The United Kingdom House of Lords voted March 7 to cut Employment and Support Allowance for more than 500,000 people, from £103 to £73 per week, much to the dismay of disability advocates.
“The cuts to employment and support allowance and universal credit mark a step backwards for disabled people and their families many of whom live in poverty and struggle to make ends meet,” Rob Holland, co-chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium, a coalition of 60 disability rights groups, told the London Independent.
The cuts apply to individuals with ESSA, the country’s primary disability benefits program, in the “work-related activity” group. People under this category are incapable of working presently due to their disabilities, but are deemed capable of returning to the workforce in the future.
Under the bill, which now will almost assuredly become law, these individuals will receive the same weekly benefits as those receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance, the country’s primary unemployment benefits program. The cuts apply only to people who begin receiving ESSA after April 2017, the Independent reported. In total, affected beneficiaries will receive £1,500 less in benefits per year.
The bill’s supporters argue the cuts, which are part of a larger package known as the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, are necessary to incentivize people to return to employment.
Disability activists contend that people receiving ESSA are already struggling. According to a new survey from the DBC, more than a quarter of people in the “work-related activity” category sometimes can’t afford to eat under their current benefits plan, and nearly 70 percent of beneficiaries believe their health will suffer with the planned cuts.
“Reducing disabled people’s incomes won’t incentivise them to find a job. It will just make life harder. The Government has committed to halving the disability employment gap, but cutting financial support is not the answer,” Elliot Dunster, group head of policy, research and public affairs with Scope, told the London Mirror.
The ESSA was created in 2008 during former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s tenure, replacing three prior disability benefits programs. About 2.5 million people are currently receiving benefits under the program.