Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) November 2016

Thank you for contacting me recently regarding employment support for people with MS and the Government's cuts to financial support for new claimants in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) [and the related MS Society campaign].

I am very disappointed that the Government has chosen to ignore the widespread concern from both within and outside Parliament about cutting the level of support for new claimants in the WRAG by around £30 a week from April 2017. 

During the passage of the Welfare Reform and Work Act I opposed this unfair and unjust measure, as it 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 also 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 and support to return to work and potentially increase social security costs. In November 2016 there was an Opposition Day debate where the Shadow Frontbench called again on the Government to reverse the £1.4 billion reductions to employment and support allowance in advance of the Autumn Statement. 

In October 2016 the Government launched the Improving Lives: The Work, Health and Disability Green Paper. As part of this consultation the Government is consulting on putting in place a Personal Support Package to support those on ESA WRAG. The consultation also includes a review of the flawed Work Capability Assessment (WCA), sick pay and Doctor's notes. The consultation closes on 17 February 2017 and I understand that the MS Society has described this consultation as an opportunity to rethink the welfare system. 

It is welcome that the Government has acknowledged that the WCA causes stress for many sick and disabled people. I believe that we need a holistic, person-centred approach, based on principles of dignity and inclusion. I am therefore disappointed that the Government has not committed to scrapping it, as the Shadow Frontbench has. 

In November 2016 there was a Backbench Business debate calling for the Government to postpone the cuts to ESA until it was able to analyse the consultation from their Green Paper. While the Shadow Frontbench believes that the cuts to ESA WRAG should be scrapped completely it did support the non-binding motion, which passed unopposed by the Government. 

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 also believe that the Government has been far too slow to address the issue of support for the disabled and the disability employment gap. As a civilised society, it is imperative that we ensure that those who are disabled or are too ill to work are adequately supported and not left to fall into poverty.

Thank you once again for writing to me and for sharing your views.