Slashing disability benefits will impoverish disabled people and push them further away from employment, according to a damning new report published today.
The Government has proposed cutting Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for those in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) by £30 a week, as part of the ‘Welfare Reform and Work Bill’ currently being debated in the House of Lords.
Government ministers have attempted to justify the reduction by claiming it would ‘incentivise’ disabled people to look for work and help halve the disability employment gap.
In 2012, 46.3% of working-age disabled people were in employment compared to 76.4% of working-age non-disabled people – a 30.1 percentage point gap.
However, parliamentary research featuring evidence from 30 charities and nearly 200 disabled people found “no evidence that the £30 WRAG component is acting as a disentive to work”.
The review by Lord Low of Dalston CBE, Baroness Meacher and Baroness Grey-Thompson DBE also found that cuts would damage the mental health of people with disabilities.
More than half (57%) of those surveyed said the amount they receive on ESA is already too little to live on. 28% of disabled people say they cannot afford to eat, while 38% struggle to heat their homes.
Lord Low warned: “Put bluntly the more you push disabled people closer to or further into poverty the less work ready they are likely to be.”
Baroness Meacher said: “I have worked with people with a variety of mental health problems and people with a learning disability. In my experience, all of these people desperately want, more than anything, is to be regarded as the same as everyone else.
“What does that mean? It means being able to go to work. They really do not need this sort of financial incentive or disencentive.”
She added: “Job hunting costs money, including money for transport and clothes, since you cannot go to work or to an interview without appropriate clothes.
“This is particularly true for disabled people, a huge number of whom live in poverty. If a claimant cannot afford the fare to attend an interview, how will that promote his or hers employment prospects?”
Baroness Thompson said: “I support the Government’s ambition to support more people into work and we should do all that we can to aid that.
“However, cutting disabled people’s benefits will not achieve this and indeed the review has found that the proposed cuts will hamper efforts to halve the disability employment gap.
“Far from incentivising sick and disabled people to get into work such a cut is more likely to move disabled people further from the workplace.
“Respondents have told this review that cutting this financial support will impact on their health, their ability to look for work, undertake things such as training and in some cases lead to social isolation, debt and other hardships.”
She added: “For the Government to fulfill its objectives to halve the disability employment gap, it will need to cease this cut and put in place personalised support that is individually tailored to allow those who can look for work to do so effectively.”
Jan Tregelles, chief executive of Mencap said: “This Parliamentary Review looks at the impact on disabled people of the £30 a week cut to ESA WRAG, something the Government has failed to carry out.
“This review shows that the cut would directly hinder the Government’s desire to halve the disability employment gap, and instead push disabled people further away from employment, closer to poverty and actively harm people’s health.
“Cuts to people’s benefits are clearly having a huge impact on the lives of disabled people, and with further cuts being planned the impact is only likely to get worse.
“We know from speaking to people with a learning disability and their families that they are very concerned that the cuts to benefits and social care are likely to leave people being left isolated in their own communities.
“We call on politicians from all sides to urgently assess this new evidence and ensure that they stop the harmful effects cutting ESA-WRAG will have on disabled people in the UK.”
More info: Download the easy read version of the report.