Labour MP John Cruddas has accused the Tory government of “targeting the most vulnerable in society” with draconian welfare cuts, which he claims will have a big impact on his poorest Dagenham and Rainham constituents.
The “callous” Conservatives are cutting £30 a week in Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) payments for up to 500,000 sick and disabled people, reducing the amount they receive from £102.15 to just £73.10 – the same amount as Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) – despite those affected having been declared “unfit for work” following an assessment.
The controversial policy came into force on 3 April and will affect all new claimants placed in the ‘Work Related Activity Group’ (WRAG) of ESA.
Mr Cruddas said: “These cuts are another example of a callous Tory government targeting the most vulnerable in society.
“The biggest impact locally will no doubt come from the loss of £30 a week for ESA claimants – and the removal of housing benefit eligibility for 18-21-year-old jobseekers.
He added: In last month’s budget the Tories claimed to be supporting ‘ordinary working people’ but where does this leave people struggling to find work?”
People with mental health conditions and behavioural disorders are expected to be the worst affected, with around half of all ESA claimants in receipt of the benefit because of these medical problems.
A recent analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found that an estimated 60,000 people with be affected in the first year of the changes.
But all claims will ultimately be assessed under the new system, meaning that around 500,000 people will receive £1,400 a year less on average than they would have done under the old system.
The IFS added that given ESA WRAG claimants will essentially be paid the same as those on JSA, some may choose not to subject themselves through demeaning, and often inaccurate ‘fit for work tests’ and claim JSA instead,.. with all the strict conditionality that entails.
Some may appeal against being placed in the WRAG in the hope of being placed in the ESA Support Group, which is unaffected by the £30 a week cut and doesn’t require people to partake in strict, mandatory requirements such as looking for work or attending Jobcentre interviews.
Others may try to offset some of the losses by claiming Personal Independence Payments. The IFS, however, suggests that the majority will choose to take the hit and see their incomes reduced by £1,400 a year, rather than trying to navigate through an increasingly cruel and degrading welfare system.
Tory MP Andrew Rosindell defended the policy, claiming the cuts form part of the Government’s commitment to half the disability employment gap (DEG) – the difference between the number of disabled and non-disabled people in work.
Mr Rosindell said: “We need a welfare system which supports vulnerable and disabled people, and ensures they are able to play a full part in society.
“In the last three years, the number of disabled people in work has increased by almost half a million, but the Government recognises that the gap between the employment rates of disabled people and non-disabled people remains too large.
“That is why the government is committed to halving it. Changes to ESA are a crucial part of achieving this.”
Latest figures show 49.6% of disabled people are in work, compared to 80.4% of non-disabled people. More than 300,000 disabled people have moved into work in the last year alone.
However, the government will need to get an additional one million disabled people into work to effectively half the DEG.
Getting more disabled people into work is undoubtably a very difficult task, but keeping them there could prove to be even more difficult. Especially when the support they receive to remain in work is being drastically reduced through cuts to in-work disability benefits like PIP.