The new welfare reform and work bill will be very damaging for disabled people. From April next year, new claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) who are placed in the work-related activity group (which means they are deemed likely to be able to work in the future) face a 30% cut – nearly £30 a week – compared to what existing claimants receive today.
The cut is estimated to produce annual savings of £640m by 2020-21, but at the cost of further hardship to disabled people who are already poor and, by definition, unable to work. It’s hard enough for existing ESA recipients to get by on £5,300 a year, but for new claimants to have to survive on just £3,800 is devastating.
There’s no logic in this proposal. That is why the Disability Benefits Consortiumhas organised a lobby of parliament on 13 January. The claim that disabled people are more likely to get a job if their benefit is cut doesn’t stand up. In fact a review I chaired for the House of Lords last year found that the opposite is true. What stops disabled people getting jobs is not the financial disincentive of ESA, but employer attitudes, individuals’ health, difficulties with public transport, as well as lack of qualifications, experience, confidence and job opportunities.
If the government wants to halve the current employment gap for disabled people it needs proper investment and support programmes that do what they are supposed to – a point made by Iain Duncan Smith in a speech last summer.
We need a more rigorous assessment of proposed cuts, which takes into account not just immediate savings to the welfare budget, but the impact on disabled people, as well as the knock-on effects on health and social services.
We need better support for disabled people who want to work. According to asurvey by Disability Rights UK, 78% of disabled people want a wider range of support options they could purchase, with the money paid to companies funded to provide government schemes. Better targeted resources mean better value for the taxpayer, and a lower welfare bill.
What we don’t need is yet another benefit cut – a cut that will drive some of the poorest households in the country into further poverty, that penalises people who are too sick and disabled to work, and that will make it harder for them to get the very jobs the government says it wants them to get.