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Welfare Reform and Work Bill

Part of Department of Health — End of Life Care – in the House of Commons at 6:30 pm on 2nd March 2016.

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Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment) 6:30 pm, 2nd March 2016

I am sorry, but time is tight and other right hon. and hon. Members have refused to take interventions.

As I was saying, the Government said that they trusted their reason “be deemed sufficient”. There is, of course, nothing to say because this Government have not done their homework. The impact assessment has not been done. The Government have no idea how this will impact on claimants, their health or their ability to progress towards work. Tonight, the Government will not have that technicality to fall back on. The revised amendments from the Lords ask the Government to provide the impact assessment that should have been done right at the start of this process and for it to be scrutinised before any cut to ESA would be forthcoming.

This amendment from Lord Low and his colleagues sets a challenge to this Minister and her Government. It sets a challenge to accept the amendment or do a better job of reasoning why the amendment should be opposed. It does not cost the Government any extra money; it just asks for them to do the work they should have done before even bringing these proposals to the House.

Some Conservatives voted with the Government last week, holding their nose. They did so on the “jam tomorrow” promise dangled by the Government in the shape and form of the much vaunted White Paper on health and work. Surely Conservative Members must now be asking whether the cart is being put before the horse. Why not publish the White Paper and explain what is going to replace this damaging cut to the incomes of sick and disabled people? Such a radical cut to social security for sick and disabled recipients merits at least that.

We should also consider the various court cases being brought against this Government regarding their welfare cuts—the bedroom tax, and carer’s allowance as part of the benefit cap. And the UN is investigating the cuts in general. By not doing their homework on cuts to ESA and universal credit and by not producing an impact assessment, the Government risk being dragged to court at great expense to the taxpayer once again and at great embarrassment to themselves once again.

I would rather have seen passed the amendments we tabled at the end of last year or those we considered last week. The Government won the votes on those occasions, but this is back before us tonight from the House of Lords. Universal opposition from disability groups and third sector organisations remains, while the fact that so many compassionate Conservative Members are thinking of voting against the Government tonight shows they have not won the argument. They have not convinced us that these cuts should happen before an impact assessment has been scrutinised, and they have not convinced us that these cuts should happen before the alternative in their White Paper has even been presented.

Given the apparent importance of this issue to the Government, the fact that the amendments are tabled in the name of the Secretary of State and that so many Conservatives are so close to voting against him, one would have thought that we would see the Secretary of State in his place this evening—if not at the Dispatch Box, at least somewhere on the Government Benches to show that he is not taking his Back Benchers for granted. He failed to attend the debate last week, and he has failed to appear again tonight. He has shown disrespect to the House, disrespect to his Conservative colleagues, and a blatant disregard for ESA and universal credit recipients whose support is due to be cut. As we heard from Debbie Abrahams, he has apparently already written to his Back Benchers in a last-ditch attempt to shore up support, saying that the impact assessments satisfy the Equality and Human Rights Commission. That is simply not true: the commission says that they do not.

I understand that Conservative Members may not wish to agree with what I have to say, or indeed with what is said by those on the Labour Front Bench, but this matter is too important for them not to listen to what is said by those will be affected by the cuts. Last week, I quoted from an excellent speech made by Baroness Grey-Thompson. Tanni

Grey-Thomson, an 11-times wheelchair racing gold medallist, has no political axe to grind; she has no interest in giving the Government a bloody nose for the sake of it. She has campaigned hard on this issue because she can see the impact that the cuts will have. On Monday night, she said:

“Many people are already close to crisis point. They feel so beaten up by the changes that they are finding it hard to articulate. It is not that they do not care. They just do not have the energy left and are just trying to survive.”—[Hansard, House of Lords, 29 February 2016; Vol. 769, c. 607-8.]

I could reel off any number of quotations from third sector organisations that have been mentioned in previous debates, and we agree with what they have said. Last week the Minister said that she had worked with them, but they remain concerned about the cuts, and we have to ask ourselves why. They have drawn attention to the impact that those cuts will have on the people they represent. I implore Conservative Members to consider what they have to say, and to weigh that expert evidence against the Government’s failure to provide any evidence at all.

The amendments offer a sensible opportunity for the Government to take stock, gather the evidence relating to a cut of £30 per week for those who are sick and disabled, and explain in detail what replacement they propose. Surely if DWP Ministers have confidence in their arguments, they will have no problem supplying the necessary evidence to the House, and to those who will suffer the impact of these cuts.

Several hon. Members rose