Ed Miliband used Wednesday 15 June’s PMQs to attack the government over the planned removal of Employment Support Allowance (ESA) for those recovering from cancer. Citing a report by charity Macmillan Cancer Support, the leader of the Opposition claimed that seven thousand people would stand to lose up to £94 a week under the government’s welfare reform proposals, and urged the Prime Minister to “pause, listen and reflect”.

The clash was particularly heated, with Mr. Miliband choosing to use all of his allotted questions on the issue. The Labour leader, who has been under fire this week, put in a spirited performance which appeared to fluster the Prime Minister, although he failed to touch on the hot-button issue of the week, the changes to NHS reform proposals, or yesterday’s unglamorous U-turn over weekly bin collections. There was also no mention of banking reform, although Mr. Miliband may be waiting for the Chancellor’s Mansion House speech in full before passing judgement.

…cancer sufferers may be moved…

The Labour leader’s criticism of government welfare proposals focused on the charge that some cancer sufferers may be moved from Employment Support Allowance to the more stringent Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) after twelve months on ESA; a move which would require them to carry out some work-related activities to qualify.

Macmillan Cancer Support argues that “many people living with cancer will need longer than 12 months before they are ready to return to work” and Mr. Miliband accused the Prime Minister of failing to get a grip on the finer points of Welfare policy.

…his government’s overall programme was supported by industry bodies, the IMF, Tony Blair and Mr. Miliband’s own brother, David.

The Prime Minister retorted that his government was using “precisely the same test as the last government” for benefit entitlement and accused the Labour party of double standards over welfare reform. “It’s no good talking about it, he’s got to vote for it”, said Mr. Cameron, referring to Wednesday night’s Third Reading of the Welfare Reform Bill. He suggested that Mr. Miliband was “on his own” and jibed that his government’s overall programme was supported by industry bodies, the IMF, Tony Blair and Mr. Miliband’s own brother, David.

The Prime Minister also accused the Mr. Miliband of “attempting to put up a smokescreen” to mask divisions in his own divided party. The accusation came after a weekend of damaging claims for Mr. Miliband, including leaked memos from the Blair-Brown feud, and the serialisation of an explosive new book suggesting that the relationship between the Labour leader and his older brother David has broken down completely.

“…I ask the questions; he fails to answer them.”

Mr. Miliband argued that suggestions he was using cancer patients to dodge questions over his leadership were “an absolute disgrace”, and said, “in case [the Prime Minister] had forgotten, I ask the questions; he fails to answer them.”

The focus on cancer sufferers provided a highly charged exchange, with the Speaker forced to intervene to stop the clamour in the house. He made his usual interjection to put down rambunctious yah-booing in the chamber, claiming that “the public despise this sort of behaviour”.


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