Last night the House of Lords defeated Government proposals to cut the benefits of people with illness and disabilities who are trying to move towards the workplace.

Peers voted against cutting £30 a week from the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) by 283 votes to 198.

This proposed reduction of ESA for future claimants in the Work-Related Activity Group (ESA WRAG), is part of Government plans to cut benefits in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, which is reaching the final stages of passing through Parliament before it becomes law.

The Government believes that cutting disabled people’s benefits in this way will incentivise them to find work, and help to achieve their manifesto commitment of halving the disability employment gap.

Cuts will make life harder for disabled jobseekers

United Response has been campaigning against cuts to ESA WRAG since the autumn, as part of the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC).

We believe that, far from incentivising sick and disabled people to return to the work place, the proposed cuts will actually make it harder for these people to return to work-related-activity.

Over the last few months we have heard from disabled people about how the extra £30 a week they receive helps them to afford to move towards work-related-activity. Without it, many disabled people feel that they would be far less likely to take steps towards employment.

We also promoted a parliamentary review into the Government’s proposed reduction to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), and its impact on halving the disability employment gap.

Increase employment support for disabled jobseekers rather than cut benefits

As recommended by this review, United Response believes that, rather than cut benefits for the ESA-WRAG group, improvements should be made to the support disabled people receive to get into employment via Government Employment Programmes.

It is concerning that at the same time as proposing these cuts to benefits for disabled jobseekers, the Government also decided to ignore the advice of the Work and Pensions Committee’s Welfare to Work Report  published in October last year.

A specialist employment scheme is necessary

This report called for the Government to expand a separate, specialist employment scheme (like Work Choice) for people with substantial disabilities.

The Committee urged the Government to maintain, or ideally expand, a separate, voluntary scheme, available to people with substantial disabilities regardless of whether they are claiming out-of-work benefits.

Just over a month after the DWP Committee published its findings, the Government chose to ignore this key advice on tailoring and expanding Work Choice as a separate, specialised programme to help more hard-to-reach disabled people find work.

Tucked away in the detail of the last November’s Comprehensive Spending Review
was an announcement that the Work Programme and Work Choice are to be combined into a single Work & Health Programme from 2017.

United Response is currently raising questions with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) about how the Work and Health Programme announced in the 2015 Comprehensive Spending Review, is going to maintain or expand support for disabled people to move into the workplace. We await their response.

What’s next and how can you help?

It is unclear whether the Government will use its majority to try to overturn last night’s decision when the Welfare Reform and Work Bill returns to the House of Commons.

United Response will be monitoring the progress of the Bill, and keeping across any developments when MPs consider these latest changes.

If you’re concerned about any of these changes to benefits, or how disabled people are supported into work, you can write to your local MP.

Find out who your MP is and how you can contact them to voice your concerns.

Find your MP

You can also follow United Response on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date on our campaigning work.

John J C Cooper, Campaigns and public affairs manager