Many people have contacted me recently regarding the government’s proposed cuts to financial support for new claimants in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
I share concerns about this proposal, which would see the level of support for new claimants in the WRAG cut by around £30 a week from April 2017. I oppose this measure, as it will hurt vulnerable people who through no fault of their own are experiencing serious illnesses and are in and out of work intermittently.
I also believe it risks creating a perverse incentive for people with health problems to be placed in the more expensive Support Group of ESA, thereby making is less likely they will receive help to return to work and potentially increasing social security costs.
I know that a number of disability and campaign groups have also expressed serious concern about this proposal, including Mind who have emphasised that of the 488,000 people currently in the WRAG, around 250,000 have a mental health problem. Parkinson’s UK have also warned that 8,000 people currently in the WRAG have progressive and incurable conditions such as Parkinson’s and MS, and Macmillan have said that thousands of people will see a significant drop in support at some point during their cancer journey.
The government does not understand the reality of these changes, the impact it will have on disabled people or the perverse incentives it will create.
I will be supporting a Shadow Frontbench amendment to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill to removal this proposal from the Bill.
I also agree that the government’s Work Programme – its flagship policy for getting people into work – is failing the ill and disabled.
The cost of ESA this year will be £4.5 billion higher than the government predicted in 2011, which is a result of both the failure of the Work Programme and the government’s inability to manage disability assessments. I believe that the government’s Work Capability Assessments now needs to be urgently reformed, focusing on the support people need to get into or return to work.
I will continue to press the government on this extremely important issue and that I will support efforts to remove this proposal from the Welfare Reform and Work Bill.