Berwick MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan has been criticised for voting for a £30-a-week disability-benefit cut – a measure which was twice defeated by the House of Lords before peers backed down yesterday.
But the Tory has hit back over the criticism from Julie Pörksen, who stood against Mrs Trevelyan last May, claiming the Lib Dems are ‘yet again sending scaremongering messages’.
The £30-a-week cut to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for certain claimants is set to go ahead despite the opposition in the House of Lords after peers deferred to the elected Commons. Ministers had claimed ‘financial privilege’ to assert the Commons’ right to have the final say on budgetary measures.
The cuts in weekly support from £103 to £73, contained in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, will apply to new ESA claimants in the work-related activity group, bringing the rate into line with Jobseeker’s Allowance.
It will affect people who are deemed unable to work at the moment, but capable of making some effort to find employment, including attending work-focused interviews and taking part in training.
Ministers argue that too few people in the category are moving into work and that while the lower benefit rate would save £55million in the first year, £60million would be spent on supporting claimants to take steps towards finding work.
Ms Pörksen, Lib Dem parliamentary spokesman, said: “It is disgraceful that these draconian Conservative cuts are targeted at the very people who need it most – cuts of £30 a week will cause real hardship to disabled people.
“If Anne-Marie Trevelyan has not met constituents who will really suffer from these cuts then she needs to get out more and start meeting real people. It is very disappointing that she will not bring humanity into her decisions and support her constituents.”
But Mrs Trevelyan hit back, saying: “It is disappointing to hear that the Lib Dems are yet again sending scaremongering messages which wilfully ignore actual decisions taken.
“The new changes to ESA, which were announced last summer, do not affect anyone presently claiming. The changes involve separating new claimants into two groups – those who are not able to work who will continue to be supported in the usual way, and those that could work with the right support.
“Those in the second group will be able to claim benefits at the same rate as able-bodied job-seekers and they will now also benefit from the new £60million fund – rising to £100million in 2020/21 – to be spent on a taskforce of representatives from disability charities, disabled people’s user-led organisations, employers, think-tanks, provider representatives and local authorities to help those who can work to ease into the workforce, and will make a real difference to their lives.
“I will be closely monitoring how this works at a local level and new claimants who feel they are not getting the appropriate and necessary support to help them take up employment should contact me at the earliest opportunity.”