ESA cuts will exacerbate poverty and remove help for disabled

Neil Coyle of Disability Alliance writes how the proposed cuts to diasability allowances (ESA) will exacerbate poverty and remove support for the disabled.

Neil Coyle is Director of Policy for the Disability Alliance and a Labour Councillor in Southwark but writes here in a personal capacity

The essential support required by disabled people on a daily basis is affected by almost every significant reform announced by the coalition, including NHS commissioning, council funding and benefit changes. The Welfare Reform Bill goes for its second reading in the commons tomorrow.

Serious questions have arisen about the government’s analysis of its proposals which should shock not only disabled people directly affected, but everyone interested in responsible public policy.

The coalition’s flawed approach creates risks for disabled people and future government spending. This can be seen best by focusing on sources of support provided exclusively to disabled people.

The Employment and Support Allowance, ESA, ‘work related activity group’ is for disabled people not in employment but assessed as having some capability for work. It provides tailored help to find work but the Government has chosen to cut access to ESA and time-limit some payments. 

Restricting access to ESA will be achieved by finding disabled people fully ‘fit for work’ using the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) and placing them on Jobseeker’s Allowance. The DWP independent review of the WCA concluded, diplomatically, that the test was ‘not working well’.

But 10,000 people a week will soon be undergoing assessments and DWP estimate a 5% increase to people being put on JSA instead of ESA as a result of new Government regulations tabled in August 2010.

Time-limiting ESA for some recipients to just one year will penalise disabled people who have previously worked and made National Insurance contributions. Most worryingly for responsible public policy, the government initially suggested time-limiting would affect almost nobody.

This remained the government’s response as late as November 2010 when the Minister for Disabled People, Maria Miller, was asked at a national conference how time-limiting would provide £2 billion in reduced welfare expenditure if no-one lost out.

The £2 billion cut comes from disabled people losing support as Maria Miller later revealed in Parliament. DWP estimated in December 2010 that 280,000 disabled people will lose all out of work support – but the Welfare Reform Bill impact assessment reveals the figure is closer to 400,000.

The Government has never explained the anomalies in its announcements or why the cut is necessary, but it represents bad policy-making as either the Government chose not to assess who the cut would affect, knew and withheld figures, or failed to think this was important public information. 

ESA cuts represent bad policy for the disabled people who will lose directly, but also undermine the objectives of Iain Duncan Smith as they will exacerbate poverty and remove help to find work from disabled people.

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