Welfare Reform Bill — Clause 51 — Period of Entitlement to Contributory Employment and Support Allowance — 1 Feb 2012 at 14:30

The majority of MPs voted not to increase the amount of time people can receive contributory Employment and Support Allowance in the work-related activity group from 365 days to a minimum of 730 days.

Employment and Support Allowance is paid to those who cannot work because they are ill or disabled[1].

There are two types of Employment and Support Allowance: Contributory (or "Contribution-based") for those who have made enough National Insurance contributions and "Income-related" for those who have not.

Those receiving the allowance are, after 13 weeks, placed into one of two groups, the first, the work-related activity group are those who receive Employment and Support Allowance and have to go to regular interviews with an adviser intended to help with things like job goals, improving skills and work-related issues. Those with an illness or disability which limits what they do may not have to attend such interviews and are described as being in the "support group".[2]

A contribution-based allowance in the work-related activity group based is paid for a limited amount of time, what that time period should be was the subject of this vote, once the period elapses people may be moved onto income related Employment and Support Allowance. The amount paid under the "income related" allowance varies depending on individual factors such as age, if the individual is part of a couple, their partners' income, and if they have responsibility for a child.[3]

During the debate Labour MP Stephen Timms argued in favour of increasing the time a contribution based allowance is paid saying[4][5]:

  • 12 months is simply not long enough for a very large number of cancer patients—or other patients, in fact—to get back to work.


  • we have argued for a two-year limit instead of a one-year limit, because with a two-year limit there is a chance for people to get back into work. The National Aids Trust makes the point

Another key argument made during the debate that was that contribution based payments give people independence, whereas those which take account of a partner's income reduce that independence.[6]

Minister Chris Grayling explained his, and his Government's, support for the one year time limit[7][8]:

  • The principle of our proposal reflects the principle used in the jobseeker’s allowance system—people should get something back for what they have contributed, but not indefinitely. The Government’s measures simply seek to extend that principle to the group on ESA.
  • The principle I described is a long-standing one that has been applied to other benefits, such as jobseeker’s allowance. It is important to state that the Government are not taking benefits away from people who have no other form of income, or from people in the support group who need long-term, unconditional help. The measure simply affects those in the work-related activity group. It applies to them the same principle that exists in jobseeker’s allowance.

The initial wording in the bill as brought from the commons[9] was:

"51 Period of entitlement to contributory allowance

(1) After section 1 of the Welfare Reform Act 2007 there is inserted—

“1A Duration of contributory allowance

(1)The period for which a person is entitled to a contributory allowance shall not exceed, in the aggregate, 365 days in any period for which his entitlement is established by reference (under the second condition set out in Part 1 of Schedule 1) to the same two tax years.



The majority of MPs disagreed with a Lords amendment, numbered 17[10], relating to that clause stating:

  • "leave out “365 days” and insert “a prescribed number of days which must be at least 730”

Minister Chris Grayling explained what the effect of the rejected amendment would have been[11]:

  • Lords amendment 17 would increase the time limit for claimants receiving contributory ESA in the work-related activity group from the proposed 365 days to a minimum of 730 days, which would have to be prescribed in regulations.

Grayling also stated what the costs of implementing the rejected amendment would have been[12]:

  • If accepted, this amendment would reduce the total savings in the spending review period by around a third by 2016-17, which is £1.6 billion.

Those opposing the amendment voted to reduce the amount being spent on benefits.

An official impact assessments [13][14] state:

  • From the claimant’s perspective most contributory ESA claimaints in the work related activity group will see a reduction in their benefit / net income when they pass the 12 month claim duration time limit.

The limit only applies to those in the work related activity group. The assessments include an estimated reduction of around £36/week.

Full details of the Welfare Reform Bill's progress through parliament are available on Parliament's website.[15]

Debate in Parliament | Source |

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Party Summary

Votes by party, red entries are votes against the majority for that party.

What is Tell? '+1 tell' means that in addition one member of that party was a teller for that division lobby.

What are Boths? An MP can vote both aye and no in the same division. The boths page explains this.

What is Turnout? This is measured against the total membership of the party at the time of the vote.

PartyMajority (Aye)Minority (No)BothTurnout
Alliance0 10100.0%
Con284 (+2 tell) 0093.5%
DUP0 80100.0%
Green0 10100.0%
Lab0 239 (+2 tell)093.4%
LDem48 6094.7%
PC0 30100.0%
SDLP0 30100.0%
SNP0 5083.3%
Total:332 266093.6%

Rebel Voters - sorted by party

MPs for which their vote in this division differed from the majority vote of their party. You can see all votes in this division, or every eligible MP who could have voted in this division

Sort by: Name | Constituency | Party | Vote

Menzies CampbellNorth East FifeLDem (front bench)no
Michael CrockartEdinburgh WestLDem (front bench)no
Andrew GeorgeSt IvesLDem (front bench)no
Mike HancockPortsmouth Southwhilst LDem (front bench)no
John LeechManchester, WithingtonLDem (front bench)no
Ian SwalesRedcarLDem (front bench)no

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