The government’s decision to ignore pleas from the House of Lords to halt cuts to the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) marks “a step backwards for disabled people”, according to the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC).
The House of Lords had twice defeated the government over its plans to cut £30 per week from the WRAG of ESA – making it the same amount as Jobseeker’s Allowance – arguing for an impact assessment to be carried out before any decision was made. People in the WRAG of ESA have been assessed as being currently unfit for work, but with support could return in the future.
However, the Speaker of the House of Commons attached a ‘financial privilege’ to the Bill, which the Commons can use to overrule any proposal from the House of Lords that has a cost implication.
During the debate on Monday evening, independent crossbench peer Lord Low of Dalston warned that “this was a black day for disabled people.”
He added: “The Commons have spoken decisively and we must now bow to their wishes, but we do so under protest.”
The DBC, a coalition of more than 60 national charities including Mencap, Ambitious About Autism, Dimensions, Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, has decried the decision, and pointed to a survey from October 2015 of more than 500 disabled people that found that only 1% said a cut would motivate them to get a job sooner. More worryingly, 69% said cuts to ESA will cause their health to suffer and 28% said they sometimes can’t afford to eat on the current amount they receive from ESA.
Rob Holland, parliamentary manager at Mencap and co-chair of the DBC said: “The cuts to Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit mark a step backwards for disabled people and their families many of whom live in poverty and struggle to make ends meet.
“The government is pushing ahead with the cut in spite of widespread opposition from all 60 members of the Disability Benefits Consortium, disabled people, the general public, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and MPs and Peers from across all parties warning that the cuts will push disabled people closer to poverty and further from the workplace.
“Many disabled people will feel betrayed that a government which had promised not to cut disability benefits has now pushed this cut through without showing any real understanding of the damaging effects it will have on people’s health, finances and ability to find work. The cut will see many new claimants from April 2017 lose £30 a week or £1,500 a year.
“We do not accept the government's reasoning that cutting disabled people's benefits will 'incentivise' them to look for work, the barriers are much more complex than that.
“In fact we believe that removing disabled people's support will hinder not help their employment opportunities, and directly undermine the government’s desire to halve the disability employment gap.”