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Monday 12th December 2011 | 11:38
By Isabel Hardman
An influential committee of MPs and peers has warned that the Government's flagship Welfare Reform Bill could lead to destitution that would breach the European Convention on Human Rights.
In a report on the legislation, which will reach report stage in the House of Lords this afternoon, the Joint Committee on Human Rights also slams the Government's failure to properly assess the impact on welfare claimants' human rights.
The Committee's report, published this morning, said: "We believe there is a risk that the conditionality and sanction provisions in the Bill might in some circumstances lead to destitution, such as would amount to inhuman or degrading treatment contrary to Article 3 ECHR, if the individual concerned was genuinely incapable of work."
It added that the Bill was not accompanied by a "full human rights memorandum", and that there was no detailed analysis of how the Bill complied with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, or the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The report said the Committee was calling "on the Government to improve its capacity to conduct equality impact assessments", and added that case law demonstrated that legislation which had been subject to scrutiny on the impact on human rights were "more likely to withstand subsequent judicial scrutiny".
It also raised concerns that the £26,000 benefit cap for workless households and the cuts to benefits for social tenants who are living in houses larger than they need would have a "disparate impact on some disabled people", and recommended additional discretion on the cuts for disabled claimants.
The introduction of Personal Independence Payments also came under fire, as the committee said it was not satisfied the Government had sufficiently justified the negative impact on the right of a disabled person to live independently. The report recommended that the Government amend the legislation to ensure that the assessment process for the payments took "account of the social, practical, and environmental barriers experienced by disabled claimants".
Time Nichols, spokesman for the Child Poverty Action Group, told PoliticsHome that the Government needed to make "sensible amendments" to the legislation. He said: "It's vital that the Government listens to the Committee's warnings and makes some sensible amendments to the Bill to protect children and disabled people from destitution.
"We need a full case review to be carried out before higher sanctions are applied, especially when there are vulnerable children in the household. We also need the whole benefit cap proposal looking at again because it will make families homeless whilst doing nothing to deal with root problems like the outrageous rents landlords demand from families in London, or the desperate lack of affordable housing."
A spokesman for the Work and Pensions department said: “The changes to the welfare system will protect those who need the most help, with more support, whilst encouraging others to take responsibility for their own lives and the lives of their families. Something the JCHR support.
"Our Impact Assessments have ensured this Bill has been open to an unprecedented level of examination from stakeholders, members of the public to politicians, which we believe will help ensure these reforms give us a welfare system fit for the 21st century.”
A number of peers are seeking to amend the more controversial aspects of the legislation when the report stage opens in the House of Lords this afternoon. Several amendments which were not pushed to a vote at the committee stage of the Bill will be re-debated, including proposals to change the benefit cap and exempt disabled people from cuts to housing benefit for social tenants under-occupying their homes.
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