More than 70 charities have signed an open letter to the government warning of the devastating effect a planned £30-a-week cut to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and equivalent in Universal Credit would have on people with a disability and urged MPs to re-assess plans for this.
The call comes ahead of a debate in the House of Commons today (November 17) on this cut, which, if implemented, would affect new claimants from April 2017.
The 70 charities – all members of the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC), including Mind, Rethink Mental Illness, Mencap and the Down’s Syndrome Association – argue that the cuts to the Work Related Activity Group of ESA and the equivalent in Universal Credit will undermine the government’s commitment to halving the disability employment gap, which was outlined in the recent Work and Health Green Paper.
The Government has suggested that sick and disabled people who get ESA are not being incentivised to find work because of the £30-a-week more they get compared to those on Jobseeker’s Allowance.
However, the DBC disputes this claim and a survey of more than 500 disabled people found the government’s assertion to be false. For instance, 69% said cuts to ESA will cause their health to suffer, and 45% said the cut would probably mean they would return to work later – just 1% said it would motivate them to get a job sooner.
In addition, the cut could cause serious hardship, as 28% said they sometimes can’t afford to eat on the current amount they receive from ESA.
The debate on reductions to ESA and Universal Credit has been called by the Backbench Business Committee following a representation from SNP MP Neil Gray. SNP and Conservative MPs have challenged the legislation enforcing the cuts, which became law in March this year; this debate offers a rare second chance to re-assess the cuts before they are implemented.
Jan Tregelles, chief executive of Mencap, which co-chairs the DBC, said: “People with a learning disability are deeply concerned about the government’s plan to push through further cuts to their benefits from April 2017; it’s encouraging to see these concerns shared by MPs across all parties – it’s clear urgent action is needed.
“The government claims that cutting disabled people’s benefits will incentivise them to find work, yet the opposite is true. The cuts to Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit will do nothing but make life harder for disabled people who are already seeing support drastically reduced by a collapsing social care system. At a time when 1 in 3 families with a disabled person live below the poverty line, a £30-a-week cut is a devastating blow.
“The government has promised that those in the Work Related Activity Group from April 2017 (those affected by the cut), will have more support to help them move towards work; however, there is very little on this in the recent Green Paper.
“Furthermore due to the way that Universal Credit works people with a learning disability in work and on low wages will also be hit. Combined, these cuts will make it harder for people to look for work while denying them much needed support to stay in work.
“Second chances come rarely in politics, we urge the government to consider its commitment to protecting disabled people by reversing this cut and instead focus on a real programme of support that will help disabled people move closer to employment."
The open letter to Work and Pensions Secretary, Damian Green, is as follows:
“Dear Secretary of State for Work and Pensions,
“With today’s debate MPs have been given a rare second chance to speak out against £30 a week being taken away from sick and disabled people. The £30-a-week cut to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Universal Credit has caused deep unease amongst MPs from all parties. We believe this cut will undermine the Government’s welcome commitment to halve the disability employment gap set out in the Green Paper published just last month.
“The Government recently committed to protecting disabled people’s benefits from further cuts, but have decided to continue with this damaging cut to new claimants in the Work-Related Activity Group (WRAG) of ESA and within Universal Credit (UC). From April 2017 this cut will affect many people found currently ‘unfit for work’ but will also affect many disabled people in work and on low wages under UC.
“The Government promised further support would be given to disabled people in the WRAG to find work, however the recent Green Paper offers little detail as to where this would come from or how it will mitigate the effects of the cut.
“Almost 70% of sick and disabled people we surveyed say this cut would cause their health to suffer and just under half said they would probably not be able to return to work as quickly. We urge MPs from all parties to act –at a time when 1 in 3 households with a disabled member are living in poverty – and halt this cut immediately.”
1. Action for Blind People
2. Action Duchenne
3. Action for M.E.
4. Action on Hearing Loss
5. Advice UK
7. Age UK
8. Ambitious about Autism
9. Arthritis Care
10. Arthritis Research UK
12. British Lung Foundation
13. Capability Scotland
14. Carers UK
15. Child Poverty Action Group
16. Citizens Advice
17. CLIC Sargent
18. Contact a Family
19. Council for Disabled Children
20. Crohn’s and Colitis UK
21. Cystic Fibrosis Trust
22. Deafblind UK
23. Dimensions UK
24. Disability Agenda Scotland
25. Disability Rights UK
26. Down’s Syndrome Association
27. ENABLE Scotland
28. Epilepsy Society
29. Epilepsy Action
30. Equalities National Council
31. Guide Dogs
32. Haemophilia Society
34. Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland (the ALLIANCE)
35. Inclusion London
37. Leonard Cheshire Disability
40. Motor Neurone Disease (MND) Association
41. MS Society
42. Muscular Dystrophy UK
43. Multiple System Atrophy (MSA) Trust
44. Myeloma UK
45. National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society
46. National AIDS Trust
47. National Autistic Society (NAS)
48. National Children’s Bureau
49. National Deaf Children’s Society
50. National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society
52. Papworth Trust
53. Parkinson’s UK
54. Rethink Mental Illness
55. Royal British Legion
56. Royal College of Psychiatrists
57. Royal Mencap Society
58. Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB)
59. RSI Action
61. Scottish Association for Mental Health
62. Spina bifida Hydrocephalus Information Networking Equality (SHINE)
64. Sense Scotland
65. St Joseph’s Hospice
66. The Stroke Association
67. Sue Ryder
68. Terrence Higgins Trust
69. Thomas Pocklington Trust
70. Together For Short Lives
71. Transport for All
74. Zacchaeus 2000 Trust