Charities slam Tories for forcing through disability benefit cuts despite House of Lords defeat

MPs voted 306-279 to cut Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) by £30 a week - ignoring peers and a Tory backbencher reports the Daily Mirror.

Charities slammed the Tories tonight for surging ahead with disability benefit cuts despite a major defeat in the House of Lords.

MPs have renewed plans to cut Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) by £30 a week - ignoring a desperate protest from a Tory backbencher who declared: "This is my warning shot to government".

Heidi Allen's speech made an 11th-hour plea for her own party to find "the compassion to look after the little man".

She added: "Today I will not support [the government]. Today I may abstain, but only for today."

But her plea fell on deaf ears as a motion to challenge the House of Lords, which struck down the cuts last month, was passed by 306 votes to 279.

MPs also voted 310-277 against a Lords decision to reverse the scrapping of child poverty targets - which are being replaced by "shameful" measures that don't count parents' income.

Both plans will return to the House of Lords next Monday amid fears the government could use financial rules to railroad them through with consent.

Dr Fran Woodard, policy director at cancer care charity Macmillan, said: "We are deeply disappointed that the government has not listened to the wide range of voices, including those from their own party, who have expressed major concerns.

"These cuts will have a damaging impact on people affected by cancer and other health conditions.

"Every penny counts when someone can’t work because of cancer, and taking away vital financial support can be a serious blow to people when they are at their most vulnerable.

"The Government must urgently reconsider their decision; if they press ahead, the planned changes could seriously hinder the full recovery of people with cancer."

The move affects new or interrupted ESA claimants deemed fit for "work-related activity" (WRAG) from April 2017 - a group that has nearly half a million sick and disabled people.

Their benefit will be cut from £102.15 to £73.10 a week, equal with jobseekers' allowance. Those in the more severe "support group" will be unaffected.

Rob Holland of learning disability charity Mencap added: "The opposition across society to this cut is overwhelming.

"People with a learning disability will be disappointed to see the Government continue to try and force this cut through despite their promise to protect disability benefits.

"Just six per cent of people with a learning disability are in employment; however the Government are still yet to provide any robust evidence that cutting ESA WRAG will improve this number.

"In fact the evidence available shows it will push disabled people further away from the job market, and closer to poverty."

And MS Society chief executive Michelle Mitchell said: "We are deeply disappointed and frustrated that the Government has ignored the Lords’ sensible intervention on this Bill.

"It is hard to see how this move can possibly help achieve the Government’s commitment to halve the disability employment gap."

Labour accused Tory welfare minister Priti Patel of a "total lack of compassion" after she made an argumentative 29-minute speech defending the cuts.

And she sparked an outcry after she tried to claim Macmillan backed aspects of the government's policy - despite the cancer charity warning ESA cut victims could lose their homes.

She told MPs: "Macmillan have also said that many people who are working when they're diagnosed with cancer would prefer to work or return to their jobs during or after treatment."

Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Owen Smith interrupted, saying: "Could she confirm that Macmillan are opposed to the reduction by £30 a week for members of the ESA wrag group?"

But she sidestepped the question, saying: "I think Macmillan alongside the government will recognise that I've already said that those that are on the support group will rightly not be affected and will be supported obviously because they are in the support group because they are ill."



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