Discussion began around Amendment 11, proposed by Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Labour), who said: ‘The purpose of this amendment is to facilitate a debate on that fundamental question of the generosity of benefits for working-age people and their children. The first part addresses the question of whether the social security benefits affected... are adequate in the first place, and the second the principles that should govern the uprating of benefits in the future once the bill's provisions have ceased to have effect. ‘
She continued: ‘... there is a need to establish principles linking benefit uprating to some stable concept of what is fair, rather than just ad hoc decisions about what can be afforded... as a start, this might involve reasserting the principle of human decency whereby the real value of benefits is genuinely protected and that, in the longer term, if prosperity starts to grow again, we need to consider how those in greatest need can share in such growth.’
Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope (Liberal Democrat), outlined his support for the amendment, saying: ‘I am now very frightened about what is happening in the short term. There is a complacent view held among policymakers generally that the work programme and universal credit are all that need be done. I support both, and will not cast any aspersions on any governments or make any party political points, but both these important reforms will take at least 10 years to go into steady state and be of assistance to our most hard-pressed, low-income households in the United Kingdom.’
The amendment was withdrawn after Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Conservative) responded on behalf of the government, saying: ‘The Social Security Administration Act 1992 requires the secretary of state to make his annual review of benefit levels based on the increase in prices. He is then given discretion as to how to uprate certain benefits, having regard to the national economic situation and any other matters that he considers relevant. Parliament therefore requires the secretary of state to take certain issues into account when considering the level at which the benefits in question are set. In bringing forward this bill, we have considered these issues carefully and struck a balance between providing a cash increase, protecting certain key benefits and making necessary savings.’
Discussion then moved on to Amendment 12, covering the impact of the bill on child poverty. Baroness Sherlock (Labour) said: ‘This amendment would require the secretary of state to publish and lay before Parliament a report assessing the impact of the order on the number of children living in the four measures of child poverty set out in the Child Poverty Act; namely, relative low income, combined low income and material deprivation, absolute low income, and persistent poverty. The aim is very simple. It is to force the government to face up to the consequences of their actions and to come clean about the impact of these measures on child poverty.’
The amendment was withdrawn after Lord Newby (Liberal Democrat) responded on behalf of the government, saying: ‘The government already publish child poverty figures every year using the households below average income series, which is usually published in May or June and includes details on the areas listed in the amendment... Moreover, later this year, we will see the first of what will become an annual report from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, chaired by Alan Milburn. It will report on the government's progress towards reducing child poverty, in particular meeting the targets in the Act and implementing the most recent UK strategy.’
Report stage, further line by line examination of the bill, is scheduled for 19 March.
Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill summary
The Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill implements an announcement by the Chancellor in the 2012 Autumn Statement that increases in certain working-age welfare benefits and tax credits would be limited to one per cent, rather than increasing them in line with inflation.
Previous stages of the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill
What is committee stage?
Detailed line by line examination of the separate parts (clauses and schedules) of the bill takes place during committee stage, starting from the front of the bill and working to the end. Any member of the Lords can take part.
It usually starts no later than two weeks after the second reading and can last for one to eight days or more.
The day before committee stage starts, amendments (changes) are published in a marshalled list - in which all the amendments are placed in order.
During committee stage every clause of the bill has to be agreed to and votes on the amendments can take place. All proposed amendments can be discussed and there is no time limit, or guillotine, on discussion of amendments.