The Lords accept ESA disability benefit cuts


The House of Lords has accepted the proposed cut to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for claimants in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) which has already been passed by the House of Commons. The £30 reduction is set to go ahead from April.

In the last few weeks, the House of Lords twice voted against the government’s plan to cut ESA for people in the Work Related Activity Group from £103 to £73. The Government says the cut, which applies to new claimants, will incentivise those in that group to find work.

The cuts in support contained in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill will affect people deemed unable to work at the moment but capable of making some effort to find employment, including attending work-focused interviews and taking part in training.

‘We must accept the decision of the Commons’

In the House of Lords, Lord Freud, the Minister of State for Work and Pensions urged the Peers to end their opposition to the planned cuts. In his opening statement he said:

“We have rigorously scrutinised the legislation to remove unintended consequences and sent back a number of concerns for the Commons to reconsider. Indeed, on ESA work-related activity component and the Universal Credit limited capability for work element, we have twice asked the Commons to reflect on the measure and twice it has voted down proposed amendments with substantial majorities. I think that our duties are discharged and there comes a point when we must accept the decision of the Commons on this financially privileged matter.”

Ministers argue that too few people in the category are moving into work and that the lower benefit rate would save £55m in the first year. The Government plans to spend £60m on supporting claimants to take steps towards finding work.

Charities have warned that the cut to ESA would make it more difficult for people living with a disability to find work and that many struggle to afford food on the benefit at its current level.

‘Disabled parents will lose out much more’

Baroness Grey-Thompson was disappointed by the decision and apologised to the people who are going to be affected by the bill. She raised her concerns which included difficulties for parents to stay in work.

She said: “These measures will make it harder for disabled parents to move into or remain in work if their condition deteriorates. They will not help to halve the disability employment gap. Single parents or second earners are likely to be worse off under Universal Credit. Disabled parents will lose much more as, unlike in the current system, they will receive no more than a non-disabled parent and there are additional costs that are simply not covered by Access to Work.

“Many disabled people have little in the way of savings and assets, so this will plunge people further into debt and is unlikely to make them more work-ready. We should be particularly mindful of the fact that half this group have mental health issues, autism and learning difficulties.”

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Source: Parliament UK Hansard 7 March 2016: Welfare and Work Reform Bill