Liberal Democrat's demand halt to benefit cuts

Liberal Democrat peers have called for there to be no fresh welfare cuts before the next general election.

Peers yesterday debated the Welfare Benefits Uprating Bill, which will cap increases in a number of benefits at 1 per cent rather than the level of inflation as is currently the case.

Liberal Democrat Lord Archie Kirkwood said he was concerned that nobody has analysed the ‘cumulative effect’ of the government’s welfare reforms.

He said: ‘These cuts now have to stop… Anything else would be to risk poverty and deprivation on a scale that we underestimate at our peril.’ 

Fellow Liberal Democrat Lord Michael German said the bill takes a ‘sensible approach’ given budget restraints. However, Lord German added: ‘I hope that the bill puts to an end any further reductions in the welfare budget before the next general election.

‘Of course, there may be minor, necessary adjustments, but these past few years have really been a difficult time, with very hard decisions having to be taken about the size of the welfare budget.’

Labour peer Lord Don Touhig raised concerns about the ‘breakneck speed’ of the government’s reforms and the cumulative effect of the uprating changes, the bedroom tax, benefits cap and council tax changes.

He said: ‘This bill cannot and should not be considered in isolation, it comes as yet another blow to the poorest people, in a long line of already devastating cuts.’ Lord Touhig also argued it is ‘irresponsible’ to implement a fixed annual increase in benefits when nobody knows the rate of inflation between now and 2015.

Crossbencher Lord Richard Best also said he is concerned about the combined effect of the welfare changes.

He said: ‘The 1 per cent uplift is unlikely to be catastrophic, rather it is the cumulative impact of this latest cut, on top of earlier reductions in help, which is likely to be pretty devastating for several hundred thousand social housing tenants and therefore for their landlords too.’

However, Conservative peer Lord Mohamed Sheikh said the bill will restore ‘fairness and simplicity to the process of social security payments’. He said: ‘I am sure some of us have heard the expression “I cannot afford to go to work”.

‘This is an absurd situation and we are perhaps the only country where people are better off not working.’

Under the government’s proposals local housing allowance base rates, used to calculate housing benefit levels for private renters, will be capped at 1 per cent for two years from April 2014. Increases in most other working age benefits will also be capped at 1 per cent for three years.