Almost 70% of disabled people say proposed cuts to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) will cause their health to suffer and 45% believe they may return to work later as a result of it.
Additionally, in a survey of more than 500 disabled people, 69% said they would struggle to pay their bills and 70% would struggle to maintain their independence, according to research by the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) a coalition of 60 national disability charities including Mencap, MS Society, Parkinson’s UK, Leonard Cheshire Disability, Arthritis Research UK and RNIB.
The government has proposed a cut of around £30 a week to new claimants in the ESA Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) – cutting these individuals’ payments by about a third – from April 2017. ESA WRAG provides support for those people who are assessed as being unfit for work but are able to undertake training or other activities to move towards work, enabling them to be ready for the workplace if they are well enough.
Currently almost 500,000 sick and disabled people receive this benefit. The extra money individuals receive is in recognition that they are likely to be unemployed for a longer period of time than those receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance.
The government has suggested that people who get this benefit are being disincentivised from finding work because of the higher rate this group gets, and that cutting the benefit by £30 a week – to the same rate as Jobseeker’s Allowance – will encourage them to find work.
The DBC strongly disputes the government’s claim, saying the evidence shows that instead the cut will make it less likely individuals will return to work.
Indeed, more than half (57%) of people surveyed said the amount of ESA they currently receive is not enough to live on, with 28% saying they cannot afford to eat and 38% saying they are unable to heat their home. Additionally, 36% reported being trapped in their house as they couldn’t afford a taxi and 52% said they have struggled to stay healthy.
Jan Tregelles, chief executive of Mencap, which co-chairs the DBC, said: “These findings confirm the vital role support from benefits like ESA plays in the lives of disabled people, and shows how taking this support away would leave people isolated from their communities, closer to poverty, further from work and unable to live fulfilling lives.
“Crucially the survey shows that by reducing this benefit by £30 a week disabled people will be pushed further away from employment, contradicting the government’s desire to halve the disability employment gap and get more disabled people into work.
“We urge the government to immediately reassess the impact of benefits cuts on disabled people and their families. Benefits are being taken away, cut or frozen without adequate consideration of their effects on the people they exist to support. Coupled with cuts to social care, these benefit reductions risk creating a crisis for disabled people in the UK, forcing them into the corners of society and closer to poverty.”