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Benefit cuts: it’s all in the detail

Sarah Radcliffe
25th January 2016

This Wednesday the House of Lords will be voting on two vitally important amendments to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill. If these amendments are not accepted it will mean that future claimants of Employment and Support Allowance (Work Related Activity Group) will face a £30 a week cut to their income.

ESA provides a basic income to those who are unable to work because of health or disability-related barriers. To get ESA-WRAG you must have serious, long-term health problem and have been found not ‘fit for work’ following a Work Capability Assessment. Yet this potentially devastating cut has had limited public attention. 

One of the reasons for this is that benefits policy is very complex – and becoming more and more so (just try reading about Universal Credit). 

The first stumbling block is the language used. Being in the ESA ‘work-related activity group’ (WRAG) doesn’t mean you have been found fit for work – in fact it means the opposite. Very confusing for the person on the street (and to journalists).  Indeed, a busy MP who glanced at the Welfare Reform and Work Bill may be forgiven for thinking that benefits were only being reduced for those who don’t face health-related barriers to work.

In fact, people in the WRAG have been through the Work Capability Assessment, which has a notoriously high threshold, and found to have ‘limited capability for work’ at present.  To give some examples, to be found eligible for the WRAG, someone living with HIV will have been found to meet one of the following criteria (quoted from the assessment):

  • At least once a month experiences loss of control leading to extensive evacuation of the bowel and/or voiding of the bladder.

          or

  • Cannot mobilise more than 100 metres on level ground without stopping in order to avoid significant discomfort or exhaustion AND Is unable to get to a specified place with which the claimant is unfamiliar without being accompanied by another person.

          or

  • There would be “substantial risk to the mental or physical health of any person if the claimant were found not to have limited capability for work.”

NAT stands in opposition to cutting benefit payments to people on ESA-WRAG. And we hope the amendments to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill are successful so people who are ill or disabled aren’t financial punished. 

For this reason, we have joined more than 30 other organisations in writing an open letter to Iain Duncan Smith, calling for the cut to be reversed. You can see the full letter below.

Dear Secretary of State for Work and Pensions,

We believe the Government’s proposed cut to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) will undermine its commitment to halve the disability employment gap, and push sick and disabled people further away from work and closer to poverty.

The Government committed to protecting disability benefits, but instead is pushing through a cut of £30 a week to new claimants in the Work Related Activity Group of ESA. These are sick and disabled people who have been found currently unable to work. The Government says this £30 disincentivises sick and disabled people from finding work, but it has so far offered no evidence for this claim. In fact a recent independent Review showed the opposite is true: that this cut will make it harder for disabled people to find work.

Almost 70% of sick and disabled people we surveyed say this cut to ESA would cause their health to suffer and just under half said they would not be able to return to work so quickly. We call on the Government to listen to the damaging effect this will have on the lives of sick and disabled people and immediately halt this cut.”

Signed:

1.   Lord Low of Dalston CBE

2.   Baroness Grey-Thompson DBE

3.  Baroness Meacher

4.   Jan Tregelles, Chief Executive of Mencap

5.  Steve Ford, Chief Executive of Parkinson's UK

6.  Michelle Mitchell OBE, Chief Executive of the MS Society

7.  Lesley-Anne Alexander CBE, Chief Executive of RNIB

8.  Mark Lever, Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society

9.  Mark Winstanley, Chief Executive of Rethink Mental Illness 

10. Paul Farmer CBE, Chief Executive of Mind

11. Lynda Thomas, Chief Executive of Macmillan Cancer Support

12. Liz Sayce, Chief Executive of Disability Rights UK

13. Heléna Herklots, Chief Executive of Carers UK

14. Gillian Morbey OBE, Chief Executive of Sense

15. Richard Leaman CB OBE, Chief Executive of Guide Dogs

16. Paul Breckell, Chief Executive of Action on Hearing Loss

17. Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group

18. Amanda Batten, Chief Executive of Contact a Family

19. Deborah Gold, Chief Executive of National AIDS Trust

20. Jackie Morton, Chief Executive of Terrence Higgins Trust

21. Carol Boys, Chief Executive of Down’s Syndrome Association

22. Jeff Skipp, Chief Executive of Deafblind UK

23. Sonya Chowdhury, Chief Executive of Action for M.E.

24. Dr Adrian James, Registrar of the Royal College of Psychiatrists

25. Philip Lee, Chief Executive of Epilepsy Action

26. David Barker, Chief Executive of Crohn's & Colitis UK

27. Debbie Cook, Chief Executive of National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society

28. Stephen Fisher, Chair of RSI Action

29. Paul Lenihan MBE, Chief Executive of Action Duchenne

30. Dave Webber, Chief Executive of Livability

31. Chris Simmonds, Chief Executive of Revitalise

32. Tanya Marlow, Founder of Compassionate Britain

33. Peter Corbett, Chief Executive of Thomas Pocklington Trust

34. Theresa Shearer, Chief Executive of ENABLE Scotland

35. Teresa Catto-Smith, Founder of Autism in Scotland

36. Billy Watson, Chief Executive of Scottish Association for Mental Health

37. Ian Welsh, Chief Executive of Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland

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