Disability charities have reacted with dismay to the Government’s Welfare Benefits Uprating Bill, which proposes to cap increases to working-age benefits at 1% for 3 years, saying it will hit 500,000 people with disabilities.

Yesterday, the Government won a vote in Parliament on its plans to limit annual increases in working-age benefits, including jobseeker’s allowance, some components of employment and support allowance (ESA), income support and elements of housing benefit, to 1% for the next 3 years. Traditionally, benefits have risen in line with inflation, which is currently 2.7%.

The Government estimates that the move will shave some £505 million off the welfare bill in the first year, rising to an estimated £2.3 billion in 2015-16.
However, disability benefits, such as disability living allowance and the support component of employment and support allowance, and carer’s allowance are unaffected by the cap and will continue to rise in line with inflation. They will increase by 2.2% in April.

But the cap means that, in real terms, households receiving this ESA will be £87.65 worse off per year, according to Mencap. This is in addition to reductions from non-disability-specific benefits, such as housing benefit.

Mencap has warned that the reduction would adversely affect 500,000 disabled people, including those assessed as too sick or disabled to work.

“In his autumn statement, the Chancellor [George Osborne] said disabled people would be protected from government plans to cap benefit increases at 1%,” said Dan Scorer, Mencap’s senior campaigns manager. “Yet half a million vulnerable, disabled people will see cuts. These are not skivers, snoozing behind drawn curtains in the morning, these are people who are either unable to work, or who would dearly love to with enough help and support.

“This is yet another cut to hit disabled people, who have already experienced a £500 million drop in support since 2010. We want to see the Chancellor honour his commitment to protect disabled people, by excluding people on ESA from the cap on benefit increases.”

Richard Hawkes, chief executive of Scope, also criticised the bill, saying it cuts support for disabled people who are looking for work.

“Disabled people face massive barriers to finding work – a lack of skills and experience, a shortage of flexible work and attitudes of employers,” he said. “But instead of breaking down barriers, the Government adds to them. The fitness for work test is failing, the Work Programme isn't working and now this.

“A 1% increase in ESA for the next three years is effectively a cut. This will make it even tougher for disabled people looking for work in this challenging economic environment.”

The vote in Parliament yesterday brought the Bill a step closer, but before it becomes law it has to be approved by the Commons and the Lords.