Posted by Welfare Weekly – Mar 14, 2016 1
The government has suffered a crushing defeat in the House of Lords over its plans to cut future support for hundreds of thousands of disabled people found “not fit for work”, thanks to an amendment proposed by a disabled peer. Lord Low’s amendment – to remove the proposed cuts from the welfare reform and work bill – was passed by 283 to 198 votes during the bill’s report stage last night (27 January). Although the government is likely to reintroduce the measure when the bill returns to the House of Commons, the vote is likely to be seen as a fresh blow to the credibility of work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith. His proposals would see new claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) who are placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG) see their weekly payments drop by nearly £30 a week from April 2017. Another proposal – also thrown out following an amendment moved by Lord Low – would introduce similar cuts for those placed in the equivalent group of the new
House of Lords voted by 283 to 198 against Tory plans for a £30 a week cut for 500,000 Employment and Support Allowance claimants.
Government plans to cut support for many disabled people on out-of-work benefits could harm their mental health and make it harder for them to return to work, according to a review led by a disabled peer. The review by the disabled peers Lord Low and Baroness Grey-Thompson, and their fellow crossbencher Baroness Meacher, concluded that there was “no justification” for the government’s planned cut. The proposal will see new claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) who have been placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG) see their weekly payments drop by nearly £30 a week from April 2017. But the review, Halving the Gap?, said that a survey of 500 disabled people in the WRAG – those viewed as having limited capability for work, but able to carry out some work-related activity – found 57 per cent of them said they already did not have enough money to live on. One respondent to the review said: “The impact would be massive. I would have to make the saving on food in
Opposition MPs have failed in their latest attempt to defeat government plans to cut out-of-work disability benefits.
The government is using its welfare reform and work bill to reduce support for new claimants placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG) of employment and support allowance (ESA) by nearly £30 a week from April 2017.
But Labour and SNP attempts to introduce a string of changes to the bill, including scrapping the WRAG cut, were defeated by Conservative MPs.
Their failed attempt came after members of the House of Lords succeeded in delaying government plans to cut tax credits.
Among the changes suggested by Labour and SNP MPs was a measure that would have forced the government to ensure an independent review of the benefits sanctions regime.
Debbie Abrahams, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, speaking in the main chamber for the first time in that role, said the welfare reform and work bill was “wicked” and the proposed cut to WRAG payments was “a disgrace”.
And she questioned why the government had not yet carried out a cumulative impact assessment of the changes in the bill on disabled people, as it should have done under the Equality Act.
She said: “There is no analysis of the impact that this will have on the disabled people who will be pushed into poverty.
“Half a million disabled people will be affected and lose £30 a week – nearly a third of their weekly income.”
Abrahams pointed to the government’s refusal to publish 49 internal reviews of benefit-related deaths – whose existence was first revealed by Disability News Service – and said the government’s failure to order an independent review of its sanctions regime was “a slap in the face of everyone affected by sanctions, including family members of those who have died”.
And she said it had been estimated that further planned reductions in the benefit cap “risk pushing tens of thousands of children, families and disabled people into poverty”.
She said: “We are the sixth wealthiest country in the world. It is not right that the government are seeking to secure the recovery on the backs of the working poor, their children and disabled people.”
Natalie McGarry, the SNP’s shadow disability spokeswoman, said: “We already know that the UK government’s austerity programme is impacting disproportionately on those living with disabilities and sicknesses and that it impairs their ability to work.
“We also know that there is absolutely no evidence that these policies of cuts will have a positive impact on moving those in the WRAG group into work.
“There is no evidence from the government, despite repeated requests for it to be produced.
“It is therefore absolutely shameful that, without any evidence, the Conservatives should have disabled people in their sights yet again, promising to cut nearly a third of ESA support for new claimants in the work-related activity group.”
But Priti Patel, the employment minister, said: “In 2008, when the then Labour government introduced ESA as a ‘radical reform package’, the work-related activity component was originally intended to act as an incentive to help people into work and to return quickly to work.
“However, the original estimates were incorrect and only one per cent of people in the work-related activity group left the benefit each month.
“It is clear, therefore, that the existing policy is not working and that it is failing claimants.”
She said that £100 million a year (by 2020) of the £640 million annual savings from the WRAG cut would be spent on helping “claimants with limited work capability but who have potential, because they want to move into work, to get closer to the labour market”.
Patel said the government kept the operation of its sanctions regime “under constant review”.
Opposition attempts to amend the bill, including the withdrawal of the WRAG cut, were defeated, and the bill was passed at both the report stage and third reading, and will now be debated by the House of Lords.
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com
A disabled researcher and campaigner has criticised a new report by a cross-party committee of MPs for failing to acknowledge fully the “perverse contradiction” at the heart of the government’s specialist employment programme.
Catherine Hale, who wrote a well-received review on the failure of the employment and support allowance (ESA) system to increase the number of disabled people in paid work, said MPs on the work and pensions select committee had ignored serious flaws in Work Choice.
She said Work Choice had been set up to support disabled people with the highest support needs into employment, but most of those who joined the scheme were disabled people claiming the mainstream jobseeker’s allowance (JSA).
This is because government advisers who work with ESA claimants in the work-related activity group (WRAG) are supposed to ensure that claimants carry out mandatory activities – with the threat of benefit sanctions if they do not comply – rather than offering them the voluntary employment support provided through Work Choice.
Hale said: “This means we have the perverse situation that only the most severely ill or impaired get onto ESA in the first place, from which they face conditionality and sanctions and next to no chance of getting the ‘specialist’ help that’s apparently available through Work Choice.”
Hale said she discovered this “farcical” situation when researching her ESA review.
She said: “I remember being curious, when I was doing the WRAG research, as to who these disabled people were with the most ‘severe disabilities’ who got this relatively privileged Work Choice treatment instead of the grim Work Programme, and was shocked to find most wouldn’t qualify for ESA.”
The government’s latest figures, published in August, show that more than 60,000 of the nearly 115,000 people to have been referred to Work Choice since 2010 had not been claiming any disability-related benefits at all, with nearly 47,000 of them claiming JSA.
In a blog, Hale said most people in the WRAG were in the “woeful situation” where they were “not disabled enough” for the ESA support group, but were “too disabled for Work Choice”, and therefore “consigned to the brutal no-man’s land of conditionality and sanctions”.
And in 2017, new WRAG claimants will face a £30 per week cut in income – thanks to a spending cut announced earlier this year by chancellor George Osborne – to “incentivise them to a miraculous recovery”, she said.
Despite these flaws, the committee said in its report on welfare-to-work policies that the government would be making a “grave mistake” if it decided to merge Work Choice with the mainstream Work Programme.
The committee said Work Choice did not appear to be focused on helping disabled people with the highest support needs into work, but that its flaws should be addressed, and its strengths “maintained”, when the contracts were replaced.
The contracts for both Work Choice and the Work Programme will expire in April 2017, and employment minister Priti Patel has suggested she is considering merging the two.
Participation in the Work Programme is mandatory for those on JSA and in the ESA WRAG, while sanctions can be imposed on those who fail to take part.
About 1.7 million people have received Work Programme support since 2011, while only about 90,000 have taken part in Work Choice since October 2010, says the report.
Government figures show Work Programme performance “lagging behind” for those on ESA, and particularly those who previously claimed incapacity benefit (IB).
Of the most recent group of ex-IB ESA claimants to have completed one year on the Work Programme, only 3.9 per cent achieved three months of employment.
It is predicted that ESA claimants will outnumber JSA claimants on the Work Programme by 2017, says the report.
Of those who started on Work Choice between 1 July 2014 and the end of December 2014, 57.3 per cent had at least entered a job by the end of June 2015.
The committee said the number of people on Work Choice should double, while participation should continue to be voluntary and “have clearer and less restrictive eligibility criteria”.
The committee also said that all of the government’s welfare-to-work programmes should focus more on those with “challenging problems”, such as drug and alcohol addiction, illiteracy and innumeracy, homelessness and “very weak employment history”.
And it was critical of the differential payments model – which is central to the Work Programme and offers contractors more money if they find jobs for those who are furthest from the jobs market – which it said was “unnecessarily complicated”.
The report says that, rather than categorising people by the benefits they claimed, they should instead assess characteristics such as physical and mental ill-health, illiteracy, and alcohol and substance misuse, and use this to place claimants into three groups: those who are work-ready; those in need of intermediate support; and those needing intensive support.
Frank Field, who chairs the committee, said the government deserved credit for designing a Work Programme that “produces results at least as good as before, for a greatly reduced cost per participant”, although he pointed out that nearly 70 per cent of participants were completing it without finding sustained employment.
But Hale said: “The WRAG should be the gateway to Work Choice. Instead, being assigned to the WRAG actually all but bars access to specialist disability employment support because Jobcentre Plus have to mandate these people to the conditionality regime of the mainstream Work Programme.”
She added: “Tweaking the payments system for Work Programme and the referral criteria for Work Choice, as the committee suggests, won’t solve this perverse paradox.
“The only coherent solution is to refer everyone in the ESA WRAG to Work Choice, and if Work Choice providers believe they can’t be supported into work within 12 months they should be placed in the support group.”
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com
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