Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:59 pm on 17th November 2016.

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Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 2:59 pm, 17th November 2016

I have a constituent with exactly the same condition, and we are going through exactly the same process with the personal independence payment as well as ESA. It is important that my hon. Friend will be representing her constituent. Sixty per cent. of people are successful in the appeals process. That shows how flawed the system is, does it not?

These are people who have been found not fit for work. There is absolutely no evidence that the cut will incentivise people. In fact, the Government’s own research, which was published earlier this year, and the Low report say that it is less likely to help disabled people back into work.

Macmillan Cancer Support has forwarded me details about a women called Lynn, who said

“When I was ill, I had to give up work for a year. I couldn’t work—the chemotherapy knocked me for six and I just wanted to sleep all day. It was horrendous. I couldn’t pay my mortgage, my council tax. I thought I was going to lose my house. Then I got Employment Support Allowance. If they cut the ESA that would just be absolutely horrendous. I would hate to have had that done to me. Without it, we would have been homeless.”

Members across the House will have similar examples.

I again remind the Minister that the Government’s own data, which were published last year, show how vulnerable people in the group are. They are twice as likely to die as the population as a whole. That proves that incapacity benefit and ESA are good population health indicators. We hear awful language about shirkers and scroungers, but these are sick people who deserve care and support, not humiliation.

I mentioned the work, health and disability Green Paper at the beginning of my contribution. It is out for consultation, and while it seems to include some good measures, I have a number of concerns about it. I am also concerned about the reduction in employment support from £700 million to £130 million. As my right hon. Friend Stephen Timms said, how on earth will we reduce the disability employment gap with such reductions? The Access to Work programme is inadequate: it serves only 35,000 of the 1.4 million disabled people who are fit and able to work. It is nonsense.

I know that we are pressed for time, but I want to touch on the limited capability to work component of universal credit. It has been suggested that it applies only to new claimants, but everybody will transfer to UC at some stage, so it will affect absolutely everyone.

I also want to reflect on growing evidence of the effects that the current round of cuts are already having on sick and disabled people. They include isolation, loss of independence, reliance on food banks, homelessness, exacerbation of existing conditions and a direct link to mental health issues. They have also been associated with the deaths of claimants. It is absolutely unacceptable for policies of the state to be doing such harm, so we support the motion and call for the ESA cuts to be paused. There is a lot of support for that.

In conclusion, there is an evidence base of the effects that the cuts are having on sick and disabled people. Over the same period that the Government have cut support for them, they have given generous support to high earners and big business. Last year, the average worker’s pay of £27,645 increased by 2%, while pay for top executives on £5 million increased by 50%. The trend is getting worse and the inequalities are already being felt. We cannot underestimate the effect of those inequalities. They are not inevitable; this is about political choices. The cuts must not go ahead and we would welcome the Government moving on the issue.