A leading user-led charity has called for more disabled people to be exempt from the cap on working-age benefits, after the publication of new government figures.
Disability Rights UK (DR UK) spoke out after the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) published figures showing that more than 3,100 households which included someone claiming employment and support allowance (ESA) were having their benefits capped in May 2016*.
Although those in the ESA support group, and claimants of disability living allowance and personal independence payment, are exempt from the cap, those in the ESA work-related activity group (WRAG) are not.
The figures show that 15 per cent of the 20,000 households affected by the cap included someone claiming ESA.
DR UK called for all ESA claimants, including those in the WRAG, to be exempt from the cap.
Liz Sayce (pictured), DR UK’s chief executive, said there needed to be more flexibility from employers, personalised support for disabled people, and advice and support for employers, to help those people in the WRAG who want to get back into work.
She said: “We need a strong strategy from government to help disabled people and employers make this happen – not capping benefits or reducing entitlement to disability benefit via PIP that just drive disabled people into greater poverty.”
The DWP figures were released as Joseph Rowntree Foundation-funded research showed nearly half of people (48 per cent) living in poverty are disabled or live in a household with a disabled person, while two-thirds of single disabled adults live in poverty.
The Disability And Poverty report, due to be published today (11 August) by the New Policy Institute (NPI), also shows disabled people experience higher rates of poverty than non-disabled people, and are more likely to be unable to afford basic goods and services.
Mags Lewis, disability spokeswoman for the Green party, said the report “shines a light on the dreadful inequality still facing disabled people in our society”.
She said: “Conservative austerity cuts affect disabled people six times more severely than anyone else; for example, two-thirds of families affected by the bedroom tax have a disabled person in them. We are now seeing the effects of these policies.
“If the government takes this report seriously, it must scrap the bedroom tax, reinstate the Independent Living Fund, and reconsider changes to ESA.”
The NPI publication came as the Guardian reported on new unpublished research which it said showed that claimants of old-style incapacity benefit who live in poorer parts of the country are more likely to be found fit for work when they are reassessed for ESA through the work capability assessment (WCA) than those in better-off areas.
Lewis said the findings – due to be published next week – “provide yet more evidence that the WCA is not only unfit for purpose but is perpetuating injustice and inequality”.
DR UK said it was “very concerned” by the report, and that disabled people “have a right to expect to be assessed fairly and consistently in relation to their benefit entitlement, regardless of where they live”.
Meanwhile, new research by DR UK and welfare-to-work provider Reed in Partnership found one in 11 people (nine per cent) involved in recruitment, human resources and leadership positions in business do not feel confident that their organisation would be able to support a disabled employee.
Nearly half (47 per cent) of those surveyed claimed that their business would be more likely to employ disabled people if job applicants were more open about their impairments, and nearly a third (31 per cent) of more than 300 respondents said businesses were worried that disabled people would claim discrimination if a job did not work out.
Half of those surveyed (49 per cent) said that additional funding for adaptations would help businesses retain disabled people in employment.
The report suggests that factors that explain the disability employment gap include lack of confidence among employers; inadequate support for disabled people and employers; and the gap in skills and qualifications between disabled and non-disabled people.
Sayce said: “We want to see employers work to create cultures in which people living with impairments or health conditions feel more confident to be open about what they need at work.
“We would also encourage senior colleagues who themselves live with health conditions or impairments to be open about their experiences and show that disability and health issues are an ordinary part of working life.”
*Households affected by the cap can currently claim only £26,000 a year, or £18,200 if the claimant is single and has no children living with them.
From this autumn, this will fall to £20,000 a year, or £13,400 for those who are single (or £23,000 and £15,410 for those in London).