Just two months into his new job, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Damian Green announced that there will be no more welfare cuts under Theresa May's government.
This weekend, a further announcement has suggested a wider shift in welfare policy might be around the corner. Damian Green said that new criteria will be developed for the out of work disability benefit Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) that will determine who can have their reassessments stopped. Those eligible are likely to be people with progressive, incurable conditions.
We, along with several other organisations, have been calling for this change for some time.
The devil of course, will be in the detail. Regardless however, these announcements should be welcomed. They could mean significant improvements for disabled people and may signal a departure from years of inappropriate welfare policies and damaging reforms, which have had a very real impact on people with long term conditions like multiple sclerosis (MS).
Let's not forget about the past
Changes introduced to benefits in recent years have resulted in stressful assessments and delays for claimants. We now have stricter criteria under Personal Independence Payment (PIP) when compared to its predecessor, Disability Living Allowance (DLA). The Government also recently legislated to reduce the rate of support for those in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) for ESA, despite strong opposition across both the House of Commons and Lords.
These issues have made life much more difficult for many people with MS. Under DLA for example, 93% of people with MS were accessing the higher rate of the benefit. Under the new PIP criteria, just 47% of people with MS are able to access the higher rate, losing vital financial support and access to a Motability vehicle as a result. Ultimately, these people may well need other forms of potentially more expensive support further down the line.
At the MS Society, we launched the MS: Enough campaign at the end of last year to bring attention to these issues - they simply don't make sense for the Government or for people with MS. More than 20,000 people supported the campaign.
A new opportunity
The 'no more welfare cuts' pledge from the new Government is welcome, but we'd encourage them to be even bolder. The looming Autumn Statement presents a real opportunity to address issues like the reductions in PIP and ESA; there has never been a better time for the Government to make sure the welfare system makes sense.