The government’s proposed cut of £30 per week to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) will have a detrimental impact on people with mental ill health, learning disabilities or autism and directly contradict the government’s aim of getting more disabled people into work, a Parliamentary Review has found.
The review, which includes evidence from charities and disabled people, led by independent crossbench peers Lord Low, Baroness Meacher and Baroness Grey-Thompson, found that the cut will hinder not help the government’s aim to get more disabled people into work.
The review contains evidence from a range of sources highlighting the danger of this cut to ESA for future claimants in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG). Currently there are close to half a million people with disabilities in this group, 241,000 of which have mental health problems, a learning disability or autism. All have been found currently unfit for work.
The Review found that the government has offered no credible evidence to support their view that cutting this benefit will ‘incentivise’ disabled people to get into work. In fact, disabled people responding the review overwhelming said that such a cut would lead to a worsening of health conditions, particularly mental health as they are pushed further into poverty and as such are less likely to be able to take steps toward work.
This review is timely as the cut is being debated in the House of Lords as part of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill on Wednesday, December 9. Politicians from across all parties have expressed concern on this cut and that it would negatively affect sick and disabled people.
The Review highlights concerns of how a cut to ESA-WRAG would lead to:
• People unable to undertake ‘work related activity’ such as training, volunteering, travel to work-focused interviews and so on
• Worsening health conditions caused anxiety and stress from not being able to pay bills, medication and in some cases clothes and food
• Have a negative impact on their health
• Social isolation and not having the ability to leave their homes and access their community
• Additional costs to the NHS and social care services for those whose health deteriorates from the reduced support from benefits they receive.
This adds to a recent survey of more than 500 disabled people that found that almost 70% of disabled people said proposed cuts to ESA would cause their health to suffer and 45% believed they may return to work later as a result of it. Additionally, 69% of people said they would struggle to pay their bills and 70% would struggle to maintain their independence.
Mental health and learning disabilities charities have called for the proposed cut to be abandoned.
Jan Tregelles, chief executive of Mencap, noted that the government had failed to carry out an assessment of the impact the cut would have on disabled people, adding: “This Review shows that the cut would directly hinder the Government’s desire to halve the disability employment gap, and instead push disabled people further away from employment, closer to poverty and actively harm people’s health.
“Cuts to people’s benefits are clearly having a huge impact on the lives of disabled people and with further cuts being planned the impact is only likely to get worse. We know from speaking to people with a learning disability and their families that they are very concerned that the cuts to benefits and social care are likely to leave people being left isolated in their own communities. We call on politicians from all sides to urgently assess this new evidence and ensure that they stop the harmful effects cutting ESA-WRAG will have on disabled people in the UK.”
Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, added: "Reducing the financial support available to people who cannot work because of illness or disability will make people’s lives even more difficult and will do nothing to help them return to work.
“People being supported by ESA receive a higher rate than those on JSA [Jobseeker’s Allowance] because they face additional barriers as a result of their illness or disability, and typically take longer to move into work. Almost 60% of people on JSA move off the benefit within 6 months, while almost 60% of people in the WRAG need this support for at least two years. It is unrealistic to expect people to survive on so little money per week for this length of time. We’re concerned that the impact of these changes will be felt by our overstretched NHS services, as these cuts hit individual’s mental health as well as their pockets.
“It is insulting and misguided to imply that ill and disabled people on ESA will be more likely to move into work if their benefits are cut. The vast majority of people with mental health problems want to work but face significant barriers as a result of the impact of their condition and the stigma they often face from employers."
Lord Low of Dalston, vice-chairman of RNIB, said: “The review finds no evidence that the £30 a week disabled people receive as part of ESA-WRAG is acting as a disincentive to work and thus there appears no justification for this reduction in payment.
“In fact our review found that the current ESA rate is already not enough to work as an income replacement considering that claimants are often, through no fault of their own, out of work for a considerable time. The government should halt this cut and instead introduce better and more personalised and tailored support to help disabled people who can work take steps to do so.”