National charities and Peers sign Open Letter calling on Government to stop £30-a-week ESA cut

Ahead of a key vote on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill next week in the House of Lords, over 30 national charities, members of the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC), have signed an open letter (below) to Iain Duncan Smith warning that the Government’s cut to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) will “push disabled people further away from work and closer to poverty.”

The Government has proposed a cut of £30-a-week for new claimants in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) of ESA. The WRAG is specifically there to provide support for those people who are assessed as being unfit for work but able to undertake activities to help them move towards work. Currently there are almost half a million sick and disabled people receiving this benefit.

The Government has however suggested that sick and disabled people who get this benefit are being disincentivised from finding work because of the £30-a-week more they get compared to those on Job Seeker’s Allowance. However the DBC strongly disputes this claim and a recent survey in October 2015 of over 500 disabled people found this to be completely false:

• Almost half (45%) of respondents say that the cut would probably mean they would return to work later
• Just 1% said the cut would motivate them to get a job sooner
• Almost 7 in 10 (69%) say cuts to ESA will cause their health to suffer
• More than a quarter (28%) say they sometimes can’t afford to eat on the current amount they receive from ESA
• 40% have become more isolated and less able to see friends or family after their ESA was withdrawn or reduced.

This warning comes just two weeks after 150 disabled people from across the country visited Parliament to speak directly to their MPs about their concerns around the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, particularly the cut to ESA. This DBC ‘mass lobby’ took place on Wednesday 13th January and acted to show MPs the huge fears that exist amongst disabled people around their benefits.

Research from Mencap, a co-chair of the DBC, has revealed the extent to which the public are against the Government’s cuts to welfare and the effect this will have on disabled people.

The general public poll of over 2,000 UK adults revealed that:

• 71% of people think cuts to welfare will make the UK a worse place for disabled people to live.
• Just 6% thought the Welfare Reform and Work Bill would make the UK a better place for disabled people.

Jan Tregelles, Chief Executive of Mencap, said:

“Not only are disabled people telling us loud and clear that this cut to ESA will make their lives harder, with both their health and chances of returning to work being harmed, we also see how the general public are deeply concerned with these cuts. The fact that just 6% of people believe the Welfare Reform and Work Bill will make the UK a better place for disabled people shows the need for the Government to reassess its benefits reforms.

“Disabled people have told us of the vital role support from benefits like ESA plays in their lives, and the fact that so many say that taking this support away would leave them isolated from their communities, closer to poverty and further from work should be enough to make the Government listen – especially when this cut directly contradicts its noble desire to halve the disability employment gap.

“Ahead of this key vote in the House of Lords we ask Peers to listen to disabled people’s deep concerns, and urge the Government not to create a step backwards for disabled people in our society.”

Sam Jefferies, who met with his local MP at the DBC lobby, and who has a learning disability and is on ESA WRAG, said:

“I am really worried about benefits cuts. Only 6% of people with a learning disability are currently in employment. This number scares me as I, like a lot of people with a learning disability, really want to get a job; however, it is really hard to get work if you have a learning disability. Benefits are important to me because the money helps me to stay independent, if it was cut I’m worried that I’d become isolated.”

Open Letter to Iain Duncan Smith:

“Dear Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, we believe the Government’s proposed cut to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) will undermine its commitment to halve the disability employment gap, and push sick and disabled people further away from work and closer to poverty.

“The Government committed to protecting disability benefits, but instead is pushing through a cut of £30 a week to new claimants in the Work Related Activity Group of ESA. These are sick and disabled people who have been found currently unable to work. The Government says this £30 disincentivises sick and disabled people from finding work, but it has so far offered no evidence for this claim. In fact a recent independent Review showed the opposite is true: that this cut will make it harder for disabled people to find work.

“Almost 70% of sick and disabled people we surveyed say this cut to ESA would cause their health to suffer and just under half said they would not be able to return to work so quickly. We call on the Government to listen to the damaging effect this will have on the lives of sick and disabled people and immediately halt this cut.”

Signed:
1. Lord Low of Dalston CBE
2. Baroness Grey-Thompson DBE
3. Baroness Meacher
4. Jan Tregelles, Chief Executive of Mencap
5. Steve Ford, Chief Executive of Parkinson’s UK
6. Michelle Mitchell OBE, Chief Executive of the MS Society
7. Lesley-Anne Alexander CBE, Chief Executive of RNIB
8. Mark Lever, Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society
9. Mark Winstanley, Chief Executive of Rethink Mental Illness
10. Paul Farmer CBE, Chief Executive of Mind
11. Lynda Thomas, Chief Executive of Macmillan Cancer Support
12. Liz Sayce, Chief Executive of Disability Rights UK
13. Heléna Herklots, Chief Executive of Carers UK
14. Gillian Morbey OBE, Chief Executive of Sense
15. Richard Leaman CB OBE, Chief Executive of Guide Dogs
16. Paul Breckell, Chief Executive of Action on Hearing Loss
17. Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group
18. Amanda Batten, Chief Executive of Contact a Family
19. Deborah Gold, Chief Executive of National AIDS Trust
20. Jackie Morton, Chief Executive of Terrence Higgins Trust
21. Carol Boys, Chief Executive of Down’s Syndrome Association
22. Jeff Skipp, Chief Executive of Deafblind UK
23. Sonya Chowdhury, Chief Executive of Action for M.E.
24. Dr Adrian James, Registrar of the Royal College of Psychiatrists
25. Philip Lee, Chief Executive of Epilepsy Action
26. David Barker, Chief Executive of Crohn’s & Colitis UK
27. Debbie Cook, Chief Executive of National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society
28. Stephen Fisher, Chair of RSI Action
29. Paul Lenihan MBE, Chief Executive of Action Duchenne
30. Dave Webber, Chief Executive of Livability
31. Chris Simmonds, Chief Executive of Revitalise
32. Tanya Marlow, Founder of Compassionate Britain
33. Peter Corbett, Chief Executive of Thomas Pocklington Trust
34. Theresa Shearer, Chief Executive of ENABLE Scotland
35. Teresa Catto-Smith, Founder of Autism in Scotland
36. Billy Watson, Chief Executive of Scottish Association for Mental Health
37. Ian Welsh, Chief Executive of Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland

-ENDS-

For further information or to arrange interviews, please contact the Mencap press office on 020 7696 5414 or media@mencap.org.uk

PIP announcements – charities respond

Today the first official independent review of the troubled disability benefit, Personal Independence Payment (PIP), has been released.

Meanwhile, the government has released the latest statistics on how the benefit is being rolled out.

Claire Nurden, Senior Policy Officer and co-chair of DBC, said:

“This review highlights that Personal Independence Payment is not yet fit for purpose. People are facing serious delays of more than a year in some cases, and claimants are finding the process confusing. Too often, they cannot get the information they need to understand what they need to do. This is causing unnecessary stress. Processes for collecting essential information about claims are not working properly.  In some cases, disabled people are being forced to go through another assessment for the benefit years before they were originally told they would have to re-apply.

More than 4 in 10 people are still waiting for their PIP claim to be fully processed. Many of those left waiting, or those who have received an incorrect decision, are left in financial turmoil, isolated and unable to access the support they need, like transport to hospital appointments, wheelchairs or help around the home.

Alarm bells need to ring in Government. Urgent work must be done to improve the process. The test must not be extended to more people until it is proven that these problems have been addressed”.

Government in court over disability benefit changes

Court proceedings will begin in Birmingham today to determine whether the Government’s decision to change the eligibility criteria for the disability benefit Personal Independence Payment (PIP) was unlawful.

At the end of 2012 the DWP announced, with no consultation, that the distance people would need to walk in order to qualify for the highest rate of the mobility part of the benefit would change from 50 metres, to just 20 metres.

Now, if disabled people can walk more than 20 metres – even using aids such as sticks – they will no longer qualify for the highest rate of the benefit.

The change could mean a loss of over £33 a week or access to a Motability vehicle, electric wheelchair or mobility scooter – which many use to get to work, college or medical appointments. Government projections show that over half a million people are set to lose out under the new rules (1).

The Disability Benefits Consortium – a coalition of more than 50 UK charities campaigning for a fairer welfare system – has branded the change “life shattering” for disabled people.

Following public pressure, and the start of this judicial review, the Government consulted on the eligibility change last summer; out of more than 1,100 responses received, only five were in favour of the new criteria. Despite this, proceedings have continued and disabled people in certain parts of the UK are to be called, or have already been called, for assessments using the new test.

Lawyers will argue on 9 July that the government failed to carry out a fair consultation before making their decision to adopt the new test for the mobility component of PIP. They’ll say that, by the time the consultation was carried out last year, decisions about how the rest of the scheme would work had already been made, and committed to financially, leaving little scope to make any changes – no matter how people responded.

Claire Nurden, Co-Chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium and Senior Policy & Campaigns Officer at the MS Society, said:

“We have already seen how the Government have failed to listen to concerns about the introduction of PIP, resulting in major delays and devastating impacts on the lives of disabled people. This is yet another example of how grave concerns have been ignored and will have life-shattering results.

“PIP is intended to help those most in need but it is exactly these people that are set to lose. The 20 metre rule is arbitrary; it’s inconsistent with guidance used for the last 35 years which suggests that 50 metres is a more appropriate measure of significant mobility impairment. The Government has presented no new evidence to justify the change.

She continued: “This money is an absolute life line for people – many use it for a Motability vehicle so they can continue to remain independent, travelling to work or medical appointments, or picking up the children from school.

“We have been overwhelmed by the response we’ve had from disabled people who are terrified about what this rule will mean for them. We hope the court case finds the decision unlawful. It is vital that this prompts the government to reinstate the 50 metre qualifying distance.”

The Disability Benefits Consortium also claims the government has failed to justify the decision to change the distance. Claire Nurden added: “The government have argued that the change is justified because the test considers whether people can complete the distance ‘reliably’, but this fails to address the issue because those who can walk between 20 and 50 metres will still lose out.”

This court case is the latest in a series of issues the DWP have experienced with the new disability benefit, the most notable being long delays for new applicants and face to face assessments – with some people waiting up to a year for a decision on whether or not they’re eligible.

The court case begins on 9 July and is expected to last two days, with a decision at a later date.

The Disability Benefits Consortium is a coalition of more than 50 charities and other organisations, including the MS Society, Parkinson’s UK and Disability Rights UK, committed to working towards a fairer benefits system.

Notes to editors
(1) Table 4, P 46, The Government’s response to the consultation on the PIP assessment Moving around activity

Hardest Hit campaign response to Government plans for £10 billion further welfare cuts

The Hardest Hit campaign has responded to the news that the Chancellor has said that the Government is to press ahead with plans to slash an extra £10 billion from the welfare budget by 2016-17. The Hardest Hit campaign is organised jointly by the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) and the UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC). Continue reading