Proposed Changes to Out of Work Benefits to Hit Disabled People
Much of the political focus in the benefits debate in recent weeks has been on the Government’s proposed cuts to tax credits. Other, less heralded proposals will have just as significant an impact on disabled people and people with long term health conditions claiming out of work benefits.
In his July Budget speech, the Chancellor announced a change to the levels of payment for some people claiming Employment and Support Allowance, ESA, as part of his broader package designed to cut £12bn from the benefits budget. That change was contained in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, which has just passed through the Commons, and today, November 17th is having its second reading in the Lords.
People claiming ESA are placed in either the Work Related Activity Group, WRAG for short, in which case they are required to undertake activity which can help them prepare to return to work in the longer term, or in the Support Group, in which case they don’t have to meet such conditions.
People in the WRAG are currently paid nearly £30 per week more than people on Job Seekers Allowance, JSA, and slightly less than people in the Support Group. From April 2017, new ESA claimants placed in the WRAG group will be paid at the JSA rate.
The Government argues that this current system is not working, and that too few people are moving from WRAG to employment, only 90,000 between 2010 and 2015, because of what they see as a perverse financial incentive.
Based on our extensive experience of working with people applying for ESA, seAp Advocacy has a number of concerns about this change.
People in the Work Related Activity Group are not fit for work. They have passed through a strict Work Capability Assessment to qualify for ESA. Their primary need is for their health to improve, not for financial incentives to work. To get a sense of the hurdles a person has to jump over get into the WRAG, see our new website, here, which contains examples of the questions that get asked during the assessment process.
It’s also not just people who might get back to work at some point in the future who are in the WRAG. The nature of the Work Capability Assessment means that the group contains people with progressive conditions, who are not going to get better, but who do not yet, quite, qualify for the Support Group.
People on ESA are paid more than those on JSA because they are likely to be out of work for longer and because they are likely to face a number of higher daily living costs related to their health condition/disability. People hit by the proposed change will face an income drop of £1,500 per year in a situation in which they may already be in poverty, and in which they have little way of increasing their income.
seAp is not aware of evidence that cutting the amount of money paid to people in the WRAG will encourage anyone back to work. In fact, the change may create its own perverse incentives. People will be even keener to be placed in the Support Group rather than the WRAG, and even less likely to undertake any activity, for example voluntary work, which might place them at risk of being put into the WRAG.
What’s more, since the introduction of ESA, assessors and DWP decision makers have placed fewer and fewer people in the WRAG, as they have become more aware of the risks to health that inappropriate placement in this group may cause. This trend is likely to continue inn a situation in which they are aware that any people they place in the WRAG will also receive less cash.
The Government rejected amendments to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill relating to these proposals that were put forward in the Commons. seAp hopes that members of the Lords will propose their own amendments, and that the Government will consider them positively if they do.
About seAp’s Work on Benefits.
seAp, one of the UK’s leading advocacy organisations, is delivering two major pieces of work with people claiming ESA and Personal Independence Payment, PIP, the benefit for working age people with disabilities or long term health conditions, which is also reached through an assessment process.
seAp advocates in Hastings, East Sussex are accompanying claimants within assessments, helping them communicate to assessors about their situation, providing moral and psychological support and information, reducing the stress involved, and helping them to receive an appropriate outcome.
seAp are about to launch two websites, aimed at people going through the assessment processes for ESA and PIP. These are designed to give people information about the benefits they are applying for, help them understand the questions they will be asked, help them prepare for assessments, and assist them get an appropriate result. The beta, final draft, versions are here and here. Please feel free to visit them to get more information about the benefits, and to take a look at some of the questions which get asked at the assessments, for yourself. The websites have been funded by the Legal Education Foundation and Comic Relief.
Some statistics about ESA.
2,341,350 people were claiming ESA across the UK in May 2015, the latest month for which figures are available. 1,316,180 of those were in the Support Group, 476,500 in the WRAG, the remainder were in the process of having their case assessed.
ESA is claimed by:
- 1,125,370 people with a primary health condition relating to ‘mental and behavioural’ conditions, 48.1% of the total.
- 320,100 people with a primary health condition relating to ‘musculo-skeletal’ problems, 13.7% of the total.
- 145,980 people with a primary health condition relating to ‘diseases of the nervous system’, 6.2% of the total.
- 144,430 people with a primary health condition relating to ‘diseases of the circulatory and respiratory system’, 6.2% of the total.
- 115,990 people with a primary health condition relating to the results of ‘injury, poisoning and other external’ problems, 5.0% of the total.
- 489,480 people with a primary health condition relating to ‘musculo-skeletal’ problems, 20.9% of the total.