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Changes to Employment Support Allowance Will Only Push People Further Into Poverty - And Further Away From Work

27/01/2016 07:59 | Updated 27 January 2016

There are strong feelings around the proposed changes to the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for those who are in the Work Related Activity Group (those people found unable to work but able to take part in some activities that could move them closer to work).

We strongly believe that rather than halving the employment gap it will push people further in to poverty and as such, further away from work. In fact a report recently published by Low Lord, Baroness Meacher and myself called 'Halving the Gap' found no evidence to suggest that reducing someone's ESA will provide the incentive that the Government believes it will.

The fact that the employment gap exists in the first place should highlight that there are many problems, and it is important to note that these don't always rest with the individual. It can strongly be attributed to employers attitudes but also a jig saw of other challenges like accessible transport, housing, and societal attitudes.

The Government have also so far not shown any inclination to report on the numbers of disabled people moving in to work (or on other areas of reporting child poverty figures). At the very least I believe that this should be an important part of proving that their policies are working.

The Government have said that they are committed to protecting disability benefits and the £30 a week cut will be for new claimants only. One argument is that this doesn't suddenly make it easier for people to cope.

A survey of 2,000 people by Populus (in January 2016) found that 71% believe that these cuts will make Britain a harder place for disabled people to live in. So far a petition on the 38 degrees website has more than 80,000 signatures. We also know that a third of disabled people live in poverty and that some are struggling to eat and have to make some stark choices. Furthermore, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) own figures published in June last year show the number of disabled people living in poverty has increased by a further 300,000. This proves that the challenges are great

My concern (and that of many others) is that by removing support then it puts many people in a more challenging situation and less able to do the things that will help them move towards work. And, rather than 'saving' money I believe that it will just push the costs further down the line and in to other areas/departments, and by then the job to fix it could be bigger. In essence by the time it is recognised thousands of people's lives will be worse off.

We have been told that there will be more support through job centres, but as yet we don't know what that looks like. We at least need the detail to be able to make a better assessment.

Of great concern as well is the evidence given by the Equality and Human Rights Commission to the Commons Public Bill Committee where they said that the impact assessment carried out doesn't equip Parliamentarians to properly consider the implications of the measures in the Bill. Their offer of help and support to the Department of Work and Pensions which has been rejected.

The debate will be robust with many different views expressed but to me this feels like the system is being tinkered around the edges and looking for easy numbers to cut rather than looking for solutions to get people in to work.

Baroness Grey-Thompson is a crossbench peer in the House of Lord and an eleven-time Paralympic champion

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