ESA Cuts Turned Down after Tanni's Speech

29 Feb 16

Cruel Tory plans to slash disability benefit have been defeated after a powerful speech by one of Britain's greatest Paralympic athletes.

Eleven-time gold medallist Tanni Grey-Thompson begged the House of Lords tonight to stop the “ideological” £30-a-week cut to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

Peers voted 289-219 to halt the move until Iain Duncan Smith reviews how it will affect claimants' mental health – which could delay it until 2020 costing the government £1billion.

Charities welcomed the 11th-hour intervention, which came after Baroness Grey-Thompson made a personal plea from her wheelchair revealing how she was told to give up her dreams.

Read more: Tory MP Heidi Allen fires dramatic 'warning shot to government' as she fights her own party's ESA cuts

The crossbench peer – who won gold for wheelchair racing in Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney and Athens – said: “I was told by a special careers advisor that the best job I could ever get would be answering telephones and I should not aim too high.

The 11-time gold medallist revealed a careers advisor said she should aim low

“That might have been 25 or 30 years ago, but right now disabled people are being told similar things.”

Work and Pensions Secretary Mr Duncan Smith wants to cut sick and disabled peoples' ESA from £102.15 to £73.10 a week - equal to jobseeker's allowance - if they are deemed fit for “work-related activity”.

The cut in April 2017 will not affect existing claimants whose claims are interrupted for less than 12 weeks or those in the more severe "support group".

Achieving great things: The athlete in 2000 - but many disabled people suffer

Peers rejected the cut completely in January but were blocked by Tory MPs in the House of Commons, prompting Labour peers to put forward new plans tonight.

The latest vote will now be considered again by MPs in a process called “ping pong”.

The 46-year-old ex-athlete told the Lords “many people are already close to crisis point,” adding: “They feel so beaten up by the changes they are finding it hard to articulate.

“It's not that they don't care - it's just that they don't have the energy left and are just trying to survive.”

She added: “Reformers also claim there is a financial advantage to being on sickness benefit. That suggests to me they have no experience of what living on that amount of money if you're sick or disabled is actually like.”

But Tory welfare reform minister Lord Freud attacked peers for “wrecking” the government's plans with a large-scale trial that would delay the cut to 2020, costing £1billion.

He offered concessions including a £15million boost to the local Jobcentre flexible support fund for those with "limited capability" for work and changes to the permitted work rules.

Labour peer Lord McKenzie praised the small climbdown but accused "unacceptable and reckless" ministers of "playing havoc" with disabled peoples' lives by cutting benefits without the right data.

Charities welcomed the House of Lords defeat.

Lucy Schonegevel of Macmillan Cancer Support said: “Cancer is the toughest thing many people will go through, and it is wrong to make it even harder by taking away crucial financial support when people can’t work because they are ill.”

Elliot Dunster of disability charity Scope added: “We urge the Government to take this opportunity to reconsider its plans.”

Iain Duncan Smith's department is considering its options

A DWP spokesman said: “We are committed to ensuring that people have the best support possible, and that is what these changes are about.

“Current ESA claimants will continue to get the same level of support, and those with the most severe health conditions and disabilities will continue to get a higher rate of benefit.

“The vote in the House of Lords is a routine part of the legislative process and next steps will be announced in due course.”

Peers also approved a climbdown by Tory ministers over plans to scrap child poverty targets. Mr Duncan Smith will now have to present an annual report to Parliament.

Hasn't this happened already - and what happens next?

If you've had a feeling of deja vu reading this story you'd be right.

A motion to defeat ESA welfare cuts WAS passed in the House of Lords back in January.

But it's come back again tonight because of a complex process called "ping pong" when the Lords and the Commons don't agree.