Liberal Democrats have voted for a new social security policy that will scrap the “fitness for work” test and all benefit sanctions, despite many disabled party members calling for a more radical approach to welfare reform.The vote at the party’s annual conference in Brighton (pictured) means that scrapping the work capability assessment (WCA), all benefit sanctions, the personal independence payment (PIP) 20-metre rule, the bedroom tax and the benefit cap are all now party policy.Members were voting on a policy paper that called on the party to devolve the provision of employment support to local authorities, which would also be asked to deliver – or contract out – the eligibility test that replaces the WCA.This replacement test would introduce a “real world” element into the assessment of eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits.The policy paper, Mending The Safety Net, called for the benefit sanctions system to be reformed so there was “greater scope for discretion with a stronger safety net to prevent sanctions causing extreme hardship”.But party members voted strongly in favour of an amendment that said benefits sanctions were “fundamentally wrong and leave people destitute who are already in poverty”, and should be replaced with a scheme that provides claimants with incentives to engage with the system, rather than punishing them when they do not.The motion, as amended by the call to scrap sanctions, was carried by 363 to 202 votes, and now becomes party policy.Before the vote there were suggestions that some disabled activists may quit the party if the motion was carried, because they did not believe the policy paper put enough distance between the Liberal Democrats and their former coalition partners in the Conservative party.But so far that does not appear to have happened.The disabled Liberal Democrat peer Baroness [Celia] Thomas, the party’s new work and pensions spokeswoman, told the conference that the policy paper was “thoroughly well thought out” and “an innovative, practical and humane roadmap for the sort of welfare system we want in this country”.She said: “Don’t be fooled into thinking that this makes the paper just tinkering at the edges of the current system.“It is not just tinkering, it is the most radical plan I have ever seen for welfare reform.”She said the “real world test” that would replace the WCA was based on a pioneering system in the Netherlands, and she added: “It will help to ensure that claimants are not put through impossible hoops for non-existent jobs.”Jennie Rigg, who chairs Calderdale Liberal Democrats, spoke against the motion, saying that benefit sanctions were “unjustifiable, inhumane and immoral” while the motion was “fundamentally flawed” and “mired in coalition policy-think”.She said that devolving assessments to local level was “not going to make them any better”.After the vote, she said on Twitter that the new policy was “tinkering at the edges of the benefit system and keeping most of the Tory bull***t in place” and that she was “utterly devastated that lib dems voted for it”.Ryan Mercer, the party’s candidate to fight Putney at the next general election, speaking against the motion, told the debate: “We don’t need to mend this broken safety net, we need to replace it with something far more ambitious.”Lib Dem activist Sarah Noble, also arguing against the motion, said: “We must be forward-thinking, not sliding backwards into this coalition-think.“We need a radical alternative to our failed and discriminatory welfare system. This isn’t it.”Dr Kirsten Johnson, who proposed the sanctions amendment, told the conference that the sanctions system was “inhumane”, and added: “We must, we must, we must scrap benefit sanctions. It is the moral and it is the decent thing to do.”But Lord [Jonny] Oates, who was Nick Clegg’s chief of staff throughout the coalition, and is the party’s former director of policy and communications, argued against scrapping sanctions.Lord Oates, who served on the working group that drew up the policy paper, said that it proposed “radical changes” to sanctions that would allow “greater flexibility and discretion”, and added: “If we reject sanctions… the public will think we have gone mad.”Matthew Clark, a disabled party member making his first speech at conference, who supported the motion, said the Tory benefits system was “creating a sticky web, trapping and entrenching vulnerable people who can be and deserve better”.He said he had “wasted valuable time not developing myself but learning how to jump through hoops” to secure the support he needed, while he said he had faced a “long battle” to regain his benefits after they were removed, in what he said was a “centralised and impersonal” system.He said that many disabled people feared the “complex” benefits system and were afraid to even ask simple questions of DWP in case they were sanctioned.But he opposed calls to scrap sanctions completely and backed a failed bid, through another amendment, to retain the benefit cap at a level equal to average household earnings.Former Lib Dem MP Jenny Willott, who chaired the working group, said she was “very proud” of the policy paper, which she said had “strong policies and a Liberal heart” and was “radical” and would “enable us to campaign for a fairer benefits system now”.She said that one of the “most important and bold measures” was the scrapping of the WCA.Arguing against banning sanctions completely, she said that some charities had told the working group that placing conditions on receiving benefits “can have a role in ensuring vulnerable people engage”.George Potter, the disabled activist who was a member of the working group that drew up the paper, and was a key critic of the impact of austerity policies on disabled people while the party was in coalition, told Disability News Service (DNS) after the debate that he was “disappointed that the motion went through, even though it has been amended to commit us to abolishing sanctions”.He said: “It doesn’t go anywhere near far enough in tackling the failure of the welfare system around disability issues or to offer a coherent vision for the future of the welfare system generally.“However, the reactions from the floor during the debate make me optimistic that there is plenty of appetite for this topic to be revisited at a future conference and I’m now going to be working with a broad coalition of party members to bring something better to a future conference.“In the meantime, I’m at least glad that the party has accepted the principle of scrapping the WCA and sanctions – it’s encouraging that at least we’re moving on from this idea that welfare should be about punishing people for non-compliance with arbitrary, bureaucratic regulations.”Among the reforms he had wanted to see was for both ESA and PIP to be scrapped, and replaced with a disability pension for those unable to work, which would provide them with a decent income – similar to the system in Germany – and a new additional living costs benefit for disabled people.He said this would focus more on providing the necessary support for disabled people and less on how to ration it.
It was widely expected that PMQs would be particularly interesting today. There is high drama in Westminster, after all: three MPs quit the Conservative Party to join “The Independent Group” this morning, adding to its band of eight ex-Labour MPs. But the only news-y thing about the latest PMQs session was the remarkable sight of Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston taking their places on the opposition benches. Sitting beside the seven original splitters and Joan Ryan, they looked delighted to be there.The opportunity to talk about defections was largely rebuffed by Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May, and it was left to the SNP’s Ian Blackford to raise the matter. He told the Commons that British politics is “imploding” and “Scotland deserves better”. Pressing her ear to a speaker in the Commons bench, May cackled.The Prime Minister and Chipping Barnet backbencher Theresa Villiers had agreed early on in the session to respond to the main news of the day by condemning Labour’s handling of antisemitism. Their attack was supported by quotes from the resignation letter of Labour Friends of Israel chair Joan Ryan. When Corbyn replied that his party “takes the strongest action to deal with antisemitism wherever it rears its head”, members on the Tory benches heckled and one shouted “rubbish!”.The Labour leader moved swiftly on to Brexit – and why wouldn’t he? While the headlines are dominated by the news of MPs splitting off from the main parties, the ‘no deal’ outcome feared by a majority of parliamentarians is just around the corner. Labour antisemitism still features heavily in reports on the new Commons grouping, but what really unites them is a strong opposition to Brexit and an advocacy of a fresh EU referendum. They must have been just as keen to hear about May’s next steps as Corbyn.As usual, though, May offered no illuminating answers. Asked whether she was seeking to remove the backstop, make it time-limited or give the UK the right to exit unilaterally, the PM simply replied that there are “a number of ways” to address the backstop issue. Then she refused to rule out ‘no deal’. Then she declined to comment on customs union membership. We’ve seen this exchange before, more than once, but now 29th March is just over a month away. The Westminster bubble is full of excitement as Labour and the Tories splinter, yet Brexit is no clearer.Tags:PMQs /Theresa May /Labour /Jeremy Corbyn /Brexit /
JAMES Graham, Jonny Lomax, James Roby and Jon Wilkin have been named in England’s 24-man squad for the 2011 Gillette Four Nations tournament.They will be part of the side that faces Wales (October 29), Australia (November 5) and New Zealand (November 12).The top two teams from the group matches will advance through to the Gillette Four Nations Final at Elland Road, Leeds on Saturday November 19.“I am really happy with the balance of the squad,” head coach Steve McNamara said. “There is an excellent blend of strength, experience and flair and we have real quality in every department.“For the squad and my coaching staff it is important to look forward and make sure we are fully prepared and ready for what should be an excellent Gillette Four Nations tournament.“One of the pleasing aspects for me is the significant amount of home grown talent that has come through the Academy system. At least three quarters of the squad is made up of players that are Federation Trained and that just shows the strength we now have and the clear pathway we are trying to promote.”Squad:Carl Ablett (Leeds Rhinos, Hunslet Parkside)Ryan Bailey (Leeds Rhinos, Milford)Tom Briscoe (Hull FC, Featherstone Lions)Garreth Carvell (Warrington Wolves, Stanningley)Rangi Chase (Castleford Tigers, Dannevirke Tigers)Leroy Cudjoe (Huddersfield Giants, Newsome Panthers)Gareth Ellis (Wests Tigers, Lock Lane)James Graham (St Helens, Blackbrook)Ryan Hall (Leeds Rhinos, Oulton Raiders)Chris Heighington (Wests Tigers, Umina Bunnies)Ben Jones-Bishop (Leeds Rhinos, Milford)Jamie Jones-Buchanan (Leeds Rhinos, Stanningley)Jonny Lomax (St Helens, Orrell St James)Michael McIlorum (Wigan Warriors, Queens)Adrian Morley (Warrington Wolves, Eccles)Jamie Peacock (captain) (Leeds Rhinos, Stanningley)Jack Reed (Brisbane Broncos, South Logan Magpies)James Roby (St Helens, Blackbrook)Kevin Sinfield (Leeds Rhinos, Waterhead)Sam Tomkins (Wigan Warriors. Wigan St Pats)Ben Westwood (Warrington Wolves, Normanton)Gareth Widdop (Melbourne Storm, King Cross)Jon Wilkin (St Helens, East Hull)Kirk Yeaman (Hull FC, Myton Warriors)England also announced the 22-man England Knights squad to feature in their upcoming autumn programme:Joe Arundel (Castleford Tigers, Castleford Panthers)Jodie Broughton (Salford City Reds, Queens)Josh Charnley (Wigan Warriors, Wigan St Pats)Chris Clarkson (Leeds Rhinos, East Leeds)Paul Clough (St Helens, Blackbrook)Mike Cooper (Warrington Wolves, Latchford Albion)James Donaldson (Bradford Bulls, Wath Brow Hornets)Liam Farrell (Wigan Warriors, Wigan St Pats)Jamie Foster (St Helens, Blackbrook)Luke Gale (Harlequins RL, Middleton Marauders)Zak Hardaker (Leeds Rhinos, Featherstone Lions)Ben Harrison (Warrington Wolves, Barrow Island)Danny Houghton (Hull FC, East Hull)Scott Moore (St Helens, Blackbrook)Lee Mossop (Wigan Warriors, Hensingham)Richie Myler (Warrington Wolves, Halton West Bank)Stefan Ratchford (Warrington Wolves, Wigan St Pats)Chris Riley (Warrington Wolves, Woolston Rovers)Matty Smith (Salford City Reds, Blackbrook)Liam Watts (Hull KR, Featherstone Lions)Kris Welham (Hull KR, Myton Warriors)Joe Westerman (Hull FC, Featherstone Lions)
SAINTS have announced their squad for Friday’s Stobart Super League Round 18 game at Salford City Reds.With no reported injuries from the International Origin and Knights’ games at the weekend, the squad is the same that was named for the Bradford clash.The squad is:1. Paul Wellens, 3. Michael Shenton, 4. Sia Soliola, 5. Francis Meli, 6. Lance Hohaia, 7. Jonny Lomax, 8. Josh Perry, 9. James Roby, 10. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, 11. Tony Puletua, 12. Jon Wilkin, 13. Chris Flannery, 14. Anthony Laffranchi, 15. Mark Flanagan, 16. Paul Clough, 19. Andy Dixon, 20. Lee Gaskell, 21. Tommy Makinson, 26. Josh Jones.Phil Veivers will choose from:1. Luke Patten, 2. Jodie Broughton, 3. Sean Gleeson, 4. Joel Moon, 5. Danny Williams, 6. Daniel Holdsworth, 7. Matty Smith, 11. Matty Ashurst, 12. Shannan McPherson, 13. Stephen Wild, 14. Chris Nero, 15. Adam Sidlow, 16. Luke Adamson, 17. Iafeta Paleaaesina, 20. Ben Gledhill, 21. Jordan James, 23. Gareth Owen, 24. Stuart Howarth, 27. Vinnie Anderson.The game kicks off at 8pm and the referee is James Child.Tickets are still available for the fixture and details are here.Stat Pack:St Helens have won their last four meetings with Salford, with the City Reds’ last victory coming 42-34 at The Willows on 15 May, 2010.2012 Meeting:St Helens 38, Salford 10 (SLR2, 10/2/12)Super League Summary:Salford won 4St Helens won 26Ups and Downs:Salford highest score: 42-34 (H, 2010) (Widest margin: 39-26, H, 1997)St Helens highest score: 66-16 (H, 2001) (Widest margin: 58-4, A, 2000)Player Stats:LOUIE McCARTHY-SCARSBROOK needs one appearance to reach 150 for his career.McCarthy-Scarsbrook has played club rugby for Harlequins (97 games, 2006-2010) and St Helens (49 games, 2011-2012), and has also made three England appearancesFRANCIS MELI – two tries away from 100 Super League tries (98 for St Helens, 2006-2012)
TOMMY Makinson is enjoying preseason and sees the Huddersfield friendly in January as ideal preparation for the new campaign.The 21-year-old has made 46 appearances for Saints todate but knows nothing is guaranteed heading into the New Year.“We have been working really hard over the last few weeks and are all looking forward to the new season,” he said. “It’s one of the hardest preseasons we’ve had and we are improving and learning all the time.“Our first test of that will be against Huddersfield and I’m looking forward to it. I’m hoping it will be a big year.”Saints will take on Huddersfield Giants in a friendly at Langtree Park on Friday January 11, 8pm.Tickets are on sale now from just £6 and at present only the South and West Stands will be open.You can buy from the Ticket Office at Langtree Park, by calling 01744 455 052 or by logging on here.
SAINTS have announced their squad for Friday’s Round 26 Super League match against Warrington Wolves.Only one change has been made from the 19 that was named ahead of the Wakefield match – Joe Greenwood being recalled in place of Greg Richards.Nathan Brown will choose from:1. Paul Wellens, 3. Jordan Turner, 4. Sia Soliola, 5. Francis Meli, 6. Lance Hohaia, 7. Jonny Lomax, 10. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, 11. Tony Puletua, 12. Jon Wilkin, 13. Willie Manu, 14. Anthony Laffranchi, 16. Paul Clough, 19. Josh Jones, 21. Tommy Makinson, 24. Joe Greenwood, 25. Alex Walmsley, 26. Adam Swift, 27. Anthony Walker, 36. Stuart Howarth.Tony Smith will choose his Warrington side from:2. Chris Riley, 3. Chris Bridge, 5. Joel Monaghan, 6. Lee Briers, 8. Adrian Morley, 9. Michael Monaghan, 10. Garreth Carvell, 11. Trent Waterhouse, 12. Ben Westwood, 13. Ben Harrison, 14. Micky Higham, 15. Simon Grix, 16. Paul Wood, 17. Mike Cooper, 18. Chris Hill, 19. Stefan Ratchford, 20. Rhys Evans, 21. Tyrone McCarthy, 23. Gareth O’Brien.The game kicks off at 8pm and the referee is Richard Silverwood.Ticket details are hereStat Pack: Last 10 Meetings:St Helens 22, Warrington 48 (SLR16, 25/5/13) (at Etihad Stadium, Manchester)Warrington 10, St Helens 22 (SLR6, 8/3/13)St Helens 18, Warrington 36 (SLQSF, 29/9/12)Warrington 6, St Helens 28 (SLQPO, 15/9/12)St Helens 12, Warrington 22 (SLR23, 6/8/12)Warrington 16, St Helens 28 (SLR9, 30/3/12)Warrington 35, St Helens 28 (SLR19, 24/6/11)St Helens 18, Warrington 25 (SLR3, 25/2/11)St Helens 28, Warrington 12 (SLQPO, 10/9/10)Warrington 24, St Helens 26 (SLR24, 31/7/10)Super League Summary:St Helens won 38 (includes wins in 2010 & 2012 play-offs)Warrington won 6 (includes win in 2012 play-offs)2 drawsHighs and Lows:St Helens highest score: 72-2 (H, 2002) (also widest margin)Warrington highest score: 56-22 (H, 2001) (also widest margin)Personal Milestones:Paul Wellens remains one point away from 1,000 in his career. He has scored 953 points (218 tries, 40 goals, 1 field goal) for St Helens since 1998. He has also scored points for Great Britain (18 – 4 tries, 1 goal), England (16 – 4 tries) and Lancashire (12 – 3 tries).Ade Gardner needs one try to reach 200 career touchdowns. His total of 199 has been scored as follows: 173 for St Helens (2002-2013), 15 for Barrow (2000-2001), 2 for Great Britain (2006-2007), 2 for England (2008) and 7 for England ‘A’ (2002-2003). He has also made three non-scoring appearances for Cumbria (2003-2004 & 2010).Francis Meli needs three tries to reach 150 whilst in the British game. He has touched down 143 times for St Helens since 2006, to go with 4 tries for The Exiles (2011-2012).
Jake Spedding and Dominique Peyroux are recalled to the side in place of the injured Ryan Morgan and Danny Richardson.Justin Holbrook will choose his 17 from:1. Jonny Lomax, 2. Tommy Makinson, 4. Mark Percival, 5. Adam Swift, 6. Theo Fages, 7. Matty Smith, 8. Alex Walmsley, 9. James Roby, 10. Kyle Amor, 12. Jon Wilkin, 13. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, 14. Luke Douglas, 16. Luke Thompson, 17. Tommy Lee, 18. Dominique Peyroux, 20. Morgan Knowles, 26. Jake Spedding, 28. Regan Grace, 36. Zeb Taia.Ian Watson will choose his Salford 17 from:1. Gareth O’Brien, 3. Josh Jones, 4. Junior Sa’u, 5. Niall Evalds, 6. Robert Lui, 7. Michael Dobson, 8. Craig Kopczak, 9. Logan Tomkins, 11. Ben Murdoch-Masila, 12. Weller Hauraki, 13. Mark Flanagan, 14. Lama Tasi, 15. Ryan Lannon, 20. Kris Brinning, 21. Greg Johnson, 22. Kris Welham, 24. Jake Bibby, 29. Todd Carney, 30. James Hasson.The game kicks off at 8pm and the referee is Scott Mikalauskas.Tickets for the clash remain on sale from the Ticket Office at the Totally Wicked Stadium, by calling 01744 455 052 or online here.