Imagine you have Parkinson's. You've worked for years, but now your symptoms are getting worse. Although you'd love to keep working, you need the support of the disability benefits system to help you pay for essentials like food and bills. Would £73.10 per week be enough to help you support yourself and your family for a year?
From 1st April, this will be the question on the lips of thousands of people with Parkinson's and other conditions who qualify for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), but who are expected to return to work within a year.
The Government is introducing a drastic £1500 per year cut to payments for people in this 'back-to-work' group for ESA. It argues that the cut will 'provide the right incentives and support' to help disabled people return to work.
It claims that working four or five extra hours a week would be enough to replace the lost income. But how can people do this, if they're already too unwell to work? There's absolutely no evidence that making people with Parkinson's poorer will do anything to 'incentivise' them to get better sooner, and get them back in the workplace.
In fact, the Government's own figures show that families with a disabled member are already more likely to have low incomes. The powerful House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee recently described the evidence for cutting ESA to get people into work as "ambiguous at best".
Parkinson's is a condition that impacts every aspect of a person's life, from problems with balance and freezing, to difficulties with speech, swallowing and concentration. The complexity of Parkinson's means there will, in many cases, come a time when work is no-longer an option. Fair access to ESA is therefore essential.
However, people with Parkinson's still struggle to get this support. Since ESA was introduced, around a quarter of people with Parkinson's who applied were told they can expect to return to work within a year, although their condition will only get worse. Many of them are still in this group years later.
People with the condition have warned of the devastating impact that reducing their support will have on their lives. Karen, who has Parkinson's, was forced to live on £73.10 for 11 weeks because of a problem with her application.
She explained that 'I've still not turned the heating on, because money is so tight. My house is cold, I'm wrapped up in scarves and cardigans, but I can't risk a large fuel bill." She warned that if she had to live on £73 for a whole year that 'I'd be absolutely broke. I'd have to think about selling the house'.
This cannot be allowed to happen.
The Government must scrap this terrible ESA cut and focus instead on improving the accuracy of the assessment process, so that people with Parkinson's and other conditions get the right support first time and are not bullied into work inappropriately.
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