Last year, in what we could only describe as a bleak day for disabled people, the Government announced plans to reduce the financial support by around £30 a week for new recipients of the Employment Support Allowance Work Related Activity Group (ESA WRAG). This change took place from 1 April 2017.
ESA WRAG recipients are people who have been assessed as unable to immediately look for work, and so are placed in the WRAG to receive support to move towards the labour market. Before today, new ESA WRAG recipients would receive £30 a week more than those on Jobseekers Allowance (JSA). At Sense we think this is right, given the extra barriers disabled people face to get into work.
The Government has argued that reducing financial support from the ESA WRAG will incentivise disabled people into work. In our experience, it’s far more likely that this will only further penalise people who are already struggling to realise work aspirations – something that undermines the Government’s own vision, as stated in the recent Work, Health and Disability green paper ‘Improving Lives’, to focus on the what disabled people can do, help build their talents and address their individual needs.
People who are deafblind have told Sense that ESA is a lifeline to them and, when seeking work, it can help cover some of the additional costs associated with work related activity that are not always compensated by the Personal Independent Payment (PIP) alone. This is likely to be even more of a worry for disabled people with the Government’s recent discussions to change PIP criteria to reflect “severity of need”.
Often, people with more complex needs such as deafblindness have higher costs related to work activities, as they would have to spend money on transport and communication support to go to interviews, attend training courses or get work experience.
In our recent report on employment among people with complex needs, Realising Aspirations for All, Sense found that many people who are deafblind wish to find work, but face negative attitudes from employers, inaccessible transport and work places, inflexible hours and long and constant battles with the Access to Work to secure the support they need.
Overcoming these barriers is vital to help disabled people live independent, full lives where they have the choice to participate in society in a variety of ways, just like anybody else. At Sense, we don’t accept the Government’s argument to reduce financial support on the ESA WRAG, and although we acknowledge the recent green paper has set out new ways of approaching employment support, we remain concerned the changes will leave behind people with more complex needs such as deafblindness.
The Government has failed to respond to calls from numerous charities to reverse the ESA WRAG cut, including from Sense. With the cut now going ahead, we ask the Government to urgently clarify what plans it has in place to support those who will be financially worse off from the change, to ensure their ability to live full and independent lives is not compromised.