Osborne’s ‘conference treat’ on welfare reform turning into a sticky mess

The benefits cap was wonderful politics for George Osborne - but now the politics is turning sticky as the reality of its impcat hits home.

Oh, it was such wonderful politics. The proposed ‘benefits cap’ of £500 per week – primarily aimed at larger poorer families living in the inner-cities who needed help with exorbitant rents to remain part of their communities – killed a clutch of birds with one stone for coalition ministers.

It was a popular policy with their chums in the press, put Labour in a difficult position and delivered a cut in spending. When George Osborne announced it at Conservative party conference last year, they cheered him to the rafters.

Well, it seems that now the reality of the impact of the policy has caught up with what was some fairly nifty positioning. The government has postponed the House of Lords second reading of the welfare reform bill which featured the benefits cap.

Ministers have taken advantage of the firestom surrounding News International and the traditional ‘Friday News Dump’ to announce a pause in the bill’s progress until the Autumn.

The pause was revealed on the Disability Alliance website:

The Government has been forced to delay the 2nd Reading of the flagship Bill in the Lords due to peers’ concerns over the people affected. DWP is suggesting other business has blocked progress but the surprise postponement till September from Tuesday will also give the government time to lobby peers and answer the queries raised in Disability Alliance’s legal challenge.

DWP suggests other parliamentary business has blocked progress but the surprise postponement, till September from Tuesday 19th July 2011, will also give the Government time to lobby peers and answer the queries raised in DA’s legal challenge.

It follows the Independent’s report this morning that chancellor George Osborne faced a rebellion within the coalition over the housing cap:

Lib Dem sources yesterday predicted that unless the Treasury backed down there would be a rebellion against the government’s welfare bill when it is debated in the House of Lords.

“I can’t see us voting for it as things currently stand,” said one senior Lib Dem figure in the Lords. “It is not just us. There are powerful people in the Conservative Party who are also opposed to this.”

The longer the bill takes to get through parliament, the trickier it will get for the coalition. The The Disability Alliance and The Broken of Britain campaign are looking to take on more aspects of the bill, especially the removal of Disability Living Allowance (DLA), which supports those with more severe disabilities.

The Disability Alliance has described the abolition of the DLA and replacement with the Personal Independence Payment as potentially having the effect of:

“Caus[ing] considerable hardship, isolation and exclusion for thousands of disabled people and their families who view DLA as an essential ‘lifeline’ of support.”

This is just the kind of thing that cross-benchers get nervous about. The politics of this will be very sticky for the government come the autumn – while the policy could be disastrous for some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

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