Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:32 pm on 17th November 2016.

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Photo of Lisa Cameron Lisa Cameron Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Climate Justice) 2:32 pm, 17th November 2016

I thank my hon. Friend Neil Gray for securing this extremely important debate. I want to declare an interest as I worked in learning disability services prior to joining this House and am now chair of the all-party parliamentary group for disability.

Since being elected, I have looked deeply into the effects of the Department for Work and Pensions’ assessments, particularly those of people with mental health issues and disabilities. I am sure that many will agree that they are deeply unsuitable. The assessment is inadequate and fails to take a much needed holistic, tailored or specialist approach. We must ensure that we harness people’s potential and assess them fairly. I am sad to say that I have met many disabled constituents who have been unfairly treated by the welfare system. Many have been left with depression in addition to their disabilities. There problems have been compounded. They experience a sense of hopelessness in the face of changes, often feeling that they have little voice. We must give them that voice in this House.

People whose Motability cars were taken away from outside their front doors have been left without independence and been plunged into dependence. Cuts to disabled people’s benefits are simply unacceptable. If they were morally or socially acceptable, we would not be having this debate. It is unsurprising that so many in this House, from both sides of the Chamber, feel passionately that we should not be taking much needed money away from the most vulnerable in our society. What is surprising is that the UK Government intend to push forward with the changes, which will have a genuinely detrimental effect on people’s lives. I ask the Government to think again.

Make no mistake, a reduction of £1,500 a year in benefits would be absolutely catastrophic for many and will undoubtedly exacerbate poverty among the disabled. It is unacceptable. The Government’s assertion that the work-related activity component acts as a disincentive for people to look for work can only be described as a sweeping statement. There is no evidence whatsoever to back up that claim. Does the Minister genuinely believe that disabled people are more likely to get a job if their benefits are cut? Employers’ attitudes, a lack of understanding, a lack of training and access to job opportunities, a lack of equality in society—those are the real barriers to employment for the disabled. Statistics show that disabled people are twice as likely to be unemployed, and that is not linked to supports, which are vital to help people to find employment, make adaptations and remain in employment. The costs for disabled people are much higher and we must acknowledge that.

I was pleased to hold a Disability Confident event in my constituency a few months ago. I was able to speak directly to employers to help them to overcome preconceptions and to provide them with information about the support that they can access to employ people with disabilities. I urge MPs across the House to do the same. This month, I am hosting my constituency’s small business awards and have developed a specific award for inclusive employers. I want to ensure that I support small businesses that provide jobs, and inclusive jobs in particular.

The APPG for disability, which I have the privilege of chairing, will publish a report in the coming weeks on practical measures showing how Government, business, industry and other organisations can help disabled people into work and halve the employment gap. I specifically ask the Minister to commit to meet our cross-party group and to consider the report, which now has the support of seven parties. With the Minister, I recently spoke at a parliamentary event that brought inspirational Paralympians to Westminster and we championed their achievements. We should build on that.

Let us look at support. Let us look at abilities, not disabilities, and at people’s potential and aspirations. Let us look at opportunities for disabled people to start their own business and to overcome hurdles. Let us not lose their skills and value to our economy. Let us turn this debate on its head. We should not be short-sighted and do harm; we should pause these cuts. Let us ensure that the UK is compassionate and a role model in disability support and employment so that others across the world can look up to us in our endeavours.