Iain Duncan Smith has been urged to rethink plans to cut Employment and Support Allowance, which campaigners say would “push disabled people further away from work and closer to poverty”.
Thirty charities and members from the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) have signed an open letter to the Work and Pensions Secretary, warning that plans to cut £30 a week to new claimants in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) of ESA would also undermine the Government’s commitment to halve the disability employment gap.
Claimants in the ESA WRAG have been assessed by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) as currently unable to work, but may be able to return to employment with the right support. There are currently almost half a million sick and disabled people in the ESA WRAG.
The letter says: “We believe the Government’s proposed cut to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) will undermine its commitment to halve the disability employment gap, and push sick and disabled people further away from work and closer to poverty.”
“The Government committed to protecting disability benefits, but instead is pushing through a cut of £30 a week to new claimants in the Work Related Activity Group of ESA.”
The House of Lords is scheduled to debate and vote on the policy next week, which forms part of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill. If enforced from April 2017, the changes would see payments reduced for new claimants in the ESA WRAG, to bring the benefit more in-line with Jobseeker’s Allowance.
Government ministers claim the extra £30 a week disentivises sick and disabled people from looking for work. However, campaigners say “it has so far offered no evidence for this claim”.
“In fact a recent independent review showed the opposite is true: that this cut will make it harder for disabled people to find work”, the letter says.
A survey of 500 disabled people in 2015 found:
- Almost 7 in 10 (69%) say cuts to ESA will cause their health to suffer
- More than a quarter (28%) say they sometimes can’t afford to eat on the current amount they receive from ESA
- 40% have become more isolated and less able to see friends or family after their ESA was withdrawn or reduced
And a poll conducted by the charity Mencap found that 71% of the general public think cuts to welfare will make the UK a worse place for people with disabilities to live.
Only 6% felt that the Welfare Reform & Work Bill would make the country a better place to live for people with disabilities.
Jan Tregelles, who chairs the DBC and is also the Chief Executive of Mencap, said the poll “should make the government listen, especially when this cut seriously undermines their plans to halve the employment gap experienced by disabled people”.
She said: “Not only are disabled people telling us loud and clear that this cut to ESA will make their lives harder, with both their health and chances of returning to work being harmed, but we also see how the general public are deeply concerned by these cuts to disability benefits.
“Ahead of this key vote in the House of Lords, we ask Peers to consider what disabled people have said about how this will affect them, and urge the government to rethink this damaging cut in support for disabled people.”
Sam Jeffries told Mencap: “I am really worried about benefits cuts. Only 6% of people with a learning disability are currently in employment. This number scares me as I, like a lot of people with a learning disability, really want to get a job
“It is really hard to get work if you have a learning disability. Benefits are important to me because the money helps me to stay independent, if it was cut I’m worried that I’d become isolated.”
In the lettter, the charities “call on the Government to listen to the damaging effect this will have on the lives of sick and disabled people and immediately halt this cut.”
However the DWP accused the charities of “scaremongering”, while adding that existing ESA claimants and the most severely disabled would not be affected by the changes.
A DWP spokesperson said: “This kind of scaremongering does nothing to help disabled people, and fails to acknowledge that existing claimants, and those with the most severe disabilities will not be affected at all.
“The current system needs reform because as it stands it fails to provide the right incentives, and acts to trap people on welfare. We are committed to ensuring that people have the best support possible, and that is what these changes are about.”
This news article was last edited at 05:28 on 23 January 2016. Have we made a mistake in this article? Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org