An Assault on ESA

By James Jacobs / @jameswjacobs

One of the main failings of this government – and there are many – has been their failure to provide sufficient social security for some of the most vulnerable in society – specifically people with disabilities. There are many examples of how people with disabilities have been affected – the Bedroom Tax and social care cuts to name but two.

However, much of the pain comes from the changes to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), and the systems that are associated it with it, such as the Work Capability Assessment (WCA).

The government has proposed that the ESA Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) payment (and the equivalent ‘limited capability for work’ payment in the new Universal Credit), should be cut by almost £30 a week. It forms part of the Government’s Welfare Reform and Work Bill, which is currently in its final stages.

According to the government’s own statistics, there are over 11 million people with a limiting long-term illness, impairment or disability. In a 2012 survey, 46.3% of working-age people with disabilities were in employment compared to 76.4% of working-age ‘non-disabled’ people.

The premise that people with disabilities have a lot to give and contribute to society should be a given, and the government launched the so called ‘Disability Confident’ scheme to promote the skills that people with disabilities can bring to employment. However, it must be said that on the whole ‘Disability Confident’ has been a risible sop to many in the disability rights community.

This is because it’s not the main focus of the government’s efforts – the main focus of the government’s efforts is in using the welfare state to ‘incentivise’ people with disabilities into finding work.

There are two aims of ESA – firstly, to provide financial support to people with disabilities and long term health conditions who cannot work. Secondly, to ‘encourage’ people into work who are judged ‘capable’. They are placed onto a lower rate of ESA known as the WRAG.

Leave aside the fact that the WCA has, by and large, been a complete and utter failure [that has even led to the deaths of literally thousands of people placed wrongly in to the WRAG], the WRAG, as highlighted in a recent report produced by Mencap and six other charities isn’t working at present.

So, what would an extra cut mean? Well, firstly we need to remember that already, as it stands there are an abnormally large number of people with disabilities living in poverty.

A report by the New Policy Institute concluded that the poverty rate among households with a disabled member stood at 30–32%. This amounted to 1.3 –1.8 million people in poverty because of disabilities and the knock on effects of meeting the cost of those disabilities.

Given these statistics what possible good can cutting more from the already meagre WRAG do? As Baroness Meacher wrote in the Mencap report:

“Job hunting costs money, including money for transport and clothes, since you cannot go to work or an interview without appropriate clothes. That is particularly true for disabled people, a huge number of whom live in poverty. If a claimant cannot afford the fare to attend an interview, how will that promote his or her employment prospects?”

Cutting money from people who are already struggling makes no logical sense. It is a false economy. In the short term it might look as if the government is ‘incentivising’ people, but in the long term it won’t actually help people in finding work if that was the government’s aim in the first place.

The government would do well to listen to the disability community and understand that cutting won’t work. It’s not a matter of talking about ‘Austerity’ (Though yes, it is that), but how cutting money all the time and expecting miracles to happen is self-delusional. It’s a false economy to be cutting money from the WRAG and we as a party must be ready in this new year to make that clear at every stage we can.

You may also like

People with Disabilities: Brexit spells trouble by Open Labour | 17.09.16 | In: Comment By James William Jacobs / @jameswjacobs Whatever our opinion on Brexit, and whatever we think of the leadership in the campaign, every Labour member that I... Read More
After IDS: Where Labour Goes From Here by Open Labour | 20.03.16 | In: Comment By Jade Azim / @JadeFrancesAzim There are three primary observations to take from Iain Duncan Smith's resignation, after we have all done with jumping up... Read More
Rethinking Social Security: Can Labour learn from Nordic policies? by Tom Miller | 18.03.16 | In: Comment By Jo Ingold / @joingold Looking to other countries for policy ideas allows us to shed light on similar societal issues in a different context . The Nordic... Read More
The Only Way is Universal? by Open Labour | 09.02.16 | In: Comment By Jade Azim / @jadefrancesazim I fear the Left has lost a crucial battle. The 1997-2010 Labour government was, rhetorically, obsessed with making welfare... Read More