Last Friday I wrote an article on Lib Dem Voice about the aims of the meeting so you can read more about those here.
The meeting itself was under Chatham House Rules which basically means everyone could say exactly what they thought as no one is allowed to disclose who exactly said what in the meeting.
I'm grateful to the Lib Dem MPs who turned up at relatively short notice, and I'm fairly confident they'll be able to take the key points raised and answers given, to others.
A number of different groups attended including people from Lib Ded Disability Association, Womwen Liberal Democrats, Social Liberal Forum and Liberal Youth (myself).
Some points raised at the meeting were:
- The time limiting of ESA, which received particular attention from a lot of speakers
- The impact of the benefits cap, including that people in receipt of ESA but not DLA would be hit by it and that, unless child benefits were excluded, it would have a massively detrimental impact on child poverty
- The unfairness of the cuts to and DLA given how low the fraud rates
- The belief that the cuts were motivated purely for the sake of saving money rather than anything else
- The fact that some key items in the Welfare Reform Bill go directly against party policy
- The need for Lib Dem parliamentarians to stand up on this issue
I think one of the most important things we took away from the meeting is that the vote on Wednesday is not the end, whatever the outcome. The Lords will still need to be persuaded to dig their heels in against the DWP and there will need to be lots of lobbying and engaging with consultations to make sure that the changes we can't stop will be implemented as fairly as possible. The vast bulk of the changes won't be in actual legislation passed by parliament and this is where keeping up political pressure could really pay dividends.
The other thing I took away was that there is, apparently, widespread unease about the bill amongst Lib Dem MPs but that it's unease without direction. This is why it's vital that people lobby MPs and peers about the bill and keep doing so even after the vote on Wednesday. There's an easy way for you to do this here. You should also sign Pat's Petition.
Finally, one fairly definite bit of good news is that apparently Jenny Willott has indicated that the government is likely to concede to the Lords amendment on disabled children and National Insurance contributions. This was an item in the Welfare Reform Bill which would have meant that severely disabled children would have no longer be treated as having made NI contributions when they became adults. Since they're unable to work and therefore unable to build up NI contributions, this would have prevented them from having access to disability benefits in their own right
UPDATE: Monday also saw me get an article published in the online version of the Guardian.