The BBC said it had seen documents that showed ministers were considering “drastically cutting” payments for new claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA).
The cuts would apply to those who had been placed in the ESA work-related activity group (WRAG) because they were considered capable in the future of returning to work.
The BBC claimed those in the WRAG would be given just 50p more per week than those on the mainstream out-of-work benefit, jobseeker’s allowance (JSA).
WRAG claimants currently receive up to £101.15 a week, nearly £70 more than those on JSA, who receive up to £72.40 a week.
A DWP spokesman insisted that the idea was “not government policy and is not happening”, but he was unable to provide any more information.
A Conservative party spokesman also confirmed that it was “not government policy and is not going to happen”.
John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said he condemned “in the strongest possible terms” the suggestion that the WRAG rate would be cut, and the “ambiguous” statements issued to the BBC and other media.
Kate Green, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said that disabled people would be “really anxious and concerned” about the suggested cuts.
She said she had written to the Conservative minister for disabled people, Mark Harper, “demanding a whole lot of answers [about] this report, most particularly is it true”.
Green said: “They have huge delays in the [ESA] system, with a backlog of 600,000, reassessments completely on ice, a complete failure of the Work Programme, which means they are not getting ESA claimants into sustained work.
“One of my concerns is that people in the WRAG could be paying the price for the government’s failed policies towards disabled people and particularly getting them into sustained work.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady added: “This is a scheme workers pay into from their earnings every month as insurance against serious illness or disability. Cutting it would mean plundering the safety net that safeguards their families.
“If there’s a problem to address it is barriers like inaccessible workplaces, or the inaccurate stereotypes and assumptions disabled people have to overcome to get off benefits and into work.
“Most ESA claimants are desperate for a job. Punishing them for not getting one is unfair.”
A Liberal Democrat spokeswoman said: “As this is not government policy it is not something we would comment on.”
30 October 2014