Priti Ugly Policy
The Government forced votes on amendments to the Welfare Bill yesterday in the Commons. Priti Patel MP, Minister for Employment, led the Government as it sought to reverse changes to the Bill that would have maintained measurements of child poverty and prevented a £30 per week cut to disabled people’s benefits.
I sought to intervene in this debate, given over a decade’s work on social security issues and my role on the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee. Unfortunately, the Minister would not take any of my attempted interventions. This is despite working together previously to deliver an amendment I tabled when the Government’s initial proposals were scrutinised in the Commons’ Bill Committee. My amendment is being published as a Statutory Instrument by the Government later this month and will be implemented later this year, benefitting hundreds of terminally ill people and closing a regulatory loophole that left dying people waiting for weeks for vital financial support unnecessarily. It was disappointing that the Minister then chose not to take any of my attempted interventions in the debate.
Whilst I share the concerns of other Labour MPs and academics about the importance of measuring child poverty fully, especially given the high levels of child poverty in Bermondsey and Rotherhithe- I was particularly keen to speak about the changes to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
The Government was seeking to cut ESA for disabled people in the ‘Work Related Activity Group’ who have been assessed as being unfit for work. This benefit is only paid to half a million people, including almost 250,000 people with learning disabilities or mental health conditions. The Government has deliberately chosen a very disadvantaged group for this reduction in help. The benefit is worth a little over £100 per week currently bit will fall to £70 a week for new claimant. It will make some disabled people far more vulnerable and isolated and I suspect it will increase costs to the NHS amongst other parts of government spending.
The Government claimed the rationale for the cut was to ‘incentivise work’. Given this group are assessed as not fully fit to work and the DWP holds evidence on their health conditions and impairments, this seems unlikely. Priti Patel claimed that the government would provide more help for this group, but did not outline a single specific measure in yesterday’s debate. If the Government had a successful track record of support into work for disabled people this might be more palatable.
However, in the last five years the Coalition and current Government have:
- Closed Remploy factories which provided employment for many disabled people;
- Axed about one in five Disability Employment Advisors in jobcentres, leaving less than one advisor for every 600 disabled people seeking help;
- Reduced the number of disabled people supported by the innovative Access to Work scheme which helps disabled people attain or retain employment
Based on this track record, it is little wonder no disability organisation supports the Government’s plans and many fear this benefit payment reduction is another nasty, pernicious and ugly attack on disadvantaged and vulnerable people.