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Disabled people’s voices support Lords in defeating Government over ESA benefit cut

28 January 2016

Lords vote against the abolition of the work-related activity group component of Employment and Support Allowance for new claimants.

Yesterday, Lord Low (a DR UK Ambassador) introduced amendment 41 to remove clause 13 from the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, which was passed by 283 votes to 198, a majority of 85.

Clause 13 proposed the removal of the work-related activity group component from Employment and Support Allowance, worth £30 to claimants. 

During the debate Lord Low referred to work done by Disability Rights UK and other charities in support of this amendment - in particular an open letter from the Disability Benefits Consortium, which we were a signatory of and the 38 Degrees petition against the ESA cut, which DR UK set up and which has had over 100,000 signatures.

“…For all these reasons, the cut to ESA and the limited capability for work component of universal credit are the aspects of the Bill which are most feared by disabled people and the organisations which represent them. A 38 Degrees petition against the cuts was started about a week ago and at the last count had already attracted nearly 100,000 [now more] signatures. Some 36 disability organisations have written an open letter to Iain Duncan Smith calling for the cut to be halted.”

Disability Rights UK is opposed to clause 13 for the following reasons:

  • The proposal that people in the WRAG group should receive the same benefit as those on JSA would in effect take us back to the idea that either you ‘can work’ or you ‘can’t work’. Real life isn’t like that. You may have a health condition that means you may be able to do some work but not straight away. Research shows that Almost 60% of people on JSA move off the benefit within 6 months, while almost 60% of people in the WRAG remained on ESA for at least two years.  

  • It is a matter of principle that people out of work for long periods for health-related reasons should receive a different level of support from job seekers with no health conditions – because over time, additional expenditure is needed (on clothes, basic household equipment), and because disabled people’s costs are higher than non-disabled people’s. You cannot be expected to live on JSA levels for 2 years or more whilst struggling with health challenges.

  • There is no evidence that the payment of benefit is a disincentive and no grounds therefore for levelling benefits with those on JSA as a means to encourage more disabled people into work.

  • Cutting income from 5300 to 3800 would be catastrophic for individuals and families.

  • The Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) was introduced as that necessary middle ground: for people who did not immediately fit the ‘can work’ category because they faced challenges; but might be able to work in future. Removing the distinction between ESA WRAG and JSA, whilst retaining the Support Group would bring policy full circle – back to the days of either you ‘can work’ and live on JSA or you ‘can’t work’ (like the original group of people on Incapacity benefit). Government can do better than drive policy round in a circle.

  • A better way would be to improve the support available to people in the WRAG group and to influence systemic changes with employers, to overcome barriers to employment, for instance for people with mental health challenges and fluctuating conditions.