Disability employment gap: Experts demolish government excuses for WRAG cut


A trio of experts have destroyed government claims that cutting out-of-work benefits for disabled people will help them find work.

They were giving evidence to the Commons work and pensions select committee, as part of its inquiry into the government’s pledge to halve the disability employment gap (the difference between the employment rates of disabled and non-disabled people).

Neil Coyle, a Labour MP and a former director of Disability Rights UK, had asked the panel of experts if they agreed with the government that cutting nearly £30-a-week from new claimants placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG) of employment and support allowance (ESA) would help cut the employment gap.

David Finch, a senior economic analyst with the Resolution Foundation think-tank, who previously spent eight years at the Department for Work and Pensions, said: “We don’t think it’s going to make any particular difference to people’s incentive to look for work or not.

“In face, we think there’s evidence to suggest that, with disabled people, the cost of work search or work preparation is actually more expensive… so in fact it could have the opposite effect and people will spend more time worrying about not having enough income and less time doing the types of activity they are trying to promote them to do.”

Ben Baumberg Geiger (pictured giving evidence), a senior lecturer in sociology and social policy at the University of Kent and co-author of an influential report that called for the “toxic” work capability assessment to be scrapped, said the parliamentary debates on the ESA cut – due to be introduced next April – had suggested that people in the WRAG were “not that severely disabled”, when in fact there were many people who did have significant long-term impairments and would “suffer financially considerably” from the cut.

He said he thought the cut would put an “immense strain” on the work capability assessment – which tests eligibility for ESA – which did not measure how far people were from the labour market but was “just a very crude assessment”.

He said the cut would incentivise claimants to try to get into the support group, which if they were successful would leave them with “very little engagement in getting back to work”, and so would be “definitely harmful” to government efforts to halve the employment gap.

A third expert, George Selvanera, director of strategy and external affairs at the Business Disability Forum, said he had yet to see any evidence that cutting disabled people’s income would “somehow increase their motivation and their skills to find work”.

He said: “What we do know is that it is not the fault of disabled people that the labour market fails disabled people.

“Somehow we are holding disabled people responsible for broader failures in the labour market, which just doesn’t seem fair.”

He added: “We know that [in]2013-14 that 30 per cent of disabled people lived in absolute poverty in this country, so making them poorer, I’m not sure how that incentivises people to work.”

Meanwhile, the latest figures – according to a briefing note published by the House of Commons library – show that the disability employment gap has actually risen since the 2015 election.

In the first quarter of 2015, the gap was 32.7 percentage points, which rose to 34.5 percentage points by the third quarter of last year, before falling to 33.1 percentage points in the first quarter of 2016.

This is because the level and rate of employment for both disabled and non-disabled people have been increasing since 2013.

In the first quarter of 2016, there were 3.33 million disabled people in jobs, an increase of 365,000 compared to the same period in 2014 (a rise of 12 per cent).

  • User Ratings (17 Votes)
  • Aves Bell

    I am not surprised the figures went up! when you first become ill after working all your adult life they hound you and put you through the treadmill to try to get you back to work, the added stress this causes you only serves to make your illness worse! I truly believe if they had helped me when I first became ill instead of putting so much pressure on me to return to work I would not be as ill as I am now 🙁 they make you feel worthless and confuse your mind so much you end up with mental health problems on top of all the other problems with your illness, why would someone do that to people? it just beggars belief!!!

    • Verity Smart

      Couldn’t agree more. I was declared unfit for work by ATOS at the end of Labour’s reign. Being unemployed and disabled was so alien to me (I’d always worked since I was 14) and despite how ill I was I really wanted to return to work. In fact I was having meetings with HR and they stated I couldn’t return to work because I wasn’t fit according to ATOS.

      This was a prime opportunity to support me and help me return to a level of wellness that could’ve seen me return to work.

      Since that time we’ve had a coalition and the Tories. I’ve written to them all telling them I have skills and potential, but lack treatment, access to care and support. Nothing has been done to help me and I’ve been denied all access to all levels of care and support.

      Because of the stress of being on benefits (living hand to mouth doesn’t support wellbeing) and the rhetoric of how we’re perceived I am now more ill than ever and likely will never work again (though given the choice I would like to). But without the right care and support we are left to rot, become more ill to the point of being irreversible. So counterproductive and not at all in the governments interest to treat people in this way. Such a gross waste.

  • Kit Conway

    It is now possible to limp into a Work Capability Assesment in Liverpool, apologise to the Assessor, then be recorded as ‘walked normally.’
    This actually happened and the gentleman concerned has had to go back on JSA, with a GP note saying, ‘unfit for work.’
    Of this isn’t corruption, what is?

  • Veronica Zundel

    Of course the cut to ESA will reduce the employment gap. That is because within six weeks of the cut, half of the people affected will be dead and therefore come off the unemployed figures.

  • Annie

    I wonder if having carers come in to get you dress and showered in the mornings, in during the day twice to change pads/adult nappies, and in at bedtime to change your close and put you into bed will be considered able to work.