Reported government plans to cut £2.5 billion from spending on out-of-work disability benefits would risk condemning more disabled people to poverty, according to campaigners.
The plan to reduce spending on employment and support allowance – which is gradually replacing incapacity benefit – was revealed in a leaked letter from the chancellor, George Osborne, to work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith.
But Duncan Smith, speaking to the Commons work and pensions committee this week, said discussions with the Treasury about welfare spending were still ongoing, and claimed the letter “has nothing to do with our present discussions at all”.
RADAR, Disability Alliance and the National Centre for Independent Living said if the new cuts were carried out “disabled people could be without the resources to eat three meals a day or heat their homes”.
In the leaked letter, written in June, Osborne reportedly says that he, Duncan Smith and the prime minister had agreed to cut spending on ESA by £2.5 billion by 2014/15 and that ESA reform was a “particular priority”.
Those who successfully claim ESA will have had to pass the strict and controversial new work capability assessment, with two-thirds of new claimants so far being found ineligible and “fit for work”.
Vanessa Stanislas, DA’s chief executive, said such cuts would represent “a fundamental shift in the welfare state” and would be “a massive blow to disabled people who already fear the outcome of the government’s public service and benefit cuts”.
Sue Bott, NCIL’s chief executive, added: “The budget is already facing a challenge under equality law.
“The chancellor’s letter leaves the government exposed to further accusations of unfairness and an uncaring attitude, failing to ensure proposals do not entrench or worsen inequality and disadvantage.”
The letter’s publication came after Osborne reportedly told the BBC that he wanted to cut another £4 billion from the welfare budget, on top of the £11 billion cuts over three years – and cuts to spending on disability living allowance by a fifth by 2016 – announced in June’s emergency budget.
But Duncan Smith told the work and pensions committee: “As regards figures like £4 billion, I simply do not recognise that figure at all.”
He said the results of the DWP’s discussions with the Treasury would not be announced until the publication of the spending review next month. But he said he believed the spending review would be fair and would not disproportionately affect disabled people.
He said: “I believe that is in the heart and mind of the prime minister, deputy prime minister and the chancellor. How we achieve that is the discussion.”
A DWP spokesman added: “We are presently looking at a range of options for welfare reform and any decisions will be made in the context of the spending review. Our reforms will ensure that the most vulnerable in our society are protected.”
15 September 2010