23 Jan 2012

Labour steps nervously towards Lords welfare votes

There is a major Labour operation going on to try to make sure that Labour doesn’t get labelled as some sort of “scrounger’s friend” in the Lords votes on welfare today and it’s making some Labour peers I’ve spoken to pretty unhappy.

Labour won’t even comment on the Bishop of Ripon’s amendment even though we are a few hours from seeing a vote on it and it’s been around for a while.

That, they say, is because they are “focused” on their own amendment, which they are emphasising wants to protect people who would actually become “homeless” under the new cap. Labour is not, its sources are keen to emphasise, against people down-sizing to a smaller home, several children cohabiting in shared bedrooms etc. It is only concerned about actual homelessness. IDS says that official definitions of “homelessness” seem to include children sharing bedrooms. Labour says it will leave it to local authorities to decide what homelessness is.

Labour is deeply worried about is getting the wrong side of public opinion. The polls suggest that the welfare cap is one of the most popular policies the Coalition or any recent government has ever hit upon. Tory and Labour focus groups over the years have asked how voters see the typical core Labour voter and respondents have talked about a benefit scrounger lounging on a sofa watching daytime TV.

So Ed Miliband and his team want to walk a tightrope, not alienating their own supporters or floating voters while trying to do the right thing by vulnerable claimants.

It looks like there are 3 votes to keep an eye on in the Lords this afternoon, between 4.30 and 6.30, the first on Labour’s amendment on homelessness (58D), then the Bishops’ (59), then number 60 on the cap not applying for the first 26 weeks.

The DWP Impact Assessment on the cap seems to show that the government’s estimate of people affected by the change in policy has jumped up by 17,000 households since the first estimates of 50,000 households. In paragraph 20 on p. 10 the DWP says: “it follows that … a significant proportion” will be lone parents whose children are above the qualifying age for income support or former ESA claimants who’ve been found ready for work after a capability assessment. I’m not quite sure what “it follows from.” The implication is that “a significant proportion” are long-term unemployed and not people who have suddenly fallen into unemployment. Another thing that strikes me from the Impact Assessment is that 44 per cent of the families affected live in the “social rented sector.”

You might have thought that this was a problem of high rents in the private sector. Others have already pointed out that this is a very London-centric problem wth 54 per cent of affected families estimates to live in Greater London.

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