Battle lines have been drawn up at Westminster, and both sides have been bombarding each other with rhetoric over the Welfare Reform and Work Bill this week.

As a politically neutral charity, United Response must listen to Government and Opposition so as to judge exactly what these legislative proposals and subsequent amendments could mean for people we support. It seems both sides are committed to helping disabled people have the opportunity to live their lives to the full - but they say that the devil is in the detail.

Fresh from electoral victory in the summer, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith laid out his plans for the Welfare Reform and Work Bill. He said: “The current system discourages claimants from making the transition into work.”

The Bill legislates to cut a number of working age benefits, which disabled people and people with mental health needs are disproportionately likely to receive. In particular, there is a proposed cut of £30 per week for claimants in the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) Work Related Activity Group (WRAG).

The Government has stated that it believes this extra £30 is disincentivising sick and disabled people from working, even though these people have been found not fit for work by an independent assessor. As yet, the Government have presented no evidence to back up this assertion.

Let’s focus on the facts

During last night’s debate, newly appointed Shadow Minister for Disabled People Debbie Abrahams stood at the Dispatch Box for the first time. She didn’t waste any time outlining her view on this issue, stating: “On Second Reading, I conveyed my concerns about the Bill and, after a few weeks in Committee, I have not changed my opinion. I said then that I thought this is a wicked Bill, and I still feel that.”

United Response is a member of the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC), a coalition of charities committed to creating a fair benefits system that works for the most vulnerable people in society. The DBC recently conducted an in-depth survey of 500 disabled people about the Welfare Reform and Work Bill.

70% of these disabled people said that cuts to ESA-WRAG will cause their health to suffer.

50% said the cuts would mean that they return to work later.

People we support on ESA-WRAG use this extra £30 to get out and about to work-related activity. It can be used to pay for taxis or train fares, to take part in community activities, to get to medical appointments, or simply to top up unaffordable rent in a home that is safe.

Without this money, it seems logical to assume that disabled people who do want to move into the workplace might not have the same capability to do so.

It would seem that, rather than incentivising disabled people towards the workplace, these proposed cuts could very well disincentivise and even incapacitate some of the people we support.

Given a laudable manifesto promise to halve the disability employment gap, United Response would urge the Government to tread carefully and to ensure that all legislation is backed up by evidence before it is enacted, so as not to undermine this commitment.

At the same time, the Government must be given a chance to prove that this extra £30 per week really is preventing disabled people from getting into the workplace, and United Response is looking forward to hearing more detail about this.

Coming up: our report on the APPG on Disability

Next week, our News Correspondent David Allkins will be reporting from the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Disability, which will be discussing this Bill, and hearing from the Minister for Disabled People Justin Tomlinson.

On 5th November, we will attend the APPG meeting, and the Minister’s Private Office will provide a statement to United Response that answers the substantive question of how cutting this particular benefit will help disabled people get back into the workplace. David Allkins will also be posing the same question to Debbie Abrahams, and both answers will be included in his next video report for United Response.

David’s report will endeavour to get to the bottom of this matter, to clarify truth from rhetoric and to paint an accurate picture of what the Welfare Reform and Work Bill really means for the people we support.

John JC Cooper, campaigns and public affairs manager.