Iain Duncan Smith has been urged to abandon plans to cut a benefit which charities warn will push disabled people further into poverty.
Next week the House of Lords will vote on whether to cut Employment and Support Allowance, currently £102-a-week, by £30-a-week, as part of Duncan Smith's Welfare Reform and Work Bill.
Almost half a million sick and disabled people who have had to give up work receive the benefit.
The heads of 30 charities have written to the work and pensions secretary to warn him of the "damaging" effect the cut will have.
"We believe the government’s proposed cut to ESA will undermine its commitment to halve the disability employment gap, and push sick and disabled people further away from work and closer to poverty," the letter says.
However the Department for Work And Pensions accused the charities of "scaremongering" about the cuts.
Charities that have signed the letter include Mencap, MacMillan Cancer Support, Parkinson’s UK, RNIB, the MS Society and Mind.
A poll conducted by Populus for the charities in the Disability Benefits Consortium found 71% of people think cuts to welfare will make the UK a worse place for disabled people to live. And just 6% thought the Welfare Reform and Work Bill would make the UK a better place for disabled people.
Jan Tregelles, chief Executive of Mencap, which co-chairs the Disability Benefits Consortium, said: "Not only are disabled people telling us loud and clear that this cut to ESA will make their lives harder, with both their health and chances of returning to work being harmed, but we also see how the general public are deeply concerned by these cuts to disability benefits.
"The fact that just 6% of people believe the Welfare Reform and Work Bill will make the UK a better place for disabled people shows the urgent need for the Government to rethink their proposed cuts.
“Disabled people have told us about the vital role played by benefits like ESA and how taking this support away would leave them isolated, closer to poverty and further from work. This should make the government listen, especially when this cut seriously undermines their plans to halve the employment gap experienced by disabled people.
“Ahead of this key vote in the House of Lords, we ask Peers to consider what disabled people have said about how this will affect them, and urge the government to rethink this damaging cut in support for disabled people."
A spokesperson for the DWP told The Huffington Post UK: "This kind of scaremongering does nothing to help disabled people, and fails to acknowledge that existing claimants, and those with the most severe disabilities will not be affected at all.
"The current system needs reform because as it stands it fails to provide the right incentives, and acts to trap people on welfare. We are committed to ensuring that people have the best support possible, and that is what these changes are about."
Open Letter to Iain Duncan Smith:
Dear Secretary of State for Work and Pensions,
We believe the Government’s proposed cut to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) will undermine its commitment to halve the disability employment gap, and push sick and disabled people further away from work and closer to poverty.
The Government committed to protecting disability benefits, but instead is pushing through a cut of £30 a week to new claimants in the Work Related Activity Group of ESA. These are sick and disabled people who have been found currently unable to work. The Government says this £30 disincentivises sick and disabled people from finding work, but it has so far offered no evidence for this claim. In fact a recent independent Review showed the opposite is true: that this cut will make it harder for disabled people to find work.
Almost 70% of sick and disabled people we surveyed say this cut to ESA would cause their health to suffer and just under half said they would not be able to return to work so quickly. We call on the Government to listen to the damaging effect this will have on the lives of sick and disabled people and immediately halt this cut.
Suggested For You
Get top stories and blog posts emailed to me each day. Newsletters may offer personalized content or advertisements. Learn more