Morecambe and Lunesdale MP David Morris has defended his government’s decision to cut Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
But Lancaster and Fleetwood MP Cat Smith has branded the decision “disgusting”, while charities including Mind, Mencap and Parkinsons UK said the cut “push sick and disabled people further away from work and closer to poverty”.
ESA is for people who have an illness, health condition or disability that makes it difficult or impossible to work.
The cuts in weekly support from £103 to £73, contained in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, will apply to new ESA claimants in the work-related activity group, bringing the rate into line with Jobseeker’s Allowance.
It will affect people who are deemed unable to work at the moment but capable of making some effort to find employment, including attending work-focused interviews and taking part in training.
Ministers argue that too few people in the category are moving into work and that while the lower benefit rate would save £55m in the first year, £60m would be spent on supporting claimants to take steps towards finding work.
Mr Morris, who voted in favour of the cut, said: “I believe we need a welfare system that supports the most vulnerable, and helps those who can work into suitable employment.
“That is why the Government wants to increase employment among people who have health challenges but are capable of taking steps back into work.
“ESA provides support for those who cannot work because of a health condition or disability.
“People who can do some work-related activity are placed in the ‘Work-Related Activity Group’ (WRAG) where they take steps to prepare themselves for employment.
“At the moment, these people get higher payments than people on Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) in recognition of the fact they may have specific needs depending on what health challenges they face.
“However, simply paying a higher benefit to individuals may not be the best way to help claimants overcome these additional barriers to work they may face. “In addition, the disparity in payments could discourage claimants from making the most of opportunities to help them move closer to work.
“That is why the Government is aligning ESA WRAG payments with JSA, and putting the monies to better use by investing in services tailored towards helping WRAG claimants into work.
“The Government has committed £100 million of additional funding per year by 2020-21 specifically to help meet the needs of people with limited capability to work.
“This means the money will be targeted much more effectively. This change will also only apply to new claims after April 2017, meaning nobody will see their entitlement fall in cash terms.”
Ms Smith said: “In relation to Employment and Support Allowance I do not see any logical reason why the fact that 61 per cent of people in the WRAG want to work somehow means they want their ESA cut.
“This seems to fly in the face of the Government’s own first two ‘principles’ that welfare reforms should support elderly, vulnerable and disabled people and that those who can work should be expected to look for work.
“David Morris seems to forget that those in the WRAG have undergone the Work Capability Assessment and not been found fit for work.
“He is keen to emphasise the additional support provided to disabled people in helping them obtain employment but no explanation is provided as to why this means they should also have their ESA cut.
“I am well aware of the potential harmful impact that this proposal will have on disabled and vulnerable people.
“Frankly I find the Government’s suggestion that making vulnerable people destitute will somehow incentivise them into work disgusting.
“This is one of the primary reasons I voted against the Welfare Reform and Work Bill at both 2nd and 3rd Reading.”