Lords amendments to Welfare Reform Bill beaten
The government has succeeded in overturning a series of crucial amendments made by the Lords to the Welfare Reform Bill.
MPs tonight (Wednesday) voted on amendments to the bill, which will bring in a £26,000 total benefits cap for workless households.
The government also managed to overturn a key amendment which would allow underoccupying tenants to avoid the bedroom tax if they have one spare room if no other suitable accommodation is available by 310 votes to 268.
An amendment to exclude child benefit from the calculation of the cap, following Lords’ fears that it would disproportionately hit large families, was successfully overturned by 334 votes to 251.
Employment minister Chris Grayling said: ‘Excluding child benefit will only dilute our aim that being in work, even part-time work, must always pay better than relying on benefit income.’ Mr Grayling said excluding child benefit would mean the cap would rise to the equivalent gross salary of £40,000 a year.
Mr Grayling also said the government would seek to invoke financial privilege, which would reclassify the bill as a money bill and prevent the Lords insisting on their amendments, to force the bill through in its original form.
A parliamentary committee was due to discuss this on Wednesday. Sam Lister, policy and practice officer at the Chartered Institute of Housing, said: ‘This is proof the government has lost the intellectual argument’.
The government has, however, made a number of concessions. Claimants who have been in work for at least 12 months previously will have a nine-month grace period before the cap takes effect. Mr Grayling also announced up to £130 million of discretionary funding to help people move. Mr Lister welcomed the concessions, saying they make the cap fairer.
Labour, which supports the principle of a benefit cap, put forward a last-ditch attempt to alter the way the cap is calculated, which was dismissed as ‘last-minute and ill-thought-out’ by Mr Grayling. It called for an independent body to set regionalised caps.
Liam Byrne, shadow work and pensions secretary, said a one-size-fits-all policy would not work because large households in central London have a bigger proportion of their benefit income as housing benefit than families in the north.
He also accused the government of burning £130 million of the proposed £305 million estimated savings by making money available for a problem it previously said did not exist.
The bill is expected to get royal assent at the end of February.