St Albans, Harpenden and Hertsmere MPs vote to cut ESA disability benefit
Controversial cuts to disability benefit forced through parliament on Tuesday (8) were supported by all three local MPs.
The cuts to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for disabled people from £103 to £73 a week will go ahead after ministers used special powers to push them through the House of Lords (HoL).
MPs, including St Albans MP Anne Main, Hitchin and Harpenden MP Peter Lilley and Hertsmere Oliver Dowden, had previously voted to cut ESA but were twice defeated in the HoL.
This week saw the Speaker of the Commons attach a ‘financial privilege’ to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, where the cuts are contained, to overrule the HoL on the grounds that their proposals have cost implications.
Critics say that the cuts will make it more difficult for disabled people to find work and that many struggled to afford food on the benefit at its current level.
The cuts apply to the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) which the bill outlines as having limited capability for work but who are able to take part in some work-related activity
Freddie Isbister, 25, of Kings Road, London Colney, campaigns locally with Mencap, a charity which supports people with learning disabilities, and spoke to his MP Anne Main about his concerns.
He said: “Cuts to benefits and social care are taking away support from disabled people from all angles. The Government made a promise not to cut disability benefits, and I was appalled that MPs pushed through this cut without offering any substantial evidence that cutting disabled people’s benefits will help them find work.
“I voiced strong concerns to my MP who listened to everything I had to say. In the meantime I’d urge MPs to meet people with a learning disability, and understand that cutting their benefits will do nothing to help them find work. MPs need to explain why they pushed through this cut with such little evidence in their favour”
Supporters of the cuts say that the drop in ESA will give WRAG a bigger incentive to find work.
Anne Main said that she gave ‘careful consideration’ to her decision. She added: “Throughout all the debates in parliament, the government were clear that money will be redirected into helping people who can work, get back into work. There will be additional help to get WRAG claimants back into the workplace, proving better opportunities for those who can work. No-one who is currently claiming the WRAG element will see a cash loss; only those new claimants after April 2017 will be affected by the change.
“I was encouraged to hear assurances from the minister that those who can’t work will be continue to be looked after through the support element of the ESA.
“It’s important we get this right. This is about providing better employment opportunities for those who can work, and supporting those who can’t.”
Hertsmere MP Oliver Dowden said: “I believe in reforming welfare so that we provide more support for the most vulnerable, but also help people into work.
“So under this Government, we’ve increased benefits for the most disabled, with overall spending up £2 billion, and helped over a million people off benefits, with over two million new jobs created.
“These reforms continue this process. Much of the money saved will be used to help people into work - with an extra £100 million spending. In addition, no one currently in receipt of these benefits will see their benefits cut in any way.”
Peter Lilley did not respond to the Herts Advertiser’s request for comment.