Employment Support Allowance

The Government’s planned cuts to financial support for new claimants in the Work Related Activity Group of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) are wrong. Many people with long-term conditions such as mental health problems, Parkinsons, cancer and MS need proper financial support.

I sympathise profoundly with all those affected.

I share the very many concerns that have been raised with me about the Government’s changes to WRAG, which would see the level of support for new claimants in WRAG cut by around £30 a week from April 2017. I oppose this unfair and unjust measure, as it will hurt vulnerable people who are experiencing serious illnesses and are in and out of work intermittently.

The government changes risk 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 and support to return to work and potentially increase social security costs.

A number of charities and disability groups have expressed serious concern about this proposal, including Macmillan Cancer Support who state that thousands of people will see a significant drop in support at some point during their cancer journey. Macmillan have also published research which stated that 10% of those surveyed living with cancer said they would be unable, or would struggle, to pay their rent or mortgage if they lost £30 a week. I share Macmillan’s concerns and fear that a reduction in the level of support cancer patients receive could be detrimental to their wellbeing.

The costs of social security need to be fair so that support can be there for people who need it. The Government does not understand the reality of these changes, the impact it will have on sick and disabled people or the perverse incentives it will create.

I voted against the Welfare Reform and Work Bill in its entirety at Report Stage and Third Reading, as well as supporting my Shadow Frontbench colleague’s amendments to remove this proposal from the Bill.

The Government was defeated in the House of Lords over these plans by 283 votes to 198.

As Shadow Mental Health Minister, I joined the shadow Department for Work and Pensions Team for DWP Questions on February 1 to ask Ministers to abandon their plans to cut support for sick and disabled people including those with mental health problems. You can see the video of the question here.

I will continue to oppose these plans when the Bill returns to the House of Commons. I sincerely hope that the government will listen carefully to the many representations made and the outcome of the vote in the House of Lords.