The Government’s Welfare Reform Bill is being published today and its measures are mostly as previously trailed. The big policy in it is the Universal Credit – a major simplification to a horrendously complicated benefits system – and a very Liberal Democrat policy.
Because of the heavy previous trailing of the Welfare Reform Bill’s measures there are no major surprises in what it proposes but there are three respects in which it shows the outcome of the at times very lively debate within government – mostly, though not always, Liberal Democrat versus Conservative – about its contents. In that respect, there are two significant omissions and one significant inclusion in the Bill.
First, the proposal to cut housing benefit by 10% for people on Jobseeker’s Allowance for more than a year has been dropped. Though Liberal Democrats in government are not officially calling this a “Lib Dem win”, it’s no secret that this was a policy pushed by the Conservatives and argued vigorously against by Liberal Democrats in government. Whilst Iain Duncan Smith is certainly right to say in the media today that both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in government agree on dropping this from the Bill, that wasn’t the case in the months leading up to the decision to do that.
Second, the controversial proposed changes to the mobility component of the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for those in residential care are going back to the drawing board. The Government still wants to reform these rules so that the mobility component varies to better reflect the different living circumstances of different people, so there will be a consultation later this year. Again, Liberal Democrats in government have been pushing the case vigorously to get the original proposals altered, though in this case it’s an issue that is still open for decision rather than, as with the 10% cut, one that has been won.
Third, the Bill contains the plans for a £500 cap on benefits and a £400 cap on housing benefit. This has also been the cause of much debate within government both because the £500 cap looks very different depending on how many children there are in a family and also because having only £100 between the two caps means some families face either having very little to live on after housing costs or having to move, with disruption to schooling for their children.
In this case, the debates within the government have not resulted in the plans as put down in the Welfare Reform Bill being altered, but it is one where the details of how the system will work are still to be finalised and leave plenty of scope for further debate to ensure there is fairness in the details. It will be the cause of vigorous debate in the next few months.