Employment and Support Allowance

#TrashTheTories – how you can help make sure June is the end of May

The time to act is now – that is why I will be on the streets for the next few days practising what I preach and hoping it will result in a change of Government.

This article originally appeared on Disabled People Against Cuts

It’s doubtful that anyone reading the DPAC blog will be in any doubt that Deaf and Disabled people in the UK cannot afford the Tories to get re-elected in June. Since 2010 the Tories have relentlessly attacked Disabled people, hitting the same group of people again and again with cut after cut.

While inequality and poverty increased for Disabled people and the poorest in society, the rich have got richer. Since 2010 when the Tories took power the richest 100 people in Britain have increased their wealth by £55.5 billion. Meanwhile nearly half of the poverty in the UK is now directly associated with disability.

Despite the UK becoming the first country in the world to be found guilty of grave and systematic violations of Disabled people’s rights, the Tories are determined to push through their planned welfare savings and ideological dismantling of state support whatever the cost to us.

Already, just this year, changes to PIP brought in through emergency legislation to avoid Parliamentary scrutiny have taken essential support away from 164,000 people predominantly with mental health support needs, Employment and Support Allowance has been cut by a third for people in the Work Related Activity Group and in April the Government sneaked through three more hidden cuts affecting Disabled people.

At the same time, social care packages are being cut to the bone leaving Disabled people trapped indoors without choice, control, dignity or freedom. Over the Summer, the Department for Work and Pensions will be rolling out the new “Health and Work Conversation” to create an added barrier before Disabled claimants even reach the notorious Work Capability Assessment.

It is wrong to assume however that because the Tories have been getting away with this for so long that this is what the majority of the public wants. Most people are shocked and horrified when they find out what has taken place, incredulous that this can happen in the UK in the twenty first century and angry that anyone would and could pursue policies of, in Ken Loach’s words, such “conscious cruelty”. As I argued in a previous post, the majority of people would rather live in a fair and just society that values diversity and works for the benefit of the many rather than the few.

What we have at the moment is a system when power and wealth are in the hands of the elite and that includes control of the mainstream media and the ability to communicate misleading information and to distract from the real problems in society. Thus we find people blaming migrants and benefit scroungers instead of challenging the real enemies who are those who choose to put profit before people.

Precisely because we are the many and they are the few, the obstacles to achieving a fairer society are not insurmountable. Jeremy Corbyn’s two elections as leader of the Labour party in spite of everything the right wing of the party and the media threw at him, the second time with an increased mandate, show that united we can win.

But social justice and a fairer society are not things that will ever be handed to us on a plate, they have to be fought for.

With a General Election called and the prospect of another five years of Tory rule bringing with it insurance based systems to replace benefits and the NHS, now is one of those times when we have to step up and fight even harder because of the very real human cost that a loss will entail.

We all have a part to play in the coming weeks.

It is up to us all to do what we can to make sure the real information gets out there about what a Tory election will mean for Disabled people.

On 2nd May DPAC will be officially kicking off our election campaign to #TrashTheTories with our #NotTheFuckingTories protest: https://www.facebook.com/events/247652075641387.

We would like as many of you to join us as possible on the day but what is even more important is that members get out on the streets and your keyboards in the coming weeks to get that information out there to make anyone thinking of voting Tory or voting in a way that would help the Tories get in, think again.

The voices of Disabled people can and does make a difference. In the 2014 local elections the Disabled campaign group Hammersmith and Fulham Coalition Against Cuts ran street stalls to engage with the public and hand out information about how the cuts were impacting on local Disabled people and what the different local political parties were saying on disability issues. Unexpectedly, Labour unseated the Tory Council and followed through on honouring significant pledges they had made to Disabled voters before the election on issues such as abolishing home care charging.

We are asking all our members to think about what you can do and how you can help and encourage you to target marginal seats. There are some resources you may find useful at the end of this post. The media are often keen to cover stories about access to voting for Disabled people so do use this angle to get local attention.

Can you:

         Make sure your friends, neighbours and colleagues are registered to vote before the deadline on 22 May and plan to use their vote?

         Leaflet on street stalls or door to door with information about how important this election is to Deaf and Disabled people?

         Circulate information about what the different parties are saying on disability issues?

         Hold a local screening of I Daniel Blake with a Q and A after?

         Organise a local Deaf and disability hustings event?

DPAC has some funding for leaflets, stickers and posters which we can post to you if you have an event organised. Please keep us informed with how you are getting on.

Love and solidarity.

Disability Wales Press Release

PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE DISSEMINATION

Open letter to oppose Government’s disability benefit cuts

Ahead of next week’s Budget, Disability Wales are supporting a UK wide call for the Government to reconsider planned cuts to the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) of the disability benefit Employment Support Allowance (ESA), which will see new claimants lose out on £30-a-week, £1500 a year.

Wales has a higher proportion of disabled people than the rest of the UK with a greater proportion of disabled people also living in poverty.

The UK Government claims this cut to ESA will ‘incentivise’ disabled people to get in to work, despite a recent Work and Pensions Select Committee report highlighting that evidence towards this is ‘ambiguous at best’. Disability Wales argues that instead of halving the disability employment gap, the cuts will directly undermine this aim pushing disabled people closer to or into poverty, with a survey of over 500 disabled people finding:

* Almost 7 in 10 (69%) say cuts to ESA will cause their health to suffer

* More than a quarter (28%) say they sometimes can’t afford to eat on the current amount they receive from ESA

* Almost half (45%) of respondents say that the cut would probably mean they would return to work later

* Just 1% said the cut would motivate them to get a job sooner

A recent Disability Wales survey highlighted the desperate struggle of many disabled people dealing with the stress of a system that continues to obstruct and not support. We will be calling upon Welsh Government to put pressure on UK Government to reverse the policies of further cuts.

Rhian Davies, Chief Executive of Disability Wales said:

“The UK Government has been heavily criticised by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities for breaching the rights of disabled people through its ongoing programme of austerity and welfare reform.  To continue to target disabled people with further cuts is beyond comprehension or humanity.

Poverty, poor housing, lack of access to transport, local services, education and skills training means that the odds are stacked up high against disabled people seeking employment. Increasing insecurity and distress by cutting income will do nothing but bring more harm to disabled people in Wales.”

Disability Wales will be taking evidence to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on March 13th which will demonstrate how the UK Government is continuing to fail disabled people in Wales and across the UK. The delegation will lobby for recommendations to be made to UK and Welsh Governments to take action to reverse the impact of these severe attacks on the rights of disabled people.

Open letter

“Dear Prime Minister,

“We urge the Government to reconsider the £30-a-week cut to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Universal Credit facing sick and disabled people. The cut has caused deep concern among the sector and unease among MPs from all parties and we remain united as a sector in our opposition.

“The cut to new claimants in the Work-Related Activity Group of ESA and within Universal Credit (UC) from 1st April 2017 will affect many people found currently ‘unfit for work’ but will also impact many disabled people in work and on low wages due to the way UC works.

“Almost 70% of sick and disabled people surveyed said this cut would cause their health to suffer and just under half said they would probably not be able to return to work as quickly, therefore undermining the Government’s attempts to halve the disability employment gap – something we wholeheartedly support.

At a time when 1 in 3 households with a disabled member are living in poverty, £30 a week can be a huge loss in income. We therefore urge the Government to halt this cut immediately.”

Notes to editors:

1. Disability Wales is the national association of disabled people’s organisations in Wales championing the rights, equality and independence of all disabled people.

2. The Disability Wales response to the “Improving Lives: Work, Health and Disability” Green Paper highlights the detrimental impact of welfare reform on disabled people seeking work and accessing benefits such as Employment Support Allowance. It can be accessed here: http://www.disabilitywales.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/FINAL-Disability-Wales-response-to-Improving-Lives-Green-Paper.docx

3. The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities investigation throughout 2017 will assess what steps the UK has taken to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Committee is a body of experts, nominated and elected by governments, the majority of whom are disabled people.

4. The committee postponed its assessment of the UK (originally due in 2015) to investigate a complaint of the violation disabled people’s rights as a result of welfare reform. This was brought under the optional protocol of the Convention. That investigation looked only at a part of the UN Convention – with a particular focus on the impact of austerity measures and welfare reform. The current report looks at a much wider set of issues, including our laws on mental health and mental capacity, policies on employment and education and more.

5. For media enquiries, please contact:

Natasha Hirst on 029 2088 7325 or via Natasha.hirst@disabilitywales.org

In Response: Kirsty Williams AM

I received the first response to my letter to the four main political party leaders in Wales from Kirsty Williams AM of the Welsh Liberal Democrats. I thank her for her prompt and detailed reply to my concerns over the future of the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG), which I have shared below.

I have a lot of time for the Welsh Liberals thanks to the hard work of Aled Roberts AM who has been a dedicated and empathetic supporter of independent living for disabled people for many years.

Liberal ideals should be applauded, but unfortunately we live in right-wing times and are controlled by a bias media that dismisses or ignores ideas from sources other than the ruling elite.

I remain confused and uncertain over the future of WILG past March 2016, although it is encouraging that Kirsty Williams believes that the Health Minister has stated that he will continue the scheme until March 2017. This would give me a stay of execution and give me time to increase my campaign for independent living, but I won’t believe it until I get written confirmation.

In the meantime I look forward to receiving replies from the other party leaders soon.

***

Dear Mr Davies

Thank you for your email regarding the Independent Living Allowance. I fully appreciate the concerns of many people such as yourself given the uncertainty over the future of this allowance.

As you say the funding has been guaranteed until March 2016. However, the Health Minister [Mark Drakeford AM] has stated that he will continue the scheme until March 2017 and in a written statement in March of this year announced that if funding continues to come from Westminster based on actual numbers then he would consider setting up a permanent Welsh body to administer the ILF.

The Liberal Democrat General Election manifesto in May included a wish to “deliver Home Rule to each of the nations of a strong, federal United Kingdom by transferring power to control a range of benefits for older people, carers and disabled people.”

It is also our goal to push for improvements in the benefits system for disabled people, based on the principle of one assessment, one budget. This will bring together support like Personal Independence Payment, Employment Support Allowance, a replacement for the Independent Living Fund and health and social care entitlements.

Unfortunately of course we are no longer in position at Westminster to deliver this.

In Wales we will do all we can to ensure a fair and equitable benefits system which is administered on a Wales wide basis and not subject to any Local Authority “postcode lottery.”

Yours sincerely

Kirsty Williams AM

Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats

Government response

Dear Nathan Lee Davies,

The Government has responded to the petition you signed – “Assess full impact of all cuts to support & social care for disabled people”.

Government responded:

The Government is committed to a fair tax and welfare system. Every individual policy change is carefully considered, including looking at the effect on disabled people in line with legal obligations.

The Government is committed to a fair tax and welfare system where everyone contributes to reducing the deficit, and where those with the most contribute the most. Every individual policy change is carefully considered, including looking at the effect on disabled people in line with legal obligations.

However, it is not possible, using the Government’s existing analytical tools, to produce a cumulative assessment of the impact of policies on disabled people. HM Treasury has a world-leading distributional model, which it has used since 2010 to publish analysis of the impacts of policy decisions on households across the income distribution. This model uses the Living Cost and Food Survey (LCF), which does not have information on disability status. It contains expenditure information which allows analysis of the impacts of indirect taxes such as VAT and fuel duty, and underpins a unique model of public service usage; both of these enable HMT to consider the impacts of all of the Government tax and spending decisions which directly affect households.

As well as the inability to identify who has a disability in the data, most analysis of the impacts of welfare reforms tend to be limited in that they take static snapshots of benefit changes. Fundamental reforms are designed to support people in to employment and will therefore enable people to generate more income for themselves. Analysis needs to take account of behaviour change of reforms rather than the more limited approach of focusing solely on benefit changes

This analysis shows that the proportion of welfare and public service spending which benefits poorer households has not changed since 2010-11, with half of all spending on welfare and public services still going to the poorest 40% of households in 2017-18. At the same time, the richest fifth of households will pay a greater proportion of taxes than in 2010-11 as a result of government policy – and more than all other households put together.

The Government spends around £50 billion on disability benefits and services annually, and expenditure on sick and disabled people is higher than the OECD average. Welfare changes since 2010 have included protections for key vulnerable groups least able to increase their earnings, including those who need additional support as a result of disability. In the Welfare Reform and Work Bill 2015:

• Many disability-related elements of the benefit system are still uprated by the Consumer Price Index

• The additional component for those in the Support Group of Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit (UC) equivalents has been maintained

• Households which include a member who is in receipt of Disability Living Allowance, Personal Independence Payment, the Support Component of Employment and Support Allowance or UC equivalents are exempt from the benefit cap.

Overall, reforms are focused on supporting people to find and keep work where appropriate. Growing evidence over the last decade shows work can keep people healthy as well as promote recovery which is why, as part of the Government’s objective to achieve full employment, it aims to halve the disability employment gap. Last year 226,000 more disabled people found work and to continue this success the Government has extended Access to Work to provide support to more disabled people in pre-employment, launched Specialist Employability Support to provide intensive, specialist support to the disabled people who need the most help and has extended Work Choice, providing tailored support to disabled people, to 2017. The Disability Confident campaign is working with employers to ensure that they understand the benefits of recruiting and retaining disabled people in work

Sickness Absence in the workplace is also a major issue, with employees off sick for four weeks or more being at greater risk of not returning to work. The Government recognises the importance of early support which is why Fit for Work has been developed; giving access to free, impartial work-related health advice to help employees on sick leave get back to work.

In terms of Social Care and NHS reforms, the Government is committed to supporting the most vulnerable. The Care Act 2014 introduces a modern system to promote and maintain the wellbeing of those with care and support needs so they can live independently. This includes introduction of a new national eligibility threshold which allows local authorities to maintain previous levels of access for service users. This threshold is set out in Eligibility Regulations, and local authorities cannot tighten eligibility beyond this threshold. The Act also provides new legislative focus on personalisation by placing personal budgets into law for the first time for people and carers, increasing opportunities for greater choice and control, so that people can choose social care best suited to meet their needs.

Department for Work and Pensions

Click this link to view the response online:

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/106068?reveal_response=yes

The Petitions Committee will take a look at this petition and its response. They can press the government for action and gather evidence. If this petition reaches 100,000 signatures, the Committee will consider it for a debate.

The Committee is made up of 11 MPs, from political parties in government and in opposition. It is entirely independent of the Government. Find out more about the Committee: https://petition.parliament.uk/help#petitions-committee

Thanks,
The Petitions team
UK Gponseovernment and Parliament