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Lords return ESA cut amendments back to Commons

29 February 2016

The Welfare Reform and Work Bill was debated in the House of Lords today for consideration of Commons amendments to ESA and UC in 'ping pong'.

Previously, the Lords voted to remove clauses 13 and 14 from the Bill. Clause 13 proposed the removal of the work-related activity group component from Employment and Support Allowance. Clause 14 proposed the same for the Universal Credit limited capability for work component.

The Lords introduced motions B1 and C1, referring to ESA and the UC limited capability for work component respectively.

These motions required that an impact assessment be made for both clauses 13 and 14 which will examine the physical and mental health, financial situation, and ability to return to work, of claimants who would otherwise be entitled to start claiming the work-related activity component of employment and support allowance (or UC equivalent).

In addition motions B1 and C1 would prevent regulations being made unless a draft of the regulations has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.

The House supported these motions by 289 to 219 so the Bill will now ping pong back to the House of Commons.

Lord Freud, on behalf of the Government, offered some concessionary measures, including the abolition of the 52 limit for permitted work

“I want to act now to improve the work incentives for those continuing to get ESA—in other words, before they move on to UC—by removing the 52-week limit that applies to permitted work for those in the ESA WRAG. ESA WRAG claimants can currently work up to 16 hours and earn up to £107.50 per week under the permitted work rules, and keep their benefit. But the existing position is that, after undertaking permitted work for 52 weeks, ESA claimants in the WRAG have to stop work altogether, reduce their earnings to £20 per week, or lose their benefit. We will amend the regulations to remove the 52-week limit and allow claimants to continue to undertake 16 hours of part-time paid work and earn up to £107.50 per week, gaining skills and experience and building their confidence while still receiving benefit over a longer period.”

....and a more streamlined way of channelling those with progressive conditions into the support group.

“While the department already offers reassessments to claimants who feel that their condition has deteriorated, I am aware that we can and should do more to make claimants aware of this. To this end, I am committing to improving the awareness of this option to claimants with progressive diseases, as well as the guidance for claimants and disability charities on reassessments. We will also provide training for jobcentre staff to ensure that they are aware that they may need to talk to claimants with deteriorating conditions about requesting a reassessment. This is not an easy area. It is an operational area, and I have told noble Lords who are interested in it that we will work with them and other stakeholders to make sure that we get the guidance and processes absolutely right.”

The Lords welcomed these initiatives but deemed them insufficient to defeat the two motions.

To watch the debate on TV, for background information and debate transcripts go to the Parliament website

Read a transcript of the debate