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House of Lords Derails Benefits Cap but Coalition Government Says Defeat Will Be Reversed

Posted on the 24 January 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost
House of Lords derails benefits cap but coalition government says defeat will be reversed

Benefits cap for workless families: Cruel or fair? Photo credit: Alan Denney via Flickr

The coalition government’s benefit cap plans have suffered a setback after a rebellion by Liberal Democrat peers. The proposals, part of the Welfare Reform Bill currently being debated in the House of Lords, would see a £26,000 limit on household benefits for workless families. An alliance of Lib Dem and Labour peers threw their support behind an amendment by Church of England bishops to exclude child benefits from the proposals. According to The Telegraph, the amendment “threatens to wreck the entire concept of the cap.”

The benefits cap has polarised opinion, with some commentators arguing that setting a limit would plunge workless families further into poverty, while others insist the current system places unfair strain on taxpayers. The government is determined to reverse the Lords amendment when the bill returns to the House of Commons; a spokesman said that the decision “flies in the face of public opinion.”Indeed, a YouGov poll found that 76 percent of the public are in favour of the cap. So why are Lib Dem peers, including former party leader Paddy Ashdown, lining up against the proposals? And are they right to do so?

Betraying the taxpayer. According to a Daily Mail editorial, the Lords amendment is “an insult to countless working people” who have to foot the bill for the “lavish handouts” enjoyed by the unemployed under the current system. Also in The Daily Mail, Richard Littlejohn was outraged: “The unemployed should not be better off than those whose taxes pay their benefits. These reforms are long overdue. A scheme which started with the best of intentions has spiralled out of control”, he thundered. Littlejohn was particularly unimpressed with the BBC‘s coverage of the benefits cap, which he insisted was biased and partisan: “On Radio 4′s Today programme, Evan Davis treated the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith like a war criminal”, he spluttered.

There is some good news for UK Prime Minister David Cameron. The Conservatives are five points ahead of Labour, according a Guardian/ICM poll: “The Tories’ standing is their highest since before the general election.”

Out of touch. “If the Lords vote against the policy tonight, though, it will show how little they know about ordinary life,” wrote May Ann Sieghart in The Independent, before the Lords did exactly that. Sieghart said that the benefits cap is popular with voters because of perceived injustice under the current system: “Why should a family, without any of its members lifting a finger, be entitled to the same standard of living as the hard-working family who live next door?” Sieghart said that the notion of fairness is key: “All the average taxpayer is asking is that people who rely on benefits should face the same hard decisions as the rest of us do – particularly at a time of financial stringency”, she wrote.

The defeat in the Lords is actually a good thing for the Conservatives, wrote James Forsyth at the Spectator’s Coffee House blog, because it keeps the benefits cap in the news: “It demonstrates to the electorate that they are trying to do something about the injustices of the something for nothing culture.”

Betraying the poor. The benefits cap is necessary because making people dependent on welfare simply traps them in poverty, said founder of the Big Issue John Bird in The Times (£), arguing that under the current system, we have “warehoused people on social security and watched as their expectations and aspirations atrophied.” According to Bird, the benefits cap is part of making society fairer: “A just society would be one in which we never imprisoned anyone in the Bastille of benefits. That is why we cannot allow the current crass system to continue condemning the poor to never seeing their children get degrees.”

“Liberal Democrat Lord Ashdown, former party leader, opposed the government’s proposals, branding them ‘completely unacceptable’ in their current form, reported the BBC.

‘Gesture politics’. Writing in The Telegraph, Daniel Knowles acknowledged that the welfare system needs reform, but said that the proposed benefit cap is more about placating voters than helping those in need: “It is designed to make a point, not to change lives.” Knowles said that the difficulty lies in distinguishing between “responsible” and “irresponsible” families, and that the cap is too “simple” to achieve this.

Cruel cuts. Most voters don’t understand how devastating the effects will be of the government’s welfare reform proposals, said Polly Toynbee on The Guardian’s Comment is Free: “Those same citizens may yet be horrified when they see effects far crueller than most may think tolerable.” Toynbee pointed to findings from the Institute for Fiscal Studies that the planned benefits cuts would plunge a further 400,000 children into relative poverty.

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