Peer seeks to reduce benefit for families with more than two children
Landlord vice president criticised over benefit plan
A housing association has distanced itself from its vice president after she tabled an amendment to the Welfare Reform Bill that would slash benefit for families with three or four children.
Baroness Shreela Flather, a crossbench peer and vice president of Viridian Housing, made the controversial proposal last week. The bill, currently going through the House of Lords, will replace a host of work-related benefits, including housing benefit, with a single universal credit to be implemented gradually from 2013. The bill will also cap total benefits at £26,000 a year from April 2013.
Baroness Flather’s amendment, which is highly unlikely to receive support in parliament, would see universal credit cut for families who have more than two children. The amendment would not affect existing families, but would mean the amount of universal credit claimable for new-born children would be reduced by 25 per cent for the third child and 50 per cent for a fourth child.
Baroness Flather said some families had children to claim benefits, adding: ‘I am not talking about restricting children, like in China, just that people should not have them on the state.’
A spokesperson for The Children’s Society said: ‘Fundamentally, these benefits exist to meet the needs of children who have no choice about the circumstances of the family they are born into.’
Sam Lister, policy and practice offer at the Chartered Institute of Housing, said: ‘We would not support any amendment which would increase the level of child poverty.’
Baroness Flather said she no longer has much involvement with 16,000-home Viridian Housing despite holding the honourary role of vice president. A spokesperson for Viridian said Baroness Flather’s amendment does not represent the views of the housing association. She added it would not rule out removing the peer in a forthcoming review of its structure, although she refused to confirm or deny if her comments would influence the decision.
The amendment is unlikely to receive support with a large number of peers who are concerned about the cap as it stands.
Lord Bishop John Packer has tabled an amendment which would exclude child benefit from household earnings for the purposes of the cap and could lead to a defeat for the government when debated on Monday.
Despite the potential rebellion and reports that Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has lobbied the prime minister for alterations to the way the cap is calculated, the Department for Work and Pensions says it has no plans to change it. Number 10 said it will seek to overturn all amendments to the bill when it returns to the House of Commons later this year.
Crossbench peer Lord Richard Best has tabled two amendments, one to exclude people in temporary accommodation and one which will introduce a 26-week grace period once people’s benefits exceed the cap.
The government suffered three defeats on the bill last week over plans to restrict employment and support allowance, paid to people who cannot work due to sickness or disability.
Mr Lister said a compromise on the ESA measures, which are designed to save more than £1 billion, could potentially reduce the probability of changes to the benefit cap, which will save £240 million, as the Treasury would seek to minimise lost savings.