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Saturday, December 13, 1997 Published at 05:43 GMT


New row over welfare cuts
image: [ Protests outside Parliament by people with disabilities worried about their benefits ]
Protests outside Parliament by people with disabilities worried about their benefits

A backbench backlash is anticipated after a memo leaked to Channel 4 showed the government is considering cuts to disability and sickness benefits.

The memo to the Social Security Secretary, Harriet Harman, by her chief policy adviser said: "A high proportion of the necessary savings will have to come from benefits paid to sick and disabled people, including compensatory benefits for industrial injury."

BBC Political Correspondent Lance Price: Why the leak is not Government policy
This would allow the Government "to find more cash to spend on education and health," as part of its ongoing welfare review, it said.

Brent East MP, Ken Livingstone, told Channel 4 that no-one would object to measures that helped disabled people work: "Disabled people want to work, like single mothers do if they get the chance. But for the vast majority of these people, work is not going to be an option."

One of the leading rebels against recent lone parent benefit cuts, Mr Livingstone said Labour MPs will "get hold of the whips on Monday and tell them they just won't go along with this."

Earlier this week, Labour MPs, alarmed by persistent rumours that benefits were in the firing line, warned that more cuts would cause a row that made the controversy over cutting payments to lone parents look tame.

A huge row over benefits within the Labour Party would have the potential for a public relations disaster.

Prominent backbencher Ann Clwyd, who voted against the government last week, claimed MPs would not go along with it.

She said: "There is great concern in the Parliamentary Labour Party. Even people who voted with the government went into the lobbies feeling very distressed. They don't want to see it happen again."

The Department for Social Security refused to comment specifically on the leak or confirm its authenticity.

In a statement, it said: "We are undertaking a comprehensive review of spending, including benefits paid to sick or disabled people and their carers.

"No decisions as to what changes may follow have yet been made."

Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn predicts trouble if the cuts go ahead
The six sickness and disability benefits cost more than £16bn a year, about a quarter of total welfare spending.

The memo added: "The Secretary of State is clear that it will not be possible to make substantial savings from the sickness and disability benefits unless Government as a whole has a coherent and convincing story to tell about its strategy towards sick and disabled people."

In Luxembourg for the European Union summit, the Prime Minister, Tony Blair said reform of welfare remained essential.

"Or we end up in a situation where the social security bills go up and up and up and we don't have enough money to invest in our schools and our hospitals, and we have large numbers of people shut off from society's mainstream and simply living on welfare benefit without either very much good for them or very much good for the whole society," said Mr Blair.

The Conservative Social Security spokesman, Simon Burns, said Labour planned to attack society's most vulnerable.

"This policy document looks like a cynical attempt to dig themselves out of the hole Labour now find themselves in over social security policy," he said.

"The chaos in Government over benefits will frighten many vulnerable people."

He called on Ms Harman to immediately refute the policy or admit it is part of her plans.

Liberal Democrat social security spokesman David Rendel said tonight: "The Government appears to be threatening some of the most disadvantaged with even greater disadvantages.

He added: "I don't believe there were probably more than 20 or so members of the Parliamentary Labour Party who actually thought the Government were right in themselves on what they did on Wednesday."

The All-Party Disablement Group is meeting Ms Harman next Thursday to to discuss earlier claims the Government intends to cut disability benefits.

Lord Ashley of Stoke, a Labour peer and joint chair of the group said: "Any proposed cuts, taxation or means testing of disability benefits are cuts for cuts' sake."

Brian Lamb, public affairs manager for Scope, the UK's largest disability organisation, said: "This latest news will only increase disabled people's anxiety about the future of the benefits they depend on.

"These leaks further damage disabled people's confidence in Government proposals.

"Disabled people's basic living needs depend on adequate benefits."

The Government's cross-Whitehall comprehensive spending review began in June and is expected to come up with results by June, 1998.
BBC Political Correspondent Lance Price: Why the leak is not Government policy
Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn predicts trouble if the cuts go ahead

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  Internet Links


Department of Social Security

Disability Net

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