Yesterday, Lord Low of Dalston CBE launched a review into the Government’s proposed reduction to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), and its impact on halving the disability employment gap.

The Welfare Reform and Work Bill is currently being debated in Parliament. One of the Government’s proposals within the Bill is to reduce ESA for future claimants in the Work-Related Activity Group (ESA WRAG).

This means that all new claimants, sick and disabled people who are deemed ‘unfit for work’ and moved into this group from April 2017, would receive almost £30 less of their benefit per week than those people with the same conditions who are currently in this group.

The Government believes that this significant cut to benefits would incentivise sick and disabled people into looking for work. They also believe that this would then help them to achieve their manifesto commitment of halving the disability employment gap.

A moving launch

When looking at proposed legislation, statistics and debates in Westminster, it can be difficult to remember that real people stand to suffer significant and often deeply upsetting changes to their lives, which are already very challenging due to disability, mental health needs or long-term illness.

At the launch of the ESA Review, we heard very moving stories from three individuals about how these proposed cuts would affect them. Each speaker told the audience about their disabilities or mental health needs, their current struggles in daily life and how the cuts would make their lives more difficult.

From one speaker with mild learning disabilities who spoke about being able to afford to travel to a day centre to practise work-related activity, to another on the autistic spectrum who uses the £30 to get to group therapy and to supplement a specialised diet necessary to tackle the side effects of their medication, through to a third who struggles with wildly fluctuating mental stability, we heard how the £30 per week was vital for them to keep their heads above water and get by day to day.

Lord Low spoke about how his review into these cuts found that the proposals would actually hinder people’s ability to get back into the workplace and, vitally, would mean that people would be less likely to be able to undertake work-related activity such as training and volunteering; both essential stepping stones towards employment for many people we support.

The review recommends that, rather than cut benefits for the ESA-WRAG group, improvements should be made to the support people receive into employment. It also recommends that the Work and Health Programme announced in the 2015 Comprehensive Spending Review should be developed in collaboration with disabled people and disability organisations to ensure that the programme really is tailored and personalised for them.

What we are doing - and how you can help

At United Response, we are writing to the Government to request that we are involved in the Work and Health consultation taskforce to give input into how this programme is developed. We want to represent the people we support and ensure the Government’s new work scheme properly considers how to create greater employment outcomes for disabled people, and how to incentivise employers to tap the potential of this workforce.

We believe that individuals with learning disabilities, mental or physical support needs should have the opportunity to live their lives to the full. Rather than cutting essential benefits, we would urge the government to consider improving support to increase opportunities for them to find work.

If you are concerned about how this might affect you and those you support, we would urge you to write to your local MP at the House of Commons. You can find your local MP here and write to them by post (just write their name, then the address House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA), or email or tweet at them using the details provided on the website.

Find your local MP

If you would like to share any thoughts on how the Government should tailor its Work and Health Programme to meet the needs of disabled people who want to be supported into work, United Response would like to hear from you. Email us at [email protected] or click the button below.

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John JC Cooper, campaigns and public affairs manager.