Conservative MPs have blocked a plan to examine the effect of their cuts to disability benefits.
The House of Lords had previously blocked a Government plan to cut Employment and Support Allowance – and said ministers should first conduct an impact assessment into what the cuts’ effects would be.
But on Wednesday Tory MPs overruled the peers, voting to push ahead with the cuts without looking at what their effect might be.
The cuts package, which takes £30 a week away from new disabled ESA claimants who may be capable of work in future, has now been sent back to the House of Lords for a third time.
Research by the Disability Benefits Consortium suggests the benefit's low level is already failing to meet disabled people's needs.
A survey of 500 people in the affected group found that 28 per cent of people had been unable to afford to eat while in receipt of the the benefit.
38 per cent of respondents said they had been unable to heat their homes and 52 per cent struggled to stay healthy.
Elliot Dunster, group head of policy, research and public affairs at disability charity Scope, said the proposal would make life harder for disabled people.
“MPs have again failed to recognise the harmful impact that reducing Employment and Support Allowance will have on disabled people,” he said.
“We’re deeply disappointed that the Government is pushing ahead with its plans despite widespread opposition and the Lords twice raising concerns by voting to amend this flawed measure.
“Half a million disabled people will be affected by this proposal – losing around £30 a week, at a time when they are already struggling to make ends meet.
“Reducing disabled people’s incomes won’t incentivise them to find a job. It will just make life harder.
Rob Holland, parliamentary manager at the learning disability charity Mencap said there was “mounting evidence” the Government’s approach was wrong.
“The Government are intent, based on little evidence, that taking away £1,500 a year from disabled people will incentivise them to find work,” he said.
7 ways the Tories have ‘helped’ disabled people
7 ways the Tories have ‘helped’ disabled people
1/7 Closing Remploy factories
The Work and Pensions Secretary called time on Britain’s system of Remploy factories, which provided subsidised and sheltered employment to disabled people. People employed at the factories protested against their closure and said they provided gainful work. “Is it a kindness to stick people in some factory where they are not doing any work at all? Just making cups of coffee?” Mr Duncan Smith said at the time, defending the decision. “I promise you this is better.” The Remploy organisation was privatised and sold to American workfare provider Maximus, with the majority of the organisation’s factories closed. The future of the remaining sites is unclear
2/7 Scrapping the Independent Living Fund
The £320m Independent Living Fund was established in 1988 to give financial support to people with disabilities. It was scrapped on July 1 2015, with 18,000 often severely disabled people losing out by an average of £300 a week. The money was generally used to help pay for carers so people could live in communities rather than institutions. Councils will get a boost in funding to compensate but it will not cover the whole cost of the fund. This new cash also doesn’t have to be spent on the disabled
3/7 Cut payments for the disabled Access To Work scheme
Iain Duncan Smith is bringing forward a policy that will reduce payments to some disabled people from a scheme designed to help them into work. The £108m scheme, which helps 35,540 people, will be capped on a per-used basis, potentially hitting those with the more serious disabilities who currently receive the most help. The single biggest users of the fund are people who have difficulty seeing and hearing. The cut will come in from October 2015. The charity Disability UK says the scheme actually makes the Government money because the people who gain access to work tend pay tax that more than covers its cost. The DWP does not describe the reduction as a “cut” and says it will be able to spread the money more thinly and cover more people
4/7 Cut Employment and Support Allowance
The latest Budget included a £30 a week cut in disability benefits for some new claimants of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). The Government says it is equalising the rate of disability benefits with Jobseekers Allowance because giving disabled people more help is a “perverse incentive”. The people affected by this cut are those assessed as having a limited capability for work but as being capable of some “work-related activity”. A group of prominent Catholics wrote to Mr Duncan Smith to say there was “no justification” for this cut. Mental health charity Mind, said the cut was “insulting and misguided”
5/7 Risk homelessness with a sharp increase disability benefit sanctions
Official figures in the first quarter of 2014 found a huge increase in sanctions against people reliant on ESA sickness benefit. The 15,955 sanctions were handed out in that period compared to 3,574 in the same period the year before, 2013 – a 4.5 times increase. The homelessness charity Crisis warned at the time that the sharp rise in temporary benefit cuts was “cruel and can leave people utterly destitute – without money even for food and at severe risk of homelessness”. “It is difficult to see how they are meant to help people prepare for work,” Matt Downie, director of policy at the charity added
6/7 Sending sick people to work because of broken fitness to work tests
In 2012 a government advisor appointed to review the Government’s Work Capability Assessment said the tests causing suffering by sending sick people back to work inappropriately. “There are certainly areas where it's still not working and I am sorry there are people going through a system which I think still needs improvement,” Professor Malcolm Harrington concluded. The tests are said to have improved since then, but as recently as this summer they are still coming in for criticism. In June the British Psychological Society said there was “now significant body of evidence that the WCA is failing to assess people’s fitness for work accurately and appropriately”. It called for a full overhaul of the way the tests are carried out. The WCA appeals system has also been fraught with controversy with a very high rate of overturns and delays lasting months and blamed for hardship
7/7 The bedroom tax
The Government’s benefit cut for people who it says are “under-occupying” their homes disproportionately affects disabled people. Statistics released last year show that around two-thirds of those affected by the under-occupancy penalty, widely known as the ‘bedroom tax’, are disabled. There have been a number of high profile cases of disabled people being moved out of specially adapted homes by the policy. In one case publicised by the Sunday People last week, a 48 year old man with cerebral palsy was forced to bathe in a paddling pool after the tax moved him out of his home with a walk-in shower. The Government says it has provided councils with a discretionary fund to help reduce the policy’s impact on disabled people, but cases continue to arise
“The mounting evidence suggests the opposite, that cutting Employment and Support Allowance will push disabled people further from work and closer to poverty.”
Research by a coalition of 60 national charities suggested last year that the cuts to the so-called ESA Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) would actually make it harder for disabled people to find a job.
69 per cent of WRAG claimants surveyed believed their health would suffer were they affected by the cut – and 45 per cent said getting work would become more difficult.
But ministers last night disregarded the charities’ advice.
“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,” said Priti Patel, a minister at the Department for Work and Pensions.
The Lords’ proposal was rejected by MPs by 309-274 votes – with most Tory MPs voting against.The Government has now invoked financial privilege on the cuts – meaning it will be harder for the House of Lords to block them a third time.
The Government says the ESA cut will save £1.4bn over the next four financial years.
A Department of Work and Pensions spokesman said: “We are absolutely committed to supporting disabled people and that’s why we continue to spend around £50bn a year on disabled people and their services.
“Our reforms will ensure the right support and incentives are in place to help disabled people move closer to the labour market and, when they are ready, back into work.
“Those who are already claiming ESA will see no change in the level of benefit they receive. In addition, payments for people in the support group, who have the most severe work-limiting health conditions and disabilities, will be maintained at the current level.”