Disability charities and peers have signed an open letter to Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith warning that the government’s plan to cut Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) by £30 per week will “push sick and disabled people further away from work and closer to poverty.”
This call, from more than 30 charities including Mencap, the National Autistic Society, Down’s Syndrome Association, ENABLE Scotland, Rethink Mental Illness and Mind comes ahead of a key debate this week in the House of Lords about the proposed cut.
Research from Mencap, co-chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC), has also revealed the extent to which the public are against the government’s cuts to welfare and the effect this will have on disabled people.
The general public poll by Populus of more than 2,000 UK adults revealed that 71% think cuts to welfare will make the UK a worse place for disabled people to live, while just 6% thought the Welfare Reform and Work Bill would make the UK a better place for disabled people.
The government has proposed a cut of £30-a-week for new claimants in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) of ESA. The WRAG provides support for those people who are assessed as being unfit for work but able to undertake activities to help them move towards work. Currently there are almost half a million sick and disabled people receiving this benefit.
But the government has suggested that sick and disabled people who get this benefit are being disincentivised from finding work because of the £30-a-week more they get compared to those on Jobseeker’s Allowance. The DBC strongly disputes this claim and a survey in October 2015 of more than 500 disabled people found the government’s claim to be false. Indeed, almost half (45%) of respondents said that the cut would probably mean they would return to work later, and just 1% said the cut would motivate them to get a job sooner.
The cut would be more likely to have an adverse impact on claimants, with 69% saying cuts to ESA would cause their health to suffer. In addition, 28% said they sometimes can’t afford to eat on the current amount they receive from ESA and 40% have become more isolated and less able to see friends or family after their ESA was withdrawn or reduced.
This warning comes one month after a review was published by 3 peers – Baroness Meacher, Baroness Grey-Thompson and Lord Low – which found “no evidence to suggest that disabled people can be incentivised into work by cutting their benefits.”
Jan Tregelles, chief executive of Mencap, which co-chairs the DBC, said: “Not only are disabled people telling us loud and clear that this cut to ESA will make their lives harder, with both their health and chances of returning to work being harmed, but we also see how the general public are deeply concerned by these cuts to disability benefits. The fact that just 6% of people believe the Welfare Reform and Work Bill will make the UK a better place for disabled people shows the urgent need for the government to rethink their proposed cuts.
“Disabled people have told us about the vital role played by benefits like ESA and how taking this support away would leave them isolated, closer to poverty and further from work. This should make the government listen, especially when this cut seriously undermines their plans to halve the employment gap experienced by disabled people.
“Ahead of this key vote in the House of Lords, we ask peers to consider what disabled people have said about how this will affect them, and urge the government to rethink this damaging cut in support for disabled people.”
Sam Jefferies, who has a learning disability and is on ESA WRAG, said he was “really worried” about benefit cuts. “Only 6% of people with a learning disability are currently in employment,” he added. “This number scares me as I, like a lot of people with a learning disability, really want to get a job; however, it is really hard to get work if you have a learning disability. Benefits are important to me because the money helps me to stay independent, if it was cut I’m worried that I’d become isolated.”