We Need to Support More Disabled People Into Work. Cutting ESA Isn't the Answer

24/02/2016 11:54 GMT | Updated 24/02/2017 10:12 GMT

Half a million disabled people will be affected by the Government's plans to reduce Employment and Support Allowance by around £30 a week.

The cut will affect people with cancer, learning disabilities, mental health problems and degenerative diseases such as Parkinson's, who will see their weekly support reduced from £101 to £73.

Disabled people who receive this type of benefit have been assessed as having a reduced capacity to work. But ESA is not a 'passive benefit' - claimants have to do work placements or training, or their benefits could be stopped.

Last month, the Lords voted to remove the proposal to reduce their support from the Welfare Reform and Work Bill.

But this week, MPs reinstated this measure - failing to understand the harmful impact that cutting ESA will have on disabled people.

The Government's plans will affect new claimants in the Work Related Activity Group from April 2017.

Reducing disabled people's incomes won't incentivise them to find work

We have significant concerns that reducing support will have a harmful impact on financial wellbeing and actually push people further from the workplace.

Once out of work, disabled people can find it much harder to return; 10% of unemployed disabled people have been unemployed for five years or more, compared to 3% of people who aren't disabled.

In 2016, disabled people still face huge barriers to work. These include employer attitudes - being seen as 'risky hires' - a lack of the right support to find work and inaccessible workplaces.

The cut to ESA will leave disabled people on very low incomes for a long time.

Life is already too tough for many disabled people. Scope research shows disabled people pay a financial penalty on everyday living costs that adds up on average to £550 per month.

Disabled people are less likely to have savings and more likely to be in debt than people who aren't disabled. Nearly half (49%) of disabled people use credit cards or loans to pay for everyday items such as clothing and food.

Halving the disability employment gap

The Government has made a welcome commitment to halve the disability employment gap.

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the number of disabled people in work has risen by 152,000 over the past year.

Clearly this is good news. But a closer look shows things aren't quite so simple. A huge gap remains between the employment rate of disabled people and the rest of the population.

The disability employment gap is currently 34% - the same proportion as this time last year. And it has remained static at around 30% for more than a decade.

So while overall unemployment is at its lowest ever level, disabled people are at risk of being left behind in the recovery.

To meet its ambitious target to support more disabled people into work, the Government must invest in expert, tailored support and encourage employers to create flexible modern workplaces.

It should also look to replace the Work Capability Assessment with an assessment that looks beyond someone's medical condition and considers the wide range of social, educational and environmental barriers that prevent disabled people finding and staying in work.

The upcoming White Paper on disability, health and employment is an important opportunity to reform the system and make it work for disabled people that mustn't be missed.