Learning disability charities have welcomed the House of Lords’ rejection of Government to reform employment and support allowance (ESA) for disabled young people (13th January 2012).

In the Lords, the Government was defeated in three aspects of its proposed reforms of ESA, including stopping disabled young people who have never worked, due to illness or disability, from receiving contributory ESA, which usually paid to those who have been paying National Insurance.The proposal to impose a 12-month limit for ESA claimants in the work-related activity group (WRAG) – meaning that after that time some people would not get ESA at all – was also voted down by Labour and independent peers, as well as some Liberal Democrats.

This was amended to increase the time limit to 2 years.Additionally, plans to means-test ESA for disabled people after only a year were rejected.Mark Goldring, Mencap’s chief executive, said: “We are delighted with the outcome of this vote, but it is now imperative that the Government acknowledges the strength of feeling on this issue and the important points raised by peers when the Bill goes back to the Commons.“The Government’s proposal to time-limit contributory ESA for those in the work related activity group (WRAG) completely undermines the very purpose of the benefit. The benefit was designed to better recognise the additional barriers that disabled people face in order to move towards and into work. By definition, those in the WRAG group still have ‘limited capability for work’.“Putting in placing arbitrary time limits is nothing more than a cost saving measure, which ignores the needs and challenges which many people with a disability face when trying to find employment.”Mark Lever, chief executive of the National Autistic Society (NAS), added: “We are concerned that the plan to means-test young people with autism and other disabilities for ESA as part of the Government’s cuts programme could result in thousands of vulnerable young people having no income of their own.“With 30% of people with disabilities already living below the poverty line, we urge the Government to take heed of the Lords’ decision and to ensure that no adults with autism and other disabilities are effectively written off.”    

However, speaking to the BBC, employment minister Chris Grayling the Government would seek to reverse the Lords’ amendments when the Bill comes back into the Commons.