I welcome all progress in this area, but that does not detract from the commitment made by the previous Prime Minister, which I believe everyone would have supported. Progress is always to be welcomed, but we have not gone far enough and we should still work towards that commitment.
In practical terms, £30 each week will be cut from those with long-term health conditions or disabilities, and as we have repeatedly heard today, this will happen before the work and health programme Green Paper can be considered or implemented. The fact is that reducing sick and disabled people’s financial support to jobseekers’ levels is counter-productive since those in the ESA WRAG will have very low incomes for a long time, because disabled people are much more likely to be out of work for longer. It is extremely important that the Government proceed by using an evidence-based approach, instead of rushing into cuts that will have the opposite outcome from what they and everyone else want.
The Government say that they want to help disabled people into work, but under the limited capability for work element of universal credit, disabled people in work and those looking for work will be negatively affected. Those in work but on low pay will be particularly hard hit. How on earth can that be consistent with the aim of halving the disability employment gap? The truth is that helping disabled people into work means supporting them, and doing so effectively. The proposed measures will push them further and further away from the workplace. Scope claims that a loss of financial support for disabled people will have a detrimental impact on their health and wellbeing, pushing them further away from the workplace. It will also strip away necessary support from those already in work, making it harder for them to retain their place in the world of work.
Some 492,180 disabled people across the UK are reliant—I repeat the word “reliant”, because that is so important—on ESA WRAG. According to the third sector, these people will struggle to live independently and will be pushed further and further into isolation, poverty, hardship and debt. Research by Scope discovered that 49% of disabled people use credit cards or loans to pay for everyday essential items such as clothes or food.
We should spare a thought today for people who are living with conditions such as Parkinson’s. We know that those with fluctuating conditions are not well served when they are placed in the WRAG, because the work capability assessment does not and cannot accurately capture the reality of living with such a condition. That means that ESA claimants with Parkinson’s will be placed in the impossible and demoralising position of being told they are fit for work or should be getting back to work. They are often placed in the WRAG rather than the more appropriate support group.