WRAG cuts will “lead to more tragedies”, says Debbie Abrahams

Sick and disabled people in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG), claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) will see payments cut by £30 a week, to bring the benefit in line with the current Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) rate.

The cut will affect up to 500,000 sick and disabled people, including many with incurable and progressive conditions like Parkinson’s and Motor Neuron Disease, who are unfit for work but whom the Department of Work and Pensions believes may be capable of working at some point in the future.

Debbie Abrahams, the shadow minster for disabled people, and a former public health consultant, is calling on the Government to scrap the measure.

Debbie has highlighted the government’s own figures, which showed that the death rate of people on out-of-work disability benefits had increased – in comparison with the general population – from 2003 to the period between 2011 and 2014.

She has pointed out that people in the WRAG were 2.2 times more likely to die than the general population.

She said:

“The innuendo that people with a disability or illness might be ‘faking it’ or are ‘feckless’ is quite frankly grotesque and belies the epidemiological data.

Incapacity benefit and ESA are recognised as good population health indicators. I can say that as a former public health consultant. I have experience of this and I have worked in this field.

The release of the government’s own data, which show that this group are more likely to die than the general population, proves that point.”

Ms Abrahams said the government had “continually maligned, vilified and demonised” benefit claimants, whilst its use of words like “shirkers” and “scroungers” had led to these terms being used far more often in the media.

Disability hate crime has increased significantly over the past five years. Recent figures published by the Home Office reveal that 2,508 disability motivated hate crimes were reported and recorded by the police in 2014/15, up 25% from 2,006 in 2013/14.

Debbie Abrahams told the Daily Mirror:

“Disabled people are already twice as likely to live in persistent poverty.

While last year, more than 300,000 additional disabled people were pushed in to poverty.

That is why Labour is calling for the Government to carry out a proper impact assessments that considers the combined impact of cuts to disabled people.”

Speaking to fellow MPs, Debbie said:

“This group of people are vulnerable and need care and support, not humiliation, from us. 

Once again the cart is being put before the horse: make cuts in support and cross your fingers that something turns up for disabled people.”

During the first parliamentary debate about the WRAG ESA cuts, Priti Patel, the employment minister, said the work-related activity component was introduced by the last Labour government “as an incentive to encourage people to participate in employment”.

She said:

“Clearly, we know that that has not happened. We are therefore reforming our approach with DWP, through our jobcentres and work coaches, to support individuals to get back into work.”

She added:

“Through all our welfare reforms we have made it clear that we will continue to protect and support the vulnerable.

That of course includes those who have terminal illnesses or people with progressive illnesses who are unable to work.”

During discussion of a related clause of the bill, Patel added:

“It is very easy for Labour members to claim that the [WRAG] measure is about taking money away.

It is about providing the right kind of support for people with health conditions and disabilities.”

It IS about taking money away.

Let’s not forget that this government have actually cut support for disabled people who want to work. The Access To Work funding has been severely cut, this is a fund that helps people and employers to cover the extra living costs arising due to disabilities that might present barriers to work. The Independent Living fund was cruelly scrapped by this Government, which also has a huge impact on those trying their best to lead independent and dignified lives.

Ms Abrahams said:

“It is unjust that people with serious health conditions, who have been assessed by the Government’s own Work Capability Assessment process as ‘not fit for work’, should have support cut in this manner.

These measures also risk making it harder for some disabled people to move back to work, as they will have lost the financial support that helps them secure employment opportunities.”

Absolutely.

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