Claims that benefit cuts will boost disabled work participation ‘insulting’ - Mind CEO

Posted On: 
2nd March 2017

Cutting disability benefits will do more harm than good, argues Paul Farmer CBE, Chief Executive of Mind.

Changes to benefits are disproportionately hitting people with mental health problems, claims Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind.
Credit: 
PA Images

You may have read in the news about the proposed changes to Personal Independence Payment (PIP), but that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to disability benefits. The announcement about PIP marks the latest in a long line of benefits related issues which disproportionately affect people with mental health problems, despite the Prime Minister previously committing to treating mental health as equally important to physical health.

In next week’s Spring Budget we will find out whether the Government’s proposed plans to reduce disability benefits will come into force from April this year. Currently, people who have undergone a Work Capability Assessment and are deemed to need support from the out-of-work disability benefit Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) are either placed in the Support Group, or the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG), depending on the perceived severity of their health problem. People placed in the WRAG are expected to do certain things in order to get their financial support, or face having their benefits cut or stopped altogether, a process which MPs themselves have urged the Government to review. In addition to having the threat of sanctions looming over you, from April this year if you’re placed in ESA-WRAG, the Government wants to reduce the amount new claimants will receive by £30 a week, to make it the same amount you’d receive from Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA).

Trying to equate JSA and ESA doesn’t make any sense as there are lots of crucial differences between these benefits. People being supported by ESA currently receive a higher rate 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, which is why it’s a smaller amount just designed to ‘tide you over’ between jobs. When it comes to the WRAG, almost 60 per cent of people need this support for at least two years. It is unrealistic to expect people to survive on £73 a week for this length of time. As a mental health charity, Mind is particularly concerned about these changes because almost half of people who need support from ESA are receiving the benefit primarily because of a mental health problem. There are currently about a quarter of a million people with mental health problems in the ESA-WRAG.

£30 a week might not sound like a lot, but this is the same as reducing someone’s finances from £5,000 to £3,500 a year – someone who is likely to already be in a difficult financial situation. Reducing this support will make people’s lives even more difficult and will do nothing to help them return to work. We’re concerned that, rather than saving money, the impact of these changes will be felt by our overstretched NHS services, as these cuts are likely to have a knock-on impact on individual’s mental health as well as their bank balances.

It is insulting and misguided to imply that ill and disabled people on ESA will be more likely to move into work if their benefits are cut. The vast majority of people with mental health problems want to work but face significant barriers as a result of the impact of their condition and the stigma they often face from employers.

As part of the Disability Charities’ Consortium (DCC), along with Action on Hearing Loss, Disability Rights UK, Inclusion London, Leonard Cheshire Disability, National Autistic Society, RNIB, Royal Mencap Society, Scope and Sense, Mind is calling on the Government to rethink and reverse this proposed £30 a week cut.