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Thursday, May 20, 1999 Published at 14:32 GMT 15:32 UK

UK Politics

View from the backbenches

Dr Lynne Jones, the Labour MP for Birmingham Selly Oak, looks back at the week in which she led backbench opposition to the government's welfare reforms.

Issue of the week

"There is no doubt that the issue of the week is the so-called Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill.

"I don't think the government is actually engaging in a coherent, comprehensive round of reform. I think it's all rather piecemeal and that's where the problems stem from.

"The specific objections we have put forward in our amendment are to the changes in the contributory requirements for receiving incapacity benefit.

"Under the bill people who may have been working for a lifetime, but then lose their job or perhaps go into caring or have a part-time job which gives them less than the lower limit for National Insurance contributions will no longer be eligible even though they have passed the test to show they are disabled.

[ image: Charities have warned that the reforms will hurt many disabled people]
Charities have warned that the reforms will hurt many disabled people
"And secondly those that are lucky enough to get the benefit will find it is means-tested so that people who have listened to successive governments and have tried to save for the future will be penalised.

"Also we are worried about the abolition of severe disablement allowance which will particularly effect women.

"But the more fundamental objection is that the reform is going in the direction of more means-testing which is counter-productive to the overall aims of removing the perverse incentives in the system.

"I would have thought welfare reform should be about creating a platform to encourage people to work - which the government claims is its aim - and also encourages people to be self-sufficient and to save for the future.

"There are some excellent parts of the bill most notably referring to the single gateway bringing all the assistance for disabled together in a sort of one-stop shop. And also specific help being given to young people.

"But the things that I and others object to are not about taking us forward to real reform or real modernisation of the system."

Thank you of the week

"This was supposed to have been a lighter week for me. I had got permission to stay in my constituency as my husband was away in France. I had planned to attend a few constituency events but all that had to go by the board because of the welfare debate.

"But thanks to my mother, who basically moved in to look after the children, and they have co-operated and behaved very well, I have been in London instead."

Other issue of the week

[ image: Dr Jones says GM crops still need years of safety tests]
Dr Jones says GM crops still need years of safety tests
"The other issue I have been involved with this week is genetically-modified food. The one day I was due to come down to London was for the launch of the report of the Science and Technology Select Committee of which I am a member.

"It is a pity that it is going to be a long time before public trust in GM foods is restored as I think the technology does have a lot of potential.

"That's not to say that there aren't dangers to watch out for. And I am certainly opposed to commercial growing of GM crops until there have been several years more of farm-scale tests."

Highlight of the week

"The best moment of the week was probably my Labour colleagues standing firm against the government's plans when they got called in to see Alistair Darling and the Chancellor Gordon Brown before the all-night debate. They had obviously got a grasp of the issues and they wouldn't be won round."

Headache of the week

"I haven't had much sleep this week. I got home from the all-night sitting on the welfare reform bill at about 5.30am on Tuesday and went to bed and at 6.50am the neighbours had brought in the builders. So I was woken up by drilling and hammering. It was like having roadworks over me.

In the postbag

I have got a tremendous backlog as my mind has been so concentrated on disability benefits. Apart from dealing with the most urgent constituency casework everything else has had to go by the board.

I have got a large pile of letters from people who have written to me about Kosovo. So it is going to be one of my priorities to write back to them. I think some of them are getting quite irritated that I haven't replied.

Kosovo concerns

The majority of people who have written to me have been opposed to the bombing.

Brits in Balkans
But I am not surprised. They are people with close associations with the peace movement and I have quite a few Quakers in my constituency.

A number of Labour members are worried by the war as am I. I was in favour of military intervention, but I am very concerned about how it is going.

I think it was a big mistake to announce at the beginning that ground troops would not go in.

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