The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has proposed cutting the amount people in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) of Employment Support Allowance (ESA) receive by £30 a week for new claimants from April this year.
The cross-party report recommends that the DWP postpone bringing in this cut so that they can first identify the additional, unavoidable living costs relating to new claimants’ health conditions, and how these costs will be covered. The report also recognises that there is no evidence that sanctions - cutting or threatening to cut someone’s benefits when they’re too unwell to work - help people with mental health problems move towards work.
Responding to the findings of the report, Paul Spencer, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Mind, said:
"We are pleased that the Committee has recommended postponing planned cuts to the financial support available to people who cannot work because of illness or disability. We urge the Government to reverse these cuts entirely. Reducing someone’s support from about £5000 to £3500 a year will make their lives even more difficult and will do nothing to help them return to work.
“People being supported by ESA receive a higher rate than those on Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA) because they face additional barriers as a result of their illness or disability, and typically take longer to move into work. Almost 60 per cent of people on JSA move off the benefit within 6 months, while almost 60 per cent of people in the WRAG need this support for at least two years. It’s unrealistic to expect people to survive on £73 a week for this length of time. Making massive cuts to the benefits bill will have a knock-on effect on our overstretched NHS services, as people’s mental health deteriorates due to financial worries.
“We welcome the Committee’s recognition that the current punitive approach - which sees people having their benefits cut for failing to do certain activities - can have negative effects on people with mental health problems. All too often, benefit sanctions make people’s mental health worse and push them further away from the hope of work.
“It’s concerning that the Government is even considering extending the threat of benefit sanctions to people in the Support Group. These are people who have been assessed as too unwell to take steps towards work and it’s vital that any support they are offered is entirely voluntary and sensitive to their health needs.
“If the benefits system is to truly work for people with mental health problems, it needs to be built on understanding and empathy, with personalised support delivered by skilled and experienced staff, and a culture of supporting people to fulfil their individual aspirations, not simply pressuring them to comply.”