Employment minister Chris Grayling says goverenment is not going to means test benefits for those never able to work - but that’s exactly waht they intend to do.
On Wednesday, Westminster was rocked by a series of government defeats on its welfare reform bill in the House of Lords.
The first, which came as a complete surprise to most observers, rejected the government’s plans to cut non-means tested support for people who have never been able to work, and thus have no National Insurance contributions.
In an unprecedented move later that evening, after most of the crossbench peers who had inflicted the defeat on government had left the chamber, Lord Freud moved an amendment which had the effect of undoing the coalition’s defeat on this issue.
So the government is keen enough to cut support for people with early-onset or lifetime disabilities to play fast and loose with parliamentary procedure.
But it appears that Chris Grayling doesn’t even know what his government is trying to do. On Newsnight last night, Grayling claimed that under government proposals, Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) would not be means tested for those who have never been and will never be able to work.
“Well, if you take the example of one of the amendments last night, on young people, what we’ve got is a situation right now where if young person reaches adult life, and they have other financial means, they could receive for example a substantial inheritance, they’re still able to unconditionally receive benefit support for an ongoing period.
“Now, if they’re never going to be able to work, the situation won’t change for them.”
We can find no plausible reading of this statement other than Grayling believes that a young disabled person who qualifies for the ESA support group for people who are not expected to be able to work will still be able to access non-means tested benefits.
However, this is precisely what the government was trying to prevent through the welfare reform bill.
The amendment the government effectively overturned through its underhand manoeuvrings on Wednesday would have led to precisely the situation Grayling described on Newsnight.
Contributory ESA is a non-means tested benefit we are entitled to if we become sick or disabled, paid for by the national insurance contributions we make while working, as explained so well by regular Left Foot Forward contributor Declan Gaffney.
In order to extend protection to people who will never be able to work, governments of all political persuasions have credited young disabled people into the system, effectively treating them as if they had built up enough national insurance contributions to qualify for ESA or its predecessor, Incapacity Benefit.
The government’s aim is to reverse this longstanding bipartisan commitment, so that young people who have never worked will instead only be able to access means-tested ESA. This means that their benefit will be reduced if they have a working partner and if they have savings above a certain threshold.
However people who become disabled in adulthood and who have contributions records will be able to receive the non-means tested benefit if they are not expected to be able to work again.
Mr Grayling thinks that his government intends to continue to provide non-means tested support to severely disabled people who have never worked, and seems to regards this as desirable.
He is wrong on what the government has been trying to do, but if he does favour non-means tested support, all he has to do is reinstate the cross-bench amendment his colleague Lord Freud worked so hard and so duplicitously to overturn on Wednesday.
• “Demonsing the government” Sue Marsh v Chris Grayling (and Emily Maitlis) – Alex Hern, January 13th 2012
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• Welfare reform bill in tatters after Lords defeats – Shamik Das, January 12th 2012
• Children’s commissioner slams welfare bill – Alex Hern, January 11th 2012
• Everyone concerned about welfare reform needs to step up to the mark – Declan Gaffney, January 10th 2012
• Disability minister ignorant on how legal aid cuts affecting disabled people – Alex Hern, January 10th 2012