Hundreds of thousands of disabled people are set to lose their out-of-work disability benefits, as part of new government plans to cut another £7 billion a year from the welfare bill.
The announcement by the chancellor, George Osborne, in this week’s spending review sparked genuine anger from disabled people’s organisations.
Osborne said that disabled people receiving the “contributory” version of employment and support allowance (ESA) – those with a certain level of other income from partners or savings – will only be allowed to claim ESA of up to £91.40 a week for one year.
Although the measure will only affect those in the “work-related activity group” – rather than those in the “support group”, who have the highest barriers to work – it will cut an estimated £2 billion a year from disabled people’s income by 2014-15.
The £7 billion-a-year welfare cuts announced by Osborne are on top of the £11 billion-a-year cuts announced in June’s emergency budget, which included a 20 per cent reduction in spending on disability living allowance (DLA) by 2016 and cuts to housing benefit.
Osborne also confirmed measures announced at the Conservative party conference, including a weekly benefits cap for “workless households”, and reforms to the benefits system that will see the replacement of all working-age benefits and tax credits with a single “universal credit”.
Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance (DA), said the ESA announcement was “deeply worrying” and “risks increasing disability poverty”.
He said DA had calculated that a disabled person whose partner was earning just £160 a week before tax would not be able to claim any alternative benefit such as jobseeker’s allowance once they lost their ESA.
He said: “If your partner is on a low income it is either in their interest to lose you or lose their job, which will cause family breakdown, poverty and disincentive to work and increase welfare dependency.”
Coyle added: “Disabled people have every right to believe that fairness is not being hard-wired into the welfare and broad government agenda.
“The overall picture is bleak and the message that we are all in this together simply doesn’t stack up when an equivalent figure is being cut from ESA as is expected to be raised by the new bankers’ tax.”
He said the ESA measure would affect many of the 360,000 disabled people already set to lose their DLA, with some disabled people being “cut adrift from the entire welfare state”.
Inclusion London, the capital’s new Deaf and disabled people’s organisation, said the cuts were “absolutely draconian”, and accused the government of aiming “a dagger at the heart of the welfare state, certainly as far as disabled people are concerned”.
Anne Kane, Inclusion London’s policy manager, said the government appeared not to have thought through its deficit reduction plans, because the cuts would lead to disabled people losing their benefits, facing mass unemployment, losing their housing and being forced to sleep on the streets.
RADAR warned that “inadequate support, unwilling employers and a dearth of suitable jobs” could mean the one-year time limit would have a “negative and disproportionate impact on disabled people seeking work”.
And Ellen Clifford, interim director of the user-led Newham Coalition, said she was “angry and appalled” at the “depth and scale” of the government’s spending cuts, which “throw the notion of equality for disabled people out of the window”.
She said cutting ESA would not encourage disabled people into work because there were no jobs available and there was still discrimination in the workplace.
She added: “Removing benefits from disabled people is not going to magically transform the workplace but it will create misery and poverty for people who already endure daily barriers that the politicians responsible for these cuts could not even imagine.”
Emily Brothers, president of the National Federation of the Blind of the UK, said she was “dismayed” by the “highly discriminatory one-year time limit”.
And she said the government’s package of spending cuts “cynically attacks working-age blind people wishing to find a job to do, whilst they experience a series of obstacles to progress”.
21 October 2010