Cuts for Work Related Activity Group Claimants January 2016

Thank you for contacting me recently regarding the Government's proposed cuts to financial support for new claimants in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

I appreciate and share your concerns about this proposal, which would see the level of support for new claimants in the WRAG cut by around £30 a week from April 2017. Therefore, I wrote to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions the Rt Hon Ian Duncan Smith and raise my concerns with him. Although, he assured me that this change will not affect those already eligible for the component, like yourself, he was unable to satisfy my worry that this unfair and unjust measure will hurt vulnerable people who through no fault of their own are suffering from serious illnesses and are in and out of work intermittently.

I believe it risks creating a perverse incentive for people with health problems to be placed in the more expensive Support Group of ESA, thereby making is less likely they will receive help to return to work and potentially increasing social security costs.

I know that a number of disability and campaign groups have also expressed serious concern about this proposal, including Mind who have emphasised that of the 488,000 people currently in the WRAG, around 250,000 have a mental health problem. I am also aware of the concerns highlighted by the Halving the Gap Review, including the detrimental effect a cut to WRAG would have on disabled and ill people's finances, social inclusion and their health.

Of course the costs of social security need to be fair on the working people who pay for it so it can be there for people who need it because they cannot work or earn enough to live. However, I believe the Government does not understand the reality of these changes, the impact it will have on sick and disabled people or the perverse incentives it will create.

I therefore voted against the Welfare Reform and Work Bill in its entirety at Report Stage and Third Reading, as well as supporting my Shadow Frontbench colleague's amendments to remove this proposal from the Bill. The Bill has now progressed to the House of Lords where I hope my Shadow Frontbench Colleagues will continue to press the Government on this extremely important issue. I also hope that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will listen to my concerns which I expressed in the letter.

I also agree that the Government's Work programme - their flagship policy for getting people into work - is failing the ill and disabled. The cost of ESA this year will be £4.5 billion higher than the Government predicted in 2011, which is a result of both the failure of the Work Programme and the Government's inability to manage disability assessments. In November 2015, the Government announced it would be launching a new 'Work and Health' programme, once the current work scheme contracts have ended, to provide specialist support for claimants with health conditions or disabilities and those unemployed for over 2 years. It was also stated that a White Paper would be published in 2016 setting out reforms to improve support. Please be assured I will consider the White Paper's proposals in detail, as I believe a radical overhaul of the system is now needed.

Thank you once again for writing to me and for sharing your views. I can assure you that I will continue to support efforts to remove this proposal from the Welfare Reform and Work Bill.