British chancellor George Osborne is facing the prospect of a politically damaging and financially costly U-turn as dissent within the Conservative Party grows over his plans to cut £4.4 billion from disability benefits.
Osborne is now under pressure to compromise over his cruel plans to reduce Personal Independence Payments(PIP) to more than 600,000 people with long-term health problems.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has accused Mr Osborne of “declaring war on the disabled” and said he would be seeking to force a Commons vote as soon as possible. Party sources also predicted the measure could face opposition in the Lords.
The Independent reports:
The Conservative MP Andrew Percy, who has organised a letter of protest signed by Tory backbenchers, warned the cut would hit “exactly the wrong people” and argued it would have been better to put a penny or two on fuel duty in the Budget.
He said: “The Government has a small majority, so you don’t need many for this to be a problem of parliamentary arithmetic. It is fair to say the numbers on this who have expressed concern are very significant indeed.”
One MP said there was a “big row internally” about the proposal, while another said: “At first sight it looks unfair and unworkable”.
Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, attempted to diffuse the anger by writing to Tory MPs stressing the revised rules would only apply to new claimants and people whose claims were being reassessed. Ministers also argue that PIP payments will carry on rising and the measures were designed to limit the increases.
Mr Osborne hinted that he could modify the plan, telling the BBC: “I’m always happy to listen to proposals about how to improve on that.”
Under the changes to the PIP rules, which were announced quietly on 11 March, fewer claimants will qualify for benefits if they use aids such as a handrail or walking stick. The numbers of “points” they are awarded if they need help to use the toilet or get dressed will be reduced, making it less likely they will qualify for the standard rate of the PIP.
The furore comes after MPs were criticised for voting through moves to cut almost £30 a week from disabled people claiming the Employment Support Allowance.
Downing Street said that the system was not working properly and the Government wanted to ensure the money allocated for the benefit was “being focused on the right people”.
But Mark Atkinson, chief executive at the disability charity Scope, said: “Half of disabled people say they have struggled to pay bills because of the extra costs of disability they face. We urge the Chancellor to think again.”
Owen Smith, shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said: “There is no political, economic or moral justification for George Osborne’s decision to cut support for disabled people while increasing tax benefits for the wealthiest.”