We won the argument but lost the vote: Government cuts to disability benefits
Last week as part of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, MPs voted through plans to cut Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Universal Credit.
The cut facing disabled people will mean that many new claimants will receive £30 a week less which will have a huge impact on their lives. Many people who claim ESA are already struggling with difficult life circumstances– and we know there is a strong correlation between homelessness and disability.
Many people use their ESA to cover their rent which isn’t always met by housing benefit alone. This £30 reduction, combined with rising rents and cuts to housing benefit, is likely to leave many disabled people struggling to make ends meet, at risk of rent arrears and even eviction and homelessness.
This is pretty difficult for all of us in the Disability Benefits Consortium to swallow because as a sector we’ve been lobbying hard to try and stop the cut.
We were hugely helped by many MPs from across all parties together with friends in the House of Lords including Lord Low, Baroness Meacher, Baroness Tanni Grey-Tompson.
They helped bring Peers together from across all the parties to vote down the cuts in two important debates. These were ultimately overturned by the Commons with the Government claiming that Peers had no right to interfere.
Sad times and while ultimately we were really disappointed it was great to see so many disabled people and families involved in the campaign! Whether it was emailing their local MP, tweeting support or coming to the lobby of parliament back on a very cold January day in Parliament everyone played a really important part!
Why did the Government push this through?
The Government said that it needed to cut these benefits because they were acting as a ‘disincentive’ to work and that reducing them would persuade more disabled people to seek work.
As a sector we don’t believe it is benefits that are stopping disabled people from getting work. The problem is that a lot of people don’t get the support they need and employers often don’t want to give them a chance.
In the end the Government didn’t offer any robust evidence to back up its proposal despite opposition from ourselves, disabled people and families, politicians across all political parties, countless column inches and the general public the Government pushed ahead.
To quote the Crossbench Peer Lord Low ‘we won the argument but lost the vote.’
What will happen next?
From April 2017 new claimants to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) in the Work Related Activity Group will receive £30 a week less. Those in the ESA support group will not be affected.
The same cut will also be true for people getting the new Universal Credit.
The Government will shortly publish a White Paper with plans saying how it is going to try and support more people into work and quite likely propose further changes to benefits.
As the Disability Benefits Consortium we will of course be trying to ensure that we reflect the views and concerns of disabled people, their families and carers in the debate. We also think it’s vital that the support offered to help disabled people into work fully takes into account other life circumstances such as homelessness that are related to, or exacerbate, people’s disabilities.