The Government should rethink its planned cuts to the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), a Conservative MP has said.
The change would see payments for sick and disabled people in the ESA WRAG slashed by around £30 a week, reducing the value of the benefit for those claimants to the same amount as Jobseeker’s Allowance – just £75.10 a week for a single person aged 25 and over (correct at the time of publication).
“Far from encouraging sick people back to work, it might encourage them to stay on benefits”, says Mr Lefroy.
Claimants in the ESA WRAG currently receive a weekly payment of £102.15. The extra amount is paid in recognition of the additional living costs faced by people will disabilities and long-term illness.
Mr Lefroy says that whilst he agrees that changes to the benefits system are needed, he is concerned that the Government hasn’t fully considered the full impact of the proposals to cut ESA.
“The extra WRAG money is there for a reason”, he says.
“Being confronted with a potentially life-changing illness is difficult enough; the damage it can cause to family finances is often totally unexpected.
“By stopping altogether the supplement for those coming into the WRAG from April 2017, I argue that it may well become harder for them to get back to work.”
The MP for Stafford warns that the Government’s plans could ultimately backfire, resulting in “more people coming into the ‘Support Group’ as this would allow them the higher Support Group payment”.
Mr Lefroy proposed an amendment to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill at the Report Stage of the Bill in the House of Commons, calling on the “full impact of the Government’s proposals be considered before any change is made”.
He also says that the Government should be clearer about what people can expect from the Welfare State.
“Many constituents tell me they cannot understand why there is so little support for them in their illness when ‘I have been paying National Insurance all my life’.”
He argues that people should be encouraged to consider “Income protection insurance” or a “tax-free Lifetime Savings Account”, which they can draw from “in the case of a major crisis, such as serious illness or unemployment”.
However, he adds that “the proposed removal of the entire supplement for those receiving ESA WRAG needs to be looked at again”.
He concludes that cuts to ESA WRAG would “increase the burden on people who are already coping with serious illness or disability”.