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Charities Urge Ministers To Drop Planned Cuts To The ESA WRAG

October 27, 2015

More than 60 national charities have called on ministers to drop controversial plans to cut £30 a week from the benefits of claimants forced to give up work through illness or serious accident, arguing it will make it harder for them to get a job in the future.

The chancellor George Osborne announced the proposed reduction to employment and support allowance (ESA) in the July budget, saying the cut would provide an incentive for claimants to return to work.

But charities say the near 30% cut in a benefit claimed by hundreds of thousands of sick and disabled people, including those with mental illness, cancer and Parkinson’s disease, will cause widespread hardship.

The Labour party has tabled an amendment to remove the proposed cut entirely during the third reading of the welfare bill in the Commons on Tuesday.

A straw poll survey by the Disability Benefits Consortium indicated that two-thirds of existing ESA claimants believe that the cut would cause their health to suffer, while almost half said it would delay their recovery – and their return to the job market.

Jan Tregelles, chief executive of Mencap, which co-chairs the consortium, said: “The survey shows that by reducing this benefit by £30 a week, disabled people will be pushed further away from employment, contradicting the government’s desire to halve the disability employment gap and get more disabled people into work.”

Disabled and ill claimants assessed as unfit for work by official means tests are placed in one of two ESA categories: the support group, if they are not expected to work; or the work-related activity group (Wrag) if they are deemed able to take tentative steps back to work in the future.

Around 500,000 people are currently in the ESA Wrag group, where they are paid more than the current job seeker’s allowance (JSA) but expected to undergo some work-related interviews or training. Around 1.1 million people are in the support group.

From April 2017, payments to new ESA Wrag claimants, currently £102 a week, will reduce into line with standard JSA rates currently at £73, while support group ESA payments, currently £109 a week, will remain intact.

The government hopes the cut, which will reduce new Wrag claimants’ annual unemployment benefit incomes from £5,000 to £3,500, will save an estimated £1.4bn over four years.

The government is convinced that the current system offers a perverse incentive for people to stay on benefits. It says that although around 61% in the ESA Wrag group say they want to return to work, relatively few manage to do so.

Charities argue that the vast majority of ESA Wrag claimants want to work, but face huge barriers because of their condition and the stigma they often face from employers.

The shadow employment minister Emily Thornberry said: “The government’s suggestion that the reason people with disabilities are not working is because they’re getting too much money is utterly ridiculous.

“The people who will be affected by this cut are not lying around on mink furs eating truffles – they are suffering from major health conditions, which mean they need extra support to find work.

“It is not the fault of people on ESA that the right jobs and the right support are so often not available to them. Cutting their benefits by £30 a week to give them an ‘incentive’ to work is just wrong.”

A Department of Work and Pensions spokesman said: “We are absolutely committed to supporting disabled people and that’s why we continue to spend around £50bn a year on disabled people and their services.

“Our reforms will ensure the right support and incentives are in place to help disabled people move closer to the labour market and, when they are ready, back into work.

“Those who are already claiming ESA will see no change in the level of benefit they receive. In addition, payments for people in the support group, who have the most severe work-limiting health conditions and disabilities, will be maintained at the current level.”

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 27, 2015 11:41 am

    This will not be the incentive sick or disabled people need to find work it will put them well below the poverty line. The only incentive I can see is for MAXIMUS HP’S to find more people fit for work at a future date (WRAG) rather than the support group. I think I am been set up to take a cut in ESA because I should have been assessed around July this year.

  2. Claire permalink
    October 27, 2015 9:04 pm

    Same here. I was due for re-assessment in March this year but it was put back to 2017. What a coincidence, just in time for the cuts to come in and no doubt, re-assessment deems you putting in a new claim, therefore becoming a new claimant.

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