Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Action on the Welfare Reform bill

As you might be aware, at the moment one of the biggest changes to the benefits system since its creation is currently passing through the House of Lords. The Welfare Reform bill will introduce the Universal Credit and change many of the rules governing how the benefits system works. There are a number of changes in the bill that deeply concern us because of how they affect people in poverty. For that reason the Methodist, Baptist and United Reformed Churches chose to back a series of amendments to the bill.

We backed a group of amendments put forward by the Children’s Society which sought to protect children from the harmful effects of the government’s benefit cap. These amendments gained wide spread media coverage after several Church of England Bishops announced they were backing these amendments. There was also strong support for these amendments within the committee. In the debate the government argued strongly for the principle of a cap despite it costing more than it will save and forcing thousands of families out of their homes. We hope that due to the level of support for these amendments that the government may be forced to give some ground in the next stage of the bill.

The second group of amendments which the three churches backed were put forward by Z2K to prevent vulnerable people from having to repay money they don’t have when officials have made a mistake. These amendments despite tackling seemingly technical issues are important because they can have a drastic affect on claimants’ lives. There was a strong debate in the committee where the support of charities and Churches on this issue was specifically highlighted as showing its importance. In the end, the government agreed to meet representatives from concerned organisations and look at the detail of our concerns.

The bill will continue onto report stage on the 12th December where these issues will be debated and voted on. After the report stage there will be another reading of the bill, and then both chambers of parliament will consider amendments made to the bill with it likely to become law some time in the New Year. A copy of our briefing on the Z2K amendments can be found here and the Children’s Society’s briefing on benefit cap can be found here. The website will be shortly updated with a less technical summary of what these changes mean for people in Churches. You can also keep up to date with developments through this blog.