United Response’s, News Correspondent, David Allkins is investigating how the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, due for its second reading in the House of Lords next week, will impact on disabled people, particularly those with a learning disability.The Government’s target of cutting £12 billion from the welfare budget will see savings made in the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review and The Welfare Reform and Work Bill.

News Correspondent, David Allkins, who himself has Asperger’s syndrome and communication difficulties, understands the importance of working-age benefits and how they can help and the vital support they offer to people with disabilities seeking work.

As part of his investigation, David will be attending the joint meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Learning Disability and APPG on Disability and Learning Disability, at the House of Commons, on Thursday 5th November. The aim of the combined APPGs meeting is to provide a platform for disabled people and representatives from the social care sector to express their concerns about the Bill’s proposed cuts to working-age benefits, directly to the Minister of State for Disabled People, The Rt. Hon. Justin Tomlinson MP.

Of particular concern to David is the cut of approximately £30 a week for new claimants who fall within the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) Work Related Activity Group (WRAG), bringing it in line with the amount received by unemployed claimants of Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA). The Government has suggested that the ESA WRAG benefit holds people back from finding work and hence their plans to reduce the benefit for all new claimants by April 2017.

Ahead of the APPG, News Correspondent David Allkins, took the opportunity to ask the Minister to clarify this point.

The Minister responded by saying:

“The reason the work-related activity component was introduced in the first place was to act as an incentive to encourage people to participate in work-related activity and therefore return to employment quicker – but it hasn’t worked. Only around 1% of people in the work-related activity group leave the benefit each month, indicating the existing policy is not working as intended and is failing claimants.”

He went on to explain:

“I believe that the vast majority of disabled people – just like most non-disabled people – want the right support, not a system which traps them on benefits. Previously someone placed in the Work-Related Activity Group would receive more money every week than a person on Jobseekers Allowance, but get nothing like the help to find suitable employment. We have committed to provide up to £100m per year to give people in the Work-Related Activity Group practical support when looking for work. In my view this will provide the right incentives and help people move closer to the labour market and when they are ready, back into work.”

David put the same question to Shadow Minister of Disabled People, Debbie Abrahams, asking for her thoughts on how disabled people who are in receipt of ESA will be incentivised to work after the WRAG element (£30) is removed from this government benefit.

The Shadow Minister responded by saying:

“The Government’s own impact assessment estimates that approximately 500,000 disabled people and their families will be affected by the cut to the ESA WRAG, there is no analysis of the impact this will have on the disabled people who will be pushed into poverty.

Some £640 million is being withdrawn from people in the ESA WRAG, while £100 million is meant, in some undisclosed manner, to provide support. There is no information from the Government on how that will support disabled people back into work. This cut will not ‘incentivise’ people into work. If the Government were serious about supporting disabled people into work, there would be measures in place to support those disabled people who are able to work into work.

All we know from the Government’s impact assessment is that by 2020-21, approximately £640 million a year will have been cut from social security support for disabled people—on top of the £23.8 billion of support that has already been taken from them—and that £100 million a year will be provided in unspecified support to help them into work. That is a disgrace; disabled people deserve much better.”

News Correspondent David Allkins investigates and reports on behalf of the 2,500 people with learning disabilities and autism, physical disabilities and mental health needs within United Response’s supported living, outreach services and employment services and on behalf of the wider community of disabled people. Their concern is that this proposed legislation fails to recognise the additional costs that many people with disabilities incur as a direct result of their disabilities, and therefore the detrimental effect that cutting this benefit could have on a claimant’s financial ability to take part in activities that could lead to work.

A good example of how the WRAG component of ESA is currently used, is of a young man in his twenties, living in a rural area, with very limited access to public transport. Due to the young man’s disability he finds using public transport very stressful and so his family, particularly his mother, plays a key role in enabling him to access work experience or placements by driving him to and from work. The cut in ESA WRAG benefits would have a direct effect on this young man’s ability to access work opportunities, as he would not be able to pay for the extra cost of having someone to drive him to his training.

Through its services, United Response, helps people to make choices about their lives, regardless of their level of disability. This includes supporting people to become active members of their local communities and to take steps towards employment. As a result, 29 per cent of the people supported by the charity are engaged in some form of work-related activity, with almost as many again wanting to find work.

Diane Lightfoot, director of policy and communications said:

“Whilst we support the Government's commitment to halving the disability employment gap, we are concerned that measures that are intended to incentivise people to enter the workplace will have the opposite effect, as people with disabilities find that the financial support that they rely on to help them enter and remain in work is reduced.”

News Correspondent, David Allkins will give analyse of the combined APPG meeting in his next video report due on his dedicated YouTube channel on Friday.

Take a look at David's YouTube playlist