Ahead of next week’s Budget, disability campaigners and organisations have today presented the Government with an invoice for £1500, the amount each new claimant of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)could lose out on per year if planned cuts go ahead as planned this April.

Joined by MPs including Debbie Abrahams, Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Heidi Allen (Conservative), Neil Gray (SNP) and Lord Low, campaigners and disabled people gathered outside the Department for Work and Pensions, Treasury and Houses of Parliament in an 11th hour call for the Government to reassess the £30-a-week cut to the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG)of ESA.

Cuts to ESA WRAG, which will begin in April, are the latest cuts to disability benefits which the Government claimed with no robust evidence will ‘incentivise’ disabled people to find work. Research contradict Government claims, showing these cuts will push disabled people away from work:

  • almost 7 in 10 (69%) disabled people say cuts to ESA will cause their health to suffer
  • more than a quarter (28%) disabled people say they sometimes can’t afford to eat on the current amount they receive from ESA
  • almost half (45%) of disabled people say that the cut would probably mean they would return to work later
  • 1% said the cut would motivate them to get a job sooner.

Campaigners calls were echoed as disability organisations, including Mencap, Leonard Cheshire and Scope, have all signed an open letter to Prime Minister Theresa May calling for an urgent halt of the cuts. The open letter is below.

Michelle Ornstein has a learning disability and is currently receiving ESA. She said:

If the cuts go ahead, I’m worried about what will happen. I have anxiety and the money I receive helps me to be able to get out of the house and do things. If I don’t have that money anymore, I’m worried that I won’t be able to go out.

We want to tell the Government to stop the cuts. It’s already hard enough for people with disabilities to find work and if they have less money, it will make it even harder to look for a job or go to interviews. People with disabilities are already fighting so hard in their communities to find work and the Government should be helping them instead of taking money away.

Rob Holland, Parliamentary Manager at learning disability charity Mencap, said:

This Government has serious questions to answer as to why they have repeatedly looked to disabled people as targets of their austerity. Cuts to ESA and changes to PIP have been met with universal opposition from disability organisations and MPs across all parties, with real warnings that the cuts will push disabled people closer to or further into poverty. 

The Government’s claim that cuts to ESA WRAG will incentivise disabled people to find work has been found to be ‘ambiguous at best’. All of the evidence in fact points to just how damaging these cuts will be. They will leave disabled people struggling to make ends meet, to maintain their health, and ultimately, pushed further to the corners of society rather than helping them move towards work.

The Government must take action and curb the pattern that has seen people with a disability repeatedly hit by cuts making life harder and harder. Instead of targeting disabled people, we urge the Government to refocus on providing better opportunities for people with a learning disability to get in to work.

Open letter

“Dear Prime Minister,

“We urge the Government to reconsider the £30-a-week cut to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Universal Credit facing sick and disabled people. The cut has caused deep concern among the sector and unease among MPs from all parties and we remain united as a sector in our opposition.

“The cut to new claimants in the Work-Related Activity Group of ESA and within Universal Credit (UC) from 1st April 2017 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 UC works.

“Almost 70% of sick and disabled people surveyed said this cut would cause their health to suffer and just under half said they would probably not be able to return to work as quickly, therefore undermining the Government’s attempts to halve the disability employment gap - something we wholeheartedly support.

At a time when 1 in 3 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.”

Signed:

  1. Action on Hearing Loss
  2. AdviceUK
  3. Arthritis Research UK
  4. Baroness Campbell Chair Independent Living Strategy Group
  5. Carers UK
  6. Deafblind UK 
  7. Disability Agenda Scotland
  8. Disability Rights UK
  9. Guide Dogs
  10. Inclusion London
  11. Leonard Cheshire Disability
  12. Mind
  13. MS Society
  14. National Autistic Society
  15. Rethink
  16. Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance of grassroots Deaf and Disabled people’s organisations
  17. RNIB
  18. Royal Mencap Society
  19. SAMH
  20. Scope
  21. Sense
  22. Sir Bert Massie CBE, DL
  23. Spartacus Network
  24. United Response

-ENDS-

For further information, please contact the Mencap press office on 020 7696 5414 or media@mencap.org.uk or for out of hours 07770 656 659.

DBC Survey of disabled people

The Disability Benefits Consortium surveyed over 500 people aged 18 plus between August 3rd and 15th October across the UK. The surveys were conducted across the country and all relevant responses can be found below:

Q: The Government are proposing to cut support for people in the WRAG by around £30 per week. If this was to apply to you, what do you think the impact would be? Please note, this will only affect people who apply for ESA from April 2017 onwards.

Percentage

Sample

It would make no difference at all

6%

27

I would struggle to pay my bills

69%

292

I would struggle to maintain my independence

70%

297

I think my health would get worse

69%

291

It would motivate me to get a job sooner

1%

6

It would make it harder for me to recover and probably mean I return to work later

45%

190

Other (please explain)

21%

 

88

Total

 

422

Q: Do you feel that the amount of ESA you receive is/was enough to live on?

Percentage

Sample

Yes

29%

134

No

57%

265

Not sure/don't know

15%

68

Total

 

467

Q:  If you don't feel the money is enough, what impact has this had on your financial situation?

Percentage

Sample

I have been unable to pay bills

43%

129

I have missed rent payments

12%

36

I have missed mortgage payments

9%

26

I couldn’t afford to eat

28%

85

I haven't been able to travel to medical appointments

19%

56

I struggled to stay healthy

52%

157

I’ve been trapped in my house as I haven’t been able to afford a taxi 

36.%

110

I haven't been able to heat my home

38%

114

Other (please explain)

40.5%

113

Total

 

303

Q:  If you have had your ESA withdrawn or reduced, what has been the impact on your life? (please tick all that apply)

Percentage

Sample

I can't afford to pay my bills

30%

38

I can't afford my weekly food shop

24%

31

I'm now in debt

 

22%

28

I’ve had to borrow from my friends and family

28%

35

I’ve had to borrow from a payday lender

6%

7

I am more isolated and less able to see friends and family

40%

49

I miss medical appointments because I cannot afford to travel to them

14%

18

It has negatively impacted my relationship with my family/spouse/partner

28%

35

It has caused me severe anxiety

48%

61

It has made my health condition worse

42%

53

It has had little impact

2%

3

The amount I receive has not changed

26%

33

Other (please explain)

22%

26

Total

 

127

About Mencap

There are 1.4 million people with a learning disability in the UK. Mencap works to support people with a learning disability, their families and carers by fighting to change laws, improve services and access to education, employment and leisure facilities. Mencap supports thousands of people with a learning disability to live their lives the way they want.

www.mencap.org.uk  

For advice and information about learning disability and Mencap services in your area, contact Mencap Direct on 0808 808 1111 (9am-5pm, Monday-Friday) or email help@mencap.org.uk

What is a learning disability?

A learning disability is a reduced intellectual ability which can cause problems with everyday tasks – for example shopping and cooking, or travelling to new places – which affects someone for their whole life.

People with a learning disability can take longer to learn new things and may need support to develop new skills, understand difficult information and engage with other people. The level of support someone needs is different with every individual. For example, someone with a severe learning disability might need much more support with daily tasks than someone with a mild learning disability.

Learning disability is not a mental illness or a learning difficulty. Very often the term ‘learning difficulty’ is wrongly used interchangeably with ‘learning disability’.