moneyThe House of Commons voted against an amendment voted for by the House of Lords asking for a wide-ranging impact assessment on the impact of cutting the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) by £30 per week.

The Commons debate came after the government watchdog, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, warned the government’s current impact assessment on cuts to ESA WRAG contained “very little in the way of evidence” and “limited analysis.”

In the Commons debate, Minister for Employment, Priti Patel, said: “As we stated when we last debated the measures, the change [to ESA WRAG] is urgently needed to ensure that the right incentives—and, importantly, support—are available to help more people with disabilities and health conditions to move closer to, and into, employment. 

“We have experienced record employment levels and strong jobs growth over the past few years, but the benefits have bypassed the majority of those who are stuck on ESA. Only 1 in 100 ESA claimants in the WRAG moves off benefits each month, compared with 1 in 5 Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants.”

In response, Labour’s Neil Coyle said: “The government’s equalities watchdog has said that there is “very little in the way of evidence” to show that what the government are trying to do will support disabled people back into work. In the last five years, the number of working-age disabled people has fallen, and the government speak from a track record of failure. Are disabled people not right to be sceptical about what is about to happen? What direct evidence can the Minister offer about the support that will be delivered to disabled people?”

In response, Patel said: “We are optimistic… the White Paper will outline our plans to reform further the help to support people with health conditions and disabilities into work.

“A large body of evidence shows that work is good for physical and mental wellbeing. There is also a growing awareness, as I am sure all Members recognise, that long-term worklessness is harmful to both physical and mental health. Reform is therefore vital in itself, but we will go further. We are ambitious; we do not believe in writing people off. Importantly, we will ensure that the welfare system incentivises and supports people into employment.”

Rob Holland, parliamentary manager at learning disability charity Mencap, was disappointed at the news: “People with a learning disability and families will be deeply disappointed that the government has once again ignored the mounting evidence against cutting ESA and Universal Credit. Disabled people, the general public, charities, Peers and now the Equalities and Human Rights Commission have all warned that this cut needs to be reassessed.

“Despite this the Government are intent, based on little evidence, that taking away £1,500 a year from disabled people will incentivise them to find work. The mounting evidence suggests the opposite, that cutting Employment and Support Allowance will push disabled people further from work and closer to poverty.

“Instead the government should be focusing on changing employer attitudes, improving in-work support for both employers and disabled people and making the work programme work effectively.

“The Government needs to give an answer as to why they are refusing to act in the face of this opposition to disability benefit cuts, and why they feel it too much to carry out the full impact assessment that disabled people deserve.”