This is a wicked Bill. It punishes the sick, the disabled and the poor. Not content in the last Parliament with cutting £23.8 billion from 3.7 million disabled people as part of the Welfare Reform Act 2012, the Government are going for even more. Clause 13 cuts the amount of employment and support allowance that disabled people who are in the work-related activity group, and who have been assessed as not currently fit for work, can get. They will have their income cut from £102.15 a week to £73.10 a week.
The implication is that these measures will incentivise people with disabilities to find, stay and progress in work. There are currently 7 million working-age disabled people, 4 million of whom are working, but although 1.3 million are able to work and want to work they are currently unemployed. The Government say they want to halve that disability employment gap, but how will they do it? With currently only one disability employment adviser for every 600 disabled people, what additional support will be given to help disabled people to get an interview? How are the Government going to address the attitudes that often prevent people with disabilities from even getting a job interview? Given that 90% of disabled people used to work, what will the Government do to support newly disabled people leaving the labour market prematurely?
The chaos and inadequacy of the specialist employment service, Access to Work, which last year supported just 35,000 disabled people into and at work, just does not cut it. The Select Committee undertook an inquiry in this area of work last year and is still awaiting the Government’s response to its report. When will that be published? How can the Government really be taken seriously? Why has the money from the Remploy factory closures, which was meant to be invested in Access to Work, not been used to provide vital support for disabled people?
The cuts in support to disabled people fail to recognise the additional costs disabled people face as a result of their disability. The Extra Costs Commission analysed the additional support and found that on average disabled people spend an extra £550 per month on things associated with their disability. It comes as no surprise that people with disabilities are twice as likely to be living in persistent poverty as non-disabled people, and 80% of disability-related poverty is caused by these extra costs. Last year, the number of disabled people living in poverty increased by 2%, which equates to more than 300,000 people. This has implications not just for disabled people themselves, but for their families. A third of all families living in poverty include one disabled family member. In addition to these cuts, we have seen a four-year freeze in other benefits that many disabled people receive, including housing benefit, local housing allowance, universal credit and JSA. How does that fit with the Tory pledge to protect disabled people’s benefits?
The Bill removes the duty for the Government to meet targets to reduce child poverty, saying, in effect, that ending child poverty is no longer an important goal. The Bill replaces the use of “relative child poverty” with a confused definition of child poverty determinants. The worsening inequalities that are facing this generation are becoming intergenerational. With that in mind, and recognising the Government’s legal obligation under the Equality Act 2010, when will they produce a cumulative impact assessment? That has been piloted already and needs to happen.