DISABILITY campaigners and organisations have today presented the Government with an invoice for £1,500 – the amount each new claimant of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) could lose out on per year if planned cuts go ahead as planned this April.
Joined by MPs including Debbie Abrahams, Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Heidi Allen (Conservative), Neil Gray (SNP) and Lord Low, protestors gathered outside the Department for Work and Pensions, Treasury and Houses of Parliament in an 11th hour call for the Government to reassess the £30-a-week cut to the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) of ESA.
Cuts to ESA WRAG, which will begin in April, are the latest cuts to disability benefits, which the Government claimed with no robust evidence will ‘incentivise’ disabled people to find work.
Research, however, by The Disability Benefits Consortium contradicts Government claims, showing these cuts will push disabled people away from work:
- Almost 7 in 10 (69%) disabled people say cuts to ESA will cause their health to suffer
- More than a quarter (28%) disabled people say they sometimes can’t afford to eat on the current amount they receive from ESA
- Almost half (45%) of disabled people say that the cut would probably mean they would return to work later
- 1% said the cut would motivate them to get a job sooner
Campaigners calls were echoed as disability organisations, including Mencap, Leonard Cheshire and Scope, have all signed an open letter to Prime Minister Theresa May calling for an urgent halt of the cuts.
Michelle Ornstein, has a learning disability and is currently receiving ESA. She said:
“If the cuts go ahead, I’m worried about what will happen.
“I have anxiety and the money I receive helps me to be able to get out of the house and do things. If I don’t have that money anymore, I’m worried that I won’t be able to go out.
“We want to tell the Government to stop the cuts.
“It’s already hard enough for people with disabilities to find work and if they have less money, it will make it even harder to look for a job or go to interviews.
“People with disabilities are already fighting so hard in their communities to find work and the Government should be helping them instead of taking money away.”
Rob Holland, Parliamentary Manager at learning disability charity Mencap, said:
“This Government has serious questions to answer as to why they have repeatedly looked to disabled people as targets of their austerity.
“Cuts to ESA and changes to PIP have been met with universal opposition from disability organisations and MPs across all parties, with real warnings that the cuts will push disabled people closer to or further into poverty.
“The Government’s claim that cuts to ESA WRAG will incentivise disabled people to find work has been found to be ‘ambiguous at best’.
“All of the evidence in fact points to just how damaging these cuts will be.
“They will leave disabled people struggling to make ends meet, to maintain their health, and ultimately, pushed further to the corners of society rather than helping them move towards work.
“The Government must take action and curb the pattern that has seen people with a disability repeatedly hit by cuts making life harder and harder. Instead of targeting disabled people, we urge the Government to refocus on providing better opportunities for people with a learning disability to get in to work.”
Campaigners’ Open letter
“Dear Prime Minister,
“We urge the Government to reconsider the £30-a-week cut to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Universal Credit facing sick and disabled people. The cut has caused deep concern among the sector and unease among MPs from all parties and we remain united as a sector in our opposition.
“The cut to new claimants in the Work-Related Activity Group of ESA and within Universal Credit (UC) from 1st April 2017 will affect many people found currently ‘unfit for work’ but will also impact many disabled people in work and on low wages due to the way UC works.
“Almost 70% of sick and disabled people surveyed said this cut would cause their health to suffer and just under half said they would probably not be able to return to work as quickly, therefore undermining the Government’s attempts to halve the disability employment gap – something we wholeheartedly support.
“At a time when 1 in 3 households with a disabled member are living in poverty, £30 a week can be a huge loss in income. We therefore urge the Government to halt this cut immediately.”
Action on Hearing Loss
Arthritis Research UK
Baroness Campbell Chair Independent Living Strategy Group
Disability Agenda Scotland
Disability Rights UK
Leonard Cheshire Disability
National Autistic Society
Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance of grassroots Deaf and Disabled people’s organisations
Royal Mencap Society
Sir Bert Massie CBE, DL