The government is standing by a decision to cut £1.3 billion a year from the disability benefit budget, despite growing speculation it could be forced to change its mind due to a rebellion by backbench Conservative MPs.
Education secretary Nicky Morgan appeared to hint during an appearance on Thursday night's Question Time that the decision to cut funding for disability aids and appliances, confirmed in George Osborne's Budget, was merely a "suggestion".
However, the prime minister's spokesperson has insisted the government is committed to pushing ahead with the disability cuts and that they are not merely suggestions. "The point [Morgan] was making is these are the proposals out there," they said. "There will be more discussions before we bring forward legislative proposals. That will give us the time to continue explaining these policies.”
Conservative MPs have increasingly broken cover to criticise the decision to cut the fund for people who need mobility assistance, known as the personal independence payment, or PIP.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has now pledged to force a House of Commons vote on the issue, which could defeat the government on the issue, given the level of complaints from the Tory back benches.
Independent estimates show that around 370,000 disabled people could lose an average of £3,500 a year if the cuts go through as planned.
Although Downing Street insists it is committed to the policy, a spokesperson repeatedly referred to the need to "explain" the details to MPs and disability charities, suggesting there is still some ability to tweak the measure before it becomes law.
"The government’s position on this hasn’t changed," said a spokesperson. "We will be taking the opportunity to engage with colleagues across the house. The point is we need to make sure we can focus taxpayers' money on support for the most vulnerable."
They added: "There will be more discussions before we bring forward legislative proposals. That will give us the time to continue explaining these policies. We’re committed to making these reforms. We will continue to discuss the issue, looking at how support goes to those who needs it most."
Any reduction in the total amount cut from disability funding would create a headache for Osborne, who would then have to find up to £1.3 billion of income to cover other expenditure.
Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Jim Waterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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