Tens of thousands of people have signed a petition calling on the UK government to reverse brutal cuts to a vital disability benefit, which could see up to half a million sick and disabled people lose around £30 a week in crucial income.
The petition, published on the Government’s e-petition website, warns cuts to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) “will cripple those in receipt of these benefits”, adding that lives could be put at risk if the government doesn’t reverse the decision.
More than 76,000 people had signed the petition at the time this article was published. If the petition reaches 100,000 signatures it could be debated by MPs in Parliament.
Peers in the House of Lords had twice rejected cuts to ESA before the government attached ‘financial privilege’ to force the changes through the upper chamber, leaving Peers powerless to block the cuts.
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith wants to slash the benefits of sick and disabled in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) of ESA from £103 to £73 a week – equivalent to Jobseeker’s Allowance.
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. There are currently around half a million people in the ESA WRAG.
Government ministers argue the higher ESA payments disincentivise people from looking for a job, but charities say reducing ESA risks pushing disabled people further away from the world of work.
Elliot Dunster, Group Head of Policy, Research and Policy at the disability charity Scope, said: “Reducing disabled people’s income won’t incentivise them to find a job. It will just make life harder.”
He added: “The Government has committed to halving the disability employment gap, but cutting fiancial support is not the answer.”
Steve Ford, Chief Executive at Parkinson’s UK, described last weeks announcement as “a dark day for people with Parkinson’s”.
“As the Lords have pointed out time and again there is absolutely no evidence to support these proposals”, he said, “or any analysis into the impact they will have on people with Parkinson’s and other long term conditions”.
People can add their name to the petition against the Government’s cuts to ESA by following this link.
The news comes as a Labour analysis shows that 200,000 disabled people will lose almost £3,000 a year from cuts to Personal Independence Payment (PIP), a disability benefit that helps disabled people live as independently as possible and participate in local communities, while a further 400,000 could lose £1,400 a year.
PIP is paid regardless of employment status and supports many disabled people to remain in work.
Update: The petition has now reached its 100,000 signature target and could be debated by MPs in the Commons – more here.