Welfare Reform Bill Grand Committee: day 17

29 November 2011

Grand Committee – line by line examination – of the Welfare Reform Bill concluded in the House of Lords on Monday 28 November.

A date for report stage is yet to be scheduled.

Amendments discussed on the 17th day of debate on the Bill included proposals for means-testing before sanctions to recover overpayments can be imposed on claimants; a new clause on the provision and sharing of information between the Secretary of State and the Director of Public Prosecutions; measures to eradicate child poverty, including support and maintenance for children whose parents live apart.

Day 16

Members of the Lords continued to discuss potential limits to the welfare benefits claimed by certain groups of people, along with changes to child benefits and the impact that such changes could have on families on Wednesday 23 November.

Day 15

Proposals for changes to the clauses that set out the ‘benefits cap’ – a maximum limit on the amount of welfare benefits that can be claimed – were among the amendments that were debated on Monday 21 November.

Debate covered clauses 84-86 and 90-93 and schedules 9 and 10.

Two amendments to clause 93, which sets a ‘benefits cap’ limiting the amount of welfare benefits that can be claimed based on the average household income were discussed. The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds moved both amendments.

Amendment 99ZA sought to base the benefits cap on the income of couples and families with children. Moving the amendment, the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds explained: The clause currently has no reference at all to children. The distinction that it makes is between single people and couples, yet children are most deeply affected by any restriction of benefits. My amendments are an attempt to find ways in which families with children can be helped to care for them where there is unemployment or circumstances which make the parents dependent on benefits.’ The amendments did not ‘challenge the basis of the benefits cap,’ but acknowledged ‘the cost of bringing up children, which is at the heart of the need for family income,’ he said.

Members of the Lords who took part in the debate on the amendment included: Baroness Tyler of Enfield, chief executive of the relationships organisation Relate; Lord Best, President of the Local Government Association and a former director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust; Baroness Hollis of Heigham, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Work and Pensions (1997- 2005); Lord McKenzie of Luton, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Work and Pensions (2007-09); and Lord German, Deputy First Minister for Wales (2003-04).

The amendment was withdrawn. The House of Lords does not vote on amendments to a Bill during Grand Committee – unlike committee stage in the chamber. Amendments to Bills in Grand Committee are agreed to or rejected without voting, and usually concern issues which the House unanimously agrees with. The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds said: ‘I do not detect any likelihood that the amendment will be accepted unanimously by this Committee but it is with considerable reluctance that I withdraw it.’

Amendment 99ZB sought to exclude child benefit payments from the calculation of welfare benefits income in determining the cap. The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds explained: ‘The argument for this is really quite straightforward: child benefit is a non-means-tested benefit paid to all families, working or non-working. It is not at all an employment benefit and has no effect on whether a person would be better off in work than out of work.’

A number of Members of the Lords who spoke in support of the amendment raised related issues:

Grand Committee will continue on Wednesday 23 November with further debate on this amendment.

About the Bill

The Welfare Reform Bill makes provision for a wide range of reforms to simplify the welfare system, including the introduction of a new, single, streamlined benefit – which will be known as 'universal credit' – to replace benefits for people of working age, including jobseeker’s allowance, income support, housing benefit, child tax credit and working tax credit. The Bill also provides for the introduction of a new benefit – the 'personal independence payment' – to replace the existing disability living allowance.

The Bill follows the November 2010 White Paper, 'Universal Credit: welfare that works', which sets out the Coalition Government’s proposals for reforming welfare to improve work incentives, simplify the benefits system and tackle administrative complexity.

More than 50 Members of the Lords took part in the second reading debate on the Bill on 13 September, including Members with firsthand experience of the benefits system. A petition on housing was presented before the debate.

Committee reports

A report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, published in July, recommends a greater level of parliamentary scrutiny of some of the powers granted to the Secretary of State under the Bill. These include:

  • powers to determine entitlement to and the award of universal credit
  • the imposition of obligations on claimants and their ability to comply with a work availability requirement and hardship payments
  • powers to determine the appropriate maximum housing benefit
  • the mechanisms for setting a ‘benefit cap’.

The report recommends that the powers it draws attention to should be subject to affirmative procedures – a vote of approval – to come into effect.

Further information

Detailed line by line examination of the separate parts (clauses and schedules) of the Bill takes place during committee stage.

The Grand Committee on the Welfare Reform Bill is taking place in Committee Room 4A. Members of the public can attend House of Lords debates.

Image: iStockphoto

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