A disability charity that Zac Goldsmith is a patron of has criticised the MP for voting in favour of sharp disability benefit cuts.
Richmond AID said it was “shocked and disappointed” that Mr Goldsmith, the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London, had voted for the £30-a-week cut to Employment and Support Allowance
The charity, which lists the Richmond MP as a patron on their website, said it would ask him to come to their office to explain his decision.
Mr Goldsmith’s campaign declined to comment when approached by the Independent.
“We believe this cut moves disabled people further away from the workplace and increases the social isolation of people that are already vulnerable and experiencing barriers whilst seeking employment,” said Lucy Byrne, the charity’s chief executive.
“We are shocked and disappointed to find that both our local MPs here in the borough of Richmond have voted for this cut and plan to invite both MPs to our offices to explain the impact this will have on disabled people.”
Mr Goldsmith voted in favour of the cut to ESA, which applies to new claimants in the “work-related activity group” (WRAG) track from April 2017.
Disability charities have warned that the cut will seriously impact disabled people, while the Government argues it will incentivise them to find work.
Previous research by the Disability Benefits Consortium of 60+ charities suggests that 28 per cent of people on the current, higher WRAG rate have been unable to afford to eat, while 38 per cent have been unable to heat their homes.
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
Figures reported by the Independent today show that more than half of people who appeal “fit to work” decisions by the DWP on their ESA are found to actually be too ill to work.
Owen Smith, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, argued Mr Goldsmith’s position on the disability cuts meant he was not an appropriate choice for Mayor of London.
“It is shocking that someone who wants to be Mayor of London voted to take £30 a week away from half a million disabled people - at a time when they are already struggling to make ends meet. Zac Goldsmith is not fit to be Mayor of London,” he said.
Mr Goldsmith is facing Labour candidate Sadiq Khan, Green Candidate Sian Berry, Liberal Democrat candidate Caroline Pidgeon, and Ukip candidate Peter Whittle, amongst others. The election will take place this May.