This article titled “Cut to disability benefits may make return to work harder, claim MPs” was written by Patrick Butler Social policy editor, for theguardian.com on Friday 3rd February 2017 00.01 UTC
Government plans to cut disability unemployment benefit for new claimants could make it harder for them to find work and push many into poverty, an all-party group of MPs has said.
Ministers justified plans to cut £29 a week from employment and support allowance (ESA) payments on the grounds that the reduction would supposedly remove “perverse incentives” that discourage people from returning to work.
But MPs on the work and pensions select committee questioned whether cutting benefit rates would incentivise ill and disabled claimants to get a job, concluding that the evidence was “at best, ambiguous”.
The MPs’ report said that while the cut would generate estimated savings of £450m a year by 2021 there was a risk that it “will affect disabled people’s quality of life and likelihood of moving into work”.
The cut, due to come into force in April, will affect an estimated 500,000 new claimants in the ESA work related activity group over the next four years. This cohort, who have been found unfit to work, will receive £73.10 a week, in line with Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) – a reduction of £29.05 on the current rate.
The committee said for many new ESA claimants the impact would be compounded because they face higher living costs than JSA claimants, and typically had to get by on benefits for longer. Although ministers promised to provide extra support with living costs, MPs said it was not clear how this would be provided.
The committee welcomed the government’s target of getting over a million disabled people into employment by 2025, it warned there were no quick solutions, citing an estimate by the Learning and Work Institute thinktank that on current rates of progress, it would take over 200 years to achieve.
It welcomed the government’s intention to reform the much-criticised fit-for-work test known as the work capability assessment. It said it had “for too long been a source of stress and anxiety for disabled people”.
Ministers should overhaul advice on the use of sanctions, whereby benefit claimants receive financial penalties for apparent breaches of job centre rules, it said. Inappropriate sanctions caused significant hardship, affected individuals’ health, and made a return to work less likely.
A DWP spokesman said: “Our welfare reforms are increasing the support and incentives for people to move into work, while keeping an important safety net in place for those who need it.”
Liz Sayce, the chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “The select committee is right to highlight the forthcoming cuts to employment support allowance as wrong in principle and ineffective in practice. We’re not aware of one single disability employment or benefits expert who thinks this particular cut will be an incentive for disabled people to get a job.”
Mark Atkinson, chief executive at disability charity Scope, said: “We know that reducing disabled people’s incomes won’t incentivise them to find a job and won’t help halve the disability employment gap. It will just make life harder.”
Debbie Abrahams, the shadow work and pensions secretary, described the report as “a clear indictment that the Tories are failing to support disabled people”.
Rob Holland, of learning disability charity Mencap, said: “This report shows yet again that the government has presented no robust evidence that cutting disabled people’s benefits will ‘incentivise’ them to find work. Instead the evidence suggests that this £30-a-week cut will push disabled people further from work, closer to or into poverty as well as affecting their health.”
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