant to appeal the work-related activity and claimant commitment.

The Government's narrow-mindedness was further underlined when Kate Green proposed that the new claimant commitment for universal credit should be bipartite, with commitments from the Secretary of State as well as the claimant. Chris Grayling replied that:
My view is straightforward: we are providing claimants with significant financial support; in return, we want them to make a real effort to get into work. That is what lies at the heart of the claimant commitment. Of course, Jobcentre Plus and Work programme providers have an obligation to provide satisfactory support to claimants as they look for work.
Kate Green then said:
I am very disappointed with that response. It is an extremely narrow view of what an enabling welfare state should look like and the principles on which it should be based. It appears to ignore the common human interest that we all have in a welfare state that adequately supports people and in which we all have a stake. Irrespective of our circumstances, we have a right to appropriate support.
At the moment, this is all we have, and it is hard to know what and how much to hope for. It is certain that this Government plans to push the Bill through. But it is also certain that we are being heard, and that The Broken of Britain is having an impact that will see a major push for amendments. This Bill has another month of Committee meeting, and a further two stages in the Commons, even before it spends months with the Lords. There is a long way to go. Reassuring you that everything will be ok would be an empty gesture. 

The danger is real. But so is the hope.

by Rhydian Fôn James for TBofB


Sam Barnett-Cormack said...

I realise I'm being negative when you're trying to be more positive, but it just seems like they (the government) are still ignoring us, even though MPs are speaking up for us now.

Sam Barnett-Cormack said...

Also, the Work-Related Activity Group are the ones who, if the system worked as it should, could work with the right preparation, support, and job. The government want to steer support away from them?

Rhydian said...

You are right about the Government Sam. Their views on the 'deserving disabled' are sickening. As I say, the danger there is very real.

But with many MPs now coming down on our side, there is still hope. While that hope is there, and beyond, The Broken of Britain will keep fighting.

Sam Barnett-Cormack said...

Rhydian, oh yes, until we're defeated we must fight, and I'm glad you folks are - and I'll do what I can from my little corner of the trenches.

Anonymous said...

A member has just pointed out that there seems to be a fair amount of doom and gloom on this blog and its comment threads in the past few weeks.

Can I point out to that member that during a war (in which we are presently in) that there is a grave doom and gloom) however, as a user of this blog for several months now and with carrying a cronic and sever level of illness. This blog is far from doom and gloom in that the fight of genuine hope carries with it a strength of hope. Many battles can be lost during a war. But ultimitly we WILL win the war.

Hang on in there everyone and stand firm. Talk with your family and freinds, talk with your neighbours, talk with your councillors, talk with your MP's. Don't give any of them any rest.

This is a democratic system, if we as a whole stand idle then we submit to dictatorship. We cannot allow that to happen.

Sam Barnett-Cormack said...

If only we had more of the popular media on our side, not just occasional short bits or online-only stuff, but a real storm of criticism, whip up the sympathy of the compassionate public

Bill Kruse said...

If Chris Grayling's so keen on providing support for the worst off, those in the Support Group, why are they continually retested? It's far from unusual for people to fail the ATOS medical then be put into the Support Group by a tribunal, only to find months later they're to endure the whole process all over again. What kind of support is that? What it does support is the transfer of money, hundreds of millions of pounds, from the public purse to the privately-owned company ATOS. Is there a little drinkie in this for the politicians instrumental in setting all this up, one wonders? It would explain rather a lot, wouldn't it?

Erika said...

What annoys me is what work? What jobs are there for people who can do something, but not what the majority of the workforce can?

If there really were jobs you could do few hours a week when you were well enough, and any time as and when you stopped throwing up/sleeping/getting out of bed, that kept the bills paid,that you can go on sick leave at any time, no risk of being sacked and truly enabled you to provide for yourself finacial then we really would be beating down the door to the job centre.

You can spend the rest of you life in training and been given support but if no job exist that you can do, its just worthless.