I know there has been a lot of concern over a recent vote surrounding the reform of Employment & Support Allowance and specifically level of benefits paid to people in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG).
It has been reported as ‘cutting benefits to the disabled’ giving the impression that anyone who is on a disability benefit will lose £30 per week. I have placed a full description of what the changes are on my website, as the way it has been reported doesn’t explain the full details.
Firstly, the changes will only affect new claimants from April 2017 and then only those people who, following assessment, are placed in what is known as the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG). These are those people whose condition means that they have limited capability to work but if given the right support could be helped into work. People who are assessed as unable to work through a severe disability are not placed in the WRAG but in the Support Group, where there is no expectation on them to find work. Their condition is, quite correctly, acknowledged and people in the Support Group are not affected by these changes.
It has become clear that those people who have been in the WRAG have not been getting back into work at the same rate as people who are on Jobseekers Allowance (JSA), so something is not working as it should. It is therefore evident that, whilst those in the WRAG are receiving extra payments, they are not getting the right level of support targeted to help them overcome their difficulties to get back into work. Consequently, from April 2017, new claimants who join the WRAG will receive the same cash benefit as people on JSA, but the Government are then looking to invest significant extra funds into upping their support to give them every possible opportunity to find work, as many of them wish to do. This is not about taking money away, it is about trying to better target it to help people back into work. For years people with disabilities were simply written off by the system, but these changes are aimed at giving people, who through no fault of their own face extra challenges when looking for employment, a real chance of getting into work.
The Government provides more than £50billion in support for people with disabilities, but I can understand when these changes are expressed in the terms of ‘cutting money for the disabled’ the anger and indignation that many people have expressed over this. If it had been that straightforward then I would have been similarly outraged.
I have spoken at great length with the Minister for the Disabled over this matter, who has informed me that at present, someone on JSA (closer to the jobs market) would expect an average of 710 minutes professional support, whilst those in the WRAG would expect just 105 minutes, which is not good enough, so I do believe that these measures will help to provide real and meaningful help to those who wish to work but face greater obstacles than others.
There is a fuller and more in-depth explanation on my website and I am always happy to meet with constituents who are worried they may be affected by these changes. Similarly if someone feels that they may have been incorrectly assessed I will always try to get this put right.