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Wednesday, 01 March 2017

Disability charities urge Theresa May to halt planned £30-a-week benefit cut

Written by Andrew Woodcock

A coalition of disability charities has issued a plea to Theresa May to rethink planned cuts to a key benefit which will see new claimants lose out on £1,500 a year.

The £30-a-week reduction in Employment and Support Allowance for claimants placed in the so-called Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) is designed to create a greater incentive for those who are able to work to find a job.

But in a letter to the Prime Minister ahead of next week's Budget, the organisations highlighted a survey suggesting that only 1% of ESA claimants thought the change - due to come into force on April 1 - would motivate them to find work.

By contrast, 45% said that it would make it harder for them to recover and would probably mean them returning to work later.

Some 69% said they would struggle to pay their bills and the same proportion (69%) said their health would suffer as a result.

More than half (57%) said that the current level of ESA was not enough to live on, compared to just 29% who said it was.

Almost three in 10 (28%) said that they sometimes cannot afford to eat and 43% said that they have been unable to pay bills.

Rossanna Trudgian, head of campaigns at learning disability charity Mencap, said: "The Government's refusal to rethink the cuts to the benefits of disabled people has caused deep unease amongst disabled people as well as MPs from all parties.

"(The Government is) introducing a cut of £30 a week to disabled people, many of whom are already living in poverty, without providing any robust evidence that this will incentivise people into work.

"It will simply make life harder for sick and disabled people and directly contradicts the Government's commitment to halve the disability employment gap.

"Living with a disability often means a higher cost of living and being unemployed, leaving many relying heavily on the already restricted amount of money the Government provides.

"Disabled people are already struggling and risk being pushed further from work, their health suffering and being isolated from their communities.

"We need the Government to recognise how damaging these cuts will be and stop them before their damaging effects are felt."

In their letter to Mrs May, the charities - including Mencap, the RNIB, Mind and Scope - warn that the proposed cuts "will affect many people found currently 'unfit for work' but will also impact many disabled people in work and on low wages due to the way Universal Credit works".

They told the PM: "At a time when one in three households with a disabled member are living in poverty, £30 a week can be a huge loss in income.

"We therefore urge the Government to halt this cut immediately."

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: "Our reforms are increasing the incentives for people to move into a job rather than staying on benefits, while keeping an important safety net in place for those who are vulnerable or unable to work.

"People currently on ESA will continue to get the same level of financial support and the new Personal Support Package will ensure people get the best practical support that they need to re-enter the workforce."

The Disability Benefits Consortium surveyed over 500 ESA claimants between August 3 and October 15.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2017, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) John Stillwell / PA Wire.