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DR UK Ambassador Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson speaks out against cut to ESA

13 January 2016

Cross-bench peer Tanni Grey Thompson has written an article in Today’s Times – on the day disabled people are lobbying their MPs in Parliament.

Link to edited Times article

Tanni's full unedited article

The government says it wants to see more disabled people in paid work and halve the disability employment gap, an aspiration I applaud.

One way not to do it, however, is to cut people’s benefit. This is one of a number of proposals (which will make life more difficult for disabled people) in the new Welfare Reform and Work Bill.

People who are disabled or have long term health conditions which prevent them from currently working are eligible to claim Employment and Support Allowance of just over £100 a week. If they’re deemed to be capable of work in the future, they’re placed in the work related activity group (WRAG).

But from April 2017, new claimants who are placed in the WRAG could see the rate drop from £5,300 a year to £3,800, a reduction of 30%. They’ll get nearly £30 a week less than current claimants – for people who are already poor, it could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

The government’s logic? If benefits are less generous, people are more likely to have an incentive to find a job. Unfortunately for government, a review I sat on last year showed this not to be the case.

Actually, people are less likely to be successful in their job hunting if you drive them further into poverty. They’re more likely to be worried about money, and have fewer resources to fund job hunting tools such as covering phone and broadband bills.

Most disabled people want to work. There are a myriad of ways the government could help them.

We need a better route to supporting people who become disabled whilst they are still in a job. If individuals, and the companies they work for, got the right help at the right time, fewer people would be forced to leave the workplace because of ill health.

And we need schemes which properly support those who want to work, rather than the government’s discredited Work Programme, which has cost the tax payer tens of millions of pounds for very scant return.

Mentoring programmes (by disabled people, for disabled people) like the ones run by Disability Rights UK, for example; and individual, tailored plans for jobseekers. These types of initiatives make a real difference to people’s ability to get and keep a job.

It’s a false economy to cut benefits for people who are already poor. We can make savings to the welfare budget, and improve disabled people’s job prospects, by investing in schemes which genuinely support disabled people into work; that’s where the government should be concentrating its fire.

Tanni Grey Thompson DBE is a crossbench peer in the House of Lords and ambassador for Disability Rights UK.