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The House of Lords inflicted three defeats on the government over its welfare reform bill. Photograph: Tim Graham/Getty Images
The government suffered an extraordinary threefold defeat on its Welfare Reform Bill in the House of Lords tonight (11 January 2012), as campaigners and peers combined to oppose cuts that would hit sick, vulnerable and disabled people particularly badly.
Crossbenchers Lord Patel and Baroness Meacher, and Labour peer Baroness Lister, were among those who fought an expert rearguard action against the coalition, with a few Liberal Democrats also rebelling.
The three amendments passed by the second chamber would retain automatic eligibility for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for young disabled people who are unable to work; reject the government’s proposal that ESA claimants be reassessed after 12 months (proposing 24 months instead); and exempt cancer patients from the ESA limit.
The votes are a triumph for Sue Marsh, Dr Sarah Cambell and other disabled activists and researchers who on Monday published the ‘Responsible Reform’ report, who caused an Internet sensation with their #spartacusreport campaign, and who have galvanised charities, NGOs, politicians from all parties, churches, medical professionals and public figures into lobbying for a substantial rethink on welfare reform.
Peers and MPs were inundated with pleas to stop welfare and disability cuts this morning, with thousands of copies of the report exposing the sham of the government’s consultation on Disability Living Allowance (DLA) being sent on to decision-makers and policy experts. The Catholic Archbishop of Southwark, Peter Smith, also expressed serious concern.
The House of Commons has the power to reverse the Lords amendments, but it will be under huge political pressure from these defeats not simply to pass an un-reformed Welfare Reform Bill without blinking. Royal Assent is currently timed for March 2012.
In addition to tonight’s humiliating defeat, the Conservative Mayor of London has been revealed to have opposed disability cuts; major charities, the TUC, the thinktank Ekklesia and others are calling for a legislative pause; and both the Scottish Government and the Welsh Assembly are declining to pass the traditional consent legislation for the UK parliament on the WRB.
More Lords votes will take place on similarly controversial issues in the next fortnight, including next week on Disability Living Allowance – the epicentre of the #spartacusreport campaign.