MPs defend voting for cuts to some disability benefits

Hastings and Rye MP Amber Rudd
Hastings and Rye MP Amber Rudd
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Both MPs for Bexhill and Battle, and Hastings and Rye have defended voting for cuts to some disability benefits.

Peers in the House of Lords had called for a full impact assessment on proposed changes to the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill.

Bexhill and Battle MP Huw Merriman

Bexhill and Battle MP Huw Merriman

From next year, the measures will see £30 a week less paid to new ESA claimants who may be capable of work in future, but the majority of MPs, including Bexhill and Battle MP Huw Merriman and Hastings and Rye MP Amber Rudd, voted to reject the amendments earlier this month.

Mr Merriman said: “A job not only delivers financial reward but pride, self-belief and wellbeing.

“Our success at getting people off unemployment benefits and in to work has been remarkable in the last six years.

“While one in five of the unemployed find work every month, this is true of only one in 100 of those who live with a disability. We know, statistically, that many on disability benefits are not going to be able to work.

“We would like to give them more by gaining tax receipts from those who, with more help and encouragement, can work.

“This measure is about helping and incentivising people with disabilities to gain entry to the workplace and help transform their lives for the better.

“To help prepare and train this group of people, we will reinvest the bulk of our savings to help them back in to work.”

Meanwhile Mrs Rudd added: “The current system needs reform because it fails to provide the right incentives and support to work, and acts to trap people on welfare. We are committed to ensuring that people have the best support possible, and that is what these changes are about.

“Current ESA claimants will continue to get the same level of support, and those with the most severe health conditions and disabilities will continue to get a higher rate of benefit.”

Potential claimants have to take a work capability assessment, and if entitled to claim ESA are placed in one of two groups. People in the work related activity group, which means they have regular interviews with an adviser, and the support group, where claimants do not have interviews.

During the House of Commons debate on the Lords’ amendments Priti Patel, employment minister, said: “The change is urgently needed to ensure that the right incentives — and, importantly, support — are available to help more people with disabilities and health conditions to move closer to, and into, employment.

“We have experienced record employment levels and strong jobs growth over the past few years, but the benefits have bypassed the majority of those who are stuck on ESA.

“Only one in 100 ESA claimants in the WRAG moves off benefits each month, compared with one in five jobseeker’s allowance claimants.

“That cannot be right, and the Government believe that people with health conditions and disabilities deserve better.”

Several days earlier Lady Tanni Grey-Thompson, the 11-time Paralympic gold medallist and a cross-bench peer in the Lords, said: “It almost feels as if we are putting the blame on disabled people, trying to fix them and not understanding the barriers that they face getting into work.

“Reducing the gap between those who are economically inactive through sickness and those who are unemployed throws away all recognition of those who are facing hardship through sickness and through no fault of their own.”

Elliot Dunster, group head of policy, research and public affairs at disability charity Scope, said: “Reducing disabled people’s incomes won’t incentivise them to find a job. It will just make life harder.”

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