Lord Norton has referred to the Welfare Reform Bill defeats in the Lords, which I’ve been giving some considerable thought to. I voted with the Government against the amendment by Baroness Meacher to continue ESA for young disabled people who have resources of their own to support them and have not contributed to what is essentially a contributory benefit. The House voted to continue giving benefits to young people even if they inherited a large capital sums or lived in wealthy households. Then I decided not to vote on the other amendments by Lord Patel. I dislike the singly out of cancer as if it is a special case; there are many physically and mentally ill people with chronic distressing conditions requiring long term treatment but that don’t have the shroud-waving potential of cancer. The other matter that people forget is that 90% of people with cancer are past retirement and are not eligible for any of these benefits; older people have to make do as best they can. These small amendments will benefit very few indeed but those few rather unfairly.
So one has to ask the question, “ Of all the major changes being introduced and the opposition to them expressed by the disability lobby and other groups representing those in receipt of benefits, why did the House choose these minor issues to revolt on?” The answer is all to do with mood and general disquiet. The majority of peers agrees with the fundamental changes being introduced in this Bill, they want to see a more rigorous effective system introduced which incentivises work and acts as a deterrent to people remaining on a lifetime of benefits, including those who have had episodes of mental health problems who make up the majority of the huge increase in those on ‘sickness and disability benefits’ over this past decade. As a psychiatrist I have seen the catastrophic effect of the current regime on the lives of patients.
But peers also knows that the implementation of the changes, at a time of rising unemployment, where the system is imperfect and there is as yet insufficient assistance to individual and their families, is going to be difficult and will feel unfair to those who are culturally still stuck in the ‘I’m entitled’ box. It will take a decade at least, a generation probably, for the cultural changes to kick in. And the changes may not work as the Government intended. So with these anxieties about the outcome, the House wants to show its disquiet. That’s what it did….but when ping-pong arrives the House will accept a Commons reversal of these modest changes; they’ve made their protest and that’s enough. So I sat on my hands for two of these three votes, that was my personal small protest.