YVONNE FOVARGUE - Warning lights over welfare reform

THE GOVERNMENT has failed the basic test of fairness and decency.

They have been defeated three times in the House of Lords over amendments in the Welfare Reform Bill, including over plans to force cancer patients to look for work before they have had enough time to recover.

Cancer charity Macmillan estimated that 7,000 cancer patients stood to lose up to £9pw as a result of the reforms.

I support sensible reform, but these proposals were heartless and they went too far.

This year is an important year for welfare reform. The warning lights are now starting to flash on the Work Programme and the government’s plans for Universal Credit.

Both are now showing difficulties – even before serious implementation gets under way. If they fail, then the government’s efforts to get people back to work will be even harder.

But the bigger problem is simple; the government’s decision to cut spending and raise taxes too far and too fast is creating a vicious circle; where unemployment rises, welfare bills go up.

People across Wigan will be delighted the government has been defeated over their cruel plans for cancer patients, because quite simply they tried to cross the basic test of fairness.

This Government has sought to break one of the Beveridge Report’s core principles – a welfare state based on a fair contributory system. In seeking to break that bargain on the backs of cancer patients they have shown they have no interest in keeping that bargain.

It’s clear that the government has got this one wrong, and after these decisive defeats they should do the decent thing and take these proposals off the table.

Before the last election, Labour set out plans for a second high speed rail line (HS2) connecting London to Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds. I welcome the recent announcement to give the green light to HS2.

The Government is right to have backed this vital project and it should continue to be taken forward on a cross-party basis. HS2 to Manchester would give our region an economic boost.

However, the Government is wrong to include only the first phase of the new high speed line from London to Birmingham. If it is not willing to reconsider, it should accept the recommendation to include a statutory commitment to continue the network as far as Manchester.