It is very obvious to anyone reading the Sunday papers this morning that the Labour Party is in total panic after its loss of the Glasgow East by-election and discontent within Labour is being focussed on the failings of Gordon Brown as Labour Leader and Prime Minister.
I don’t think anyone can deny that Gordon Brown’s performance as PM has been incredibly poor but I personally believe that the problems facing the Labour Westminster Government go much deeper than an unpopular party leader.
Labour’s announcement on further welfare “reform” announced a few days before the Glasgow East by-election sums up how much Labour Ministers have managed to disconnect themselves from the people. Given the reliance upon Incapacity Benefit of many Glasgow East families, headlines along the lines of “Incapacity benefit and income support to be axed” (Times, 21st July – click on headline above to view) highlight the arrogance of a government that is out of touch.
But it is not simply the handling of the future of Incapacity Benefit. I have had a number of constituents contact me about the Government’s plans to reduce the backdating period for Housing Benefit from 12 months to 3 months. The change will also affect Pension Credit and Council Tax Benefit and I am very concerned about the impact this will have on low income families and pensioners.
The Liberal Democrats are strongly opposed to these measures. We believe they will have a severe impact on some of the most vulnerable claimants and increase their risk of falling into poverty and even losing their homes.
This is not the first time these changes have been proposed. The Labour Government tried to reduce the backdating period for Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit in 2000 but withdrew their proposals after a Social Security Advisory Committee report strongly criticised them.
This time, the Government says it needs to reduce the backdating periods for these benefits in order to pay for a new system for pensioners to claim all of their benefits through one application. While the Liberal Democrats have been pushing the Government for years to simplify the benefits system, it should not be paid for by penalising a group of particularly vulnerable claimants.
In the case of Housing Benefit, the Government’s proposals could lead to increasing levels of homelessness. Citizens Advice Bureaux, who deal with thousands of people with Housing Benefit claims every year, rightly argue that, since those who get backdated benefits have to provide substantial proof of their entitlement throughout the period of claim, it is money they genuinely need for rent and council tax arrears, and without it they are likely to fall further into poverty.
LibDem MPs have signed House of Commons Early Day Motion 1778 on Benefits Backdating and will continue to put pressure on the government to scrap these ill thought through proposals. It is yet another example of a Labour Government that has lost its way and simply now living on borrowed time.