Brutal cuts to crucial disability benefits for sick and disabled people look set to become law, after the Tory Government used questionable methods to force the controversial changes through the House of Lords.
Peers in the House of Lords have twice rejected a £30 a week cut to Employment and Support Allowance, which charities warn could leave as many as half a million sick and disabled people struggling to make ends meet.
Iain Duncan Smith wants to cut ESA by £30 a week for claimants in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) who have been assessed as “unfit for work”, but whom could return to employment with the right support and if their condition improves. Around 500,000 people are in the ESA WRAG group.
Refusal by Peers to rubber-stamp the devastating cuts resulted in the Government in using ‘financial privilege‘ to force the changes through the House of Lords – a little known about “special right” that allows the Commons to overrule any House of Lords amendment that has “cost implications”. This effectively left the Lords powerless to prevent the cuts.
The Work and Pensions Secretary recently accused the upper chamber of an “abuse of parliamentary process” in a letter to Tory MP’s, urging them to rebuff Peers attempts to scuttle the changes.
In the letter seen by the Daily Mirror, Mr Duncan Smith writes: “The Commons as the elected chamber must now have the final say, particularly over matters that have substantial financial implications.
He added: “The Lords’ amendments are clearly designed to prevent the Government from implementing the proposed changes. which provide savings of up to £1.3bn up to 2020-21.”
The changes will initially only effect new ESA claims from April 2017, but existing claimants could also see their benefits slashed if their circumstances change, or if there is a break of less than 12 weeks in their claim.
Elliot Dunster, Group Head of Policy, Research and Public Affairs at disability charity Scope, said the cuts to ESA “will have a harmful impact on disabled people”.
“We’re deeply disappointed that the Government is pushing ahead with its plans despite opposition from the House of Lords and many MPs”, he said.
“Half a million disabled people will be affected by this proposal – losing around £30 a week – at a time when they are already struggling to make ends meet.
“Reducing disabled people’s incomes won’t incentivise them to find a job. It will just make life harder.
“The Government has committed to halving the disability employment gap, but cutting financial support is not the answer.
“To achieve its ambitious target, the Government must invest in expert, tailored support and encourage employers to create flexible, modern workplaces.
“The upcoming White Paper on disability, health and employment is an important opportunity to reform the system and make it work for disabled people.”