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Welfare Reform and Work Bill

I’ve worked on social security and social care issues for over a decade. I led campaigns against the Coalition government’s cuts to disabled people as chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium – a national partnership of almost 60 charities, unions and advice organisations. I previously worked as Director of Policy and Campaigns at Disability Alliance – a national charity helping half a million disabled people and carers annually with benefits issues especially. And, due to mum’s mental health condition, I am personally aware of the crucial support that Disability Living Allowance plays in a disabled person’s life – helping with additional costs and supporting a little more inclusion.

Locally, I have already announced that the increase in MP’s pay this year will be donated to the local foodbank provider, Pecan. They support thousands of people and are sadly a necessary part of the welfare state under the Tories but I believe they should not be required at the heart of the capital city in one of the wealthiest nations in the world.

Given my personal and professional background and commitment, I was surprised to see the reaction to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill last night. There appears to be a campaign suggesting Labour supported the Government agenda. This is nonsense.
Labour proposed an amendment to tackle the nastiest of the new measures the Tory government is proposing. Whilst child benefit changes have had most airtime, I think the axing of £30 per week for disabled people with cancer, MS, Downs Syndrome or Parkinsons receiving Employment and Support Allowance is plain offensive. Labour’s measure required these parts of the Bill to change – and there is still legislative time for changes in the Commons committee stages. If the Government fails to listen, it has no majority in the House of Lords where votes can be won (unlike in the Commons). If the Government forces the Bill through the Lords unchanged there are further chances to vote against it in the Commons later. I hope to see significant change. But Labour want to keep the apprenticeship part of the legislation, so an outright vote against at this stage would be disingenuous.

Labour’s approach is similar to that taken in the last parliament – and one which helped secure some changes, including the testing of a new assessment system for Personal Independence Payments helping many disabled people, as well as further funding for Discretionary Housing Payments for councils to help people hit by the coalition’s Bedroom Tax. My Lib Dem predecessor voted for the Bedroom Tax eight times alone, hitting thousands of people in Southwark (and despite the number of times Labour voted against the policy in that parliament).

Whilst the new legislation rolls on, everyone can help by ensuring energy is focused on the Tory Government. To those who have taken the time to contact me, I ask you to also remember that I am in Opposition. I hope similar energy has gone into contacting IDS to alert him to the concerns you have. DWP Ministers can be emailed via: ministers@dwp.gsi.gov.uk – and I urge you to get stuck in.

It has been a particular shock to me since 7th May to discover more emails about badgers than Blue Badges, bees than TCs (tax credits) and seals than benefit appeals. You can change that by letting IDS and his team know what you think of their agenda at the email address above.

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