A coalition of 60 national disability charities have condemned the government’s cuts to benefits as a “step backwards” for disabled people and their families.
The Disability Benefits Consortium said the cuts, which will see people lose up to £1,500 a year, will leave disabled people feeling betrayed by the government and will have a damaging effect on their health, finances and ability to find work.
Peers in the House of Lords were forced to pass Conservative plans to reduce Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for people in the work-related activity group by £30 a week, after the Speaker of the Commons attached a “financial privilege” to the Bill.
The privilege can be used by the Commons as grounds for overruling any Lords proposal that has a cost implication. It will mean those receiving the benefit will see their weekly payments cut from £103 to £73 a week from April 2017.
Rob Holland, co-chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC), said: “The cuts to employment and support allowance and universal credit mark a step backwards for disabled people and their families many of whom live in poverty and struggle to make ends meet.”
Research by the DBC suggests the low level of benefit 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 benefit. Around 38 per cent of respondents said they had been unable to heat their homes and 52 per cent struggled to stay healthy.
Just one per cent of those asked said the cut would motivate them to get a job sooner despite claims from Conservative ministers suggesting that cutting ESA entitlement for new claimants would provide and incentive for them to return to work.
Mr Holland added: “The Government is pushing ahead with the cut in spite of widespread opposition from all 60 members of the Disability Benefits Consortium, disabled people, the general public, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and MPs and Peers from across all parties warning that the cuts will push disabled people closer to poverty and further from the work place.
“Many disabled people will feel betrayed that a Government which had promised not to cut disability benefits has now pushed this cut through without showing any real understanding of the damaging effects it will have on people’s health, finances and ability to find work. The cut will see many new claimants from April 2017 lose £30 a week or £1,500 a year.
“We do not accept the Government's reasoning that cutting disabled people's benefits will 'incentivise' them to look for work, the barriers are much more complex than that.
“In fact we believe that removing disabled people's support will hinder not help their employment opportunities, and directly undermine the Government’s desire to halve the disability employment gap.”
Baroness Campbell told the House of Lords on Monday that “words failed me” when she had heard the Government’s justification for cutting Employment and Support Allowance by £30.
The peer, a former Commissioner of the Disability Rights Commission who herself uses a ventilator, is an expert in disability reform and the benefits system. “Our arguments, in my view, were pretty indisputable, especially in regard to the absence of evidence that cutting severely disabled people’s ESA would incentivise them to work,” she said.
Priti Patel, the Employment Minister, last week criticised peers in the upper chamber for “overstepping their mark” and insisted the Government must press ahead with the plan.
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