MPs should vote with the Government tomorrow – then demand more reform

22 February 2016

Tomorrow the Welfare Reform and Work Bill ‘ping pongs’ back to the House of Commons. The Government will seek to overturn the Lord’s rejection of the change in the payment rate for some people on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). Worth £640 million a year in savings by 2020-21, the change means that people in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) – those deemed able to carry out activities to help them move back to work – will receive the same level of benefit as jobseekers. The Government argues that removing the financial incentive to be in the WRAG will encourage more claimants to move back to work.

Campaigners against the change argue there is no evidence to support that claim. A review by three peers, supported by a group of disability charities, surveyed current claimants and found that half felt the cut would mean it would take longer for them to get into work. Setting aside the fact that the change will only apply to new claimants from April 2017 (and therefore not those surveyed), there are several flaws in this argument. Firstly, claimants are not moving into work under the current system – just 1 per cent of WRAG claimants leave the benefit each month. Secondly, using subjective survey data is not a good guide to the possible behavioural effect of the rate reduction, but, thirdly, robust international studies are. Reform’s recent report Working welfare: a radically new approach to sickness and disability benefits cites evidence from the US, Sweden, France and Norway which show that the higher the benefit rate the longer a claimant is likely to remain on it.

The other key argument critics use is the need for a higher payment rate to meet the additional costs faced by people with disabilities. This confuses the purpose of ESA, which is an income-replacement benefit, with the extra costs benefits Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Personal Independence Payment (PIP). DLA and PIP are designed precisely to help with the significant and higher costs faced by some people with disabilities – such as needing specialist support, equipment or transport – and is worth up to £140 a week. It is also available to eligible claimants regardless of their employment status and therefore maintains work incentives.

Helping more people with disabilities and health conditions into work will clearly take more than the rate reduction contained in the Bill. The Government must invest more in back-to-work services. Health and social care services must ensure people can access the support they need (such as mental health services), when they need it (such as carers helping someone first thing in the morning so they can go to work). Employers need to recognise the talent available amongst disabled people and be willing to make the adaptations necessary for them to join their workforce. But the fact that other reforms are needed does not mean that the rate change is not. MPs should support the Government tomorrow, and then press for even more action in those other areas.

Charlotte Pickles, Senior Research Director, Reform



Samuel Miller

23 February, 2016

It is my firm belief that there will be an exponential increase in suicides if the proposed ESA (WRAG) cuts become law. These cuts (starting from April 2017) must be stopped. Disabled people are terrified of being placed in the WRAG and will likely adopt a ‘support group or bust’ attitude, virtually guaranteeing that the DWP’s efforts to incentivize them into work will ultimately fail. Labour is taking advice from lawyers on whether benefit cuts under Universal Credit are illegal. I have written MP Owen Smith, Shadow Minister of State for Work and Pensions, urging him to also consider taking legal recourse to block the ESA (WRAG) cuts, scheduled to come into effect April 2017. I CC'd in that same communication Jorge Araya, the United Nation's Secretary of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Cuts to ESA WRAG would 'increase the burden on people who are already coping with serious illness or disability', says Jeremy Lefroy MP, in this persuasive Spectator piece: That a Conservative MP is truly concerned is heartening indeed, but his fine words likely won't be enough to convince the DWP and George Osborne to reverse the cuts. It is conceivable that this pernicious measure will be forced through the House of Lords by devious means. In my opinion, the only way forward is to file a human rights lawsuit against the DWP in conjunction with a UN CRPD "grave and systematic" violations finding. Disclosure: Since January 2012, I have been reporting voluntarily to the UN’s human rights office, in Geneva, on the welfare crisis for Britain’s sick and disabled. [Fellow Canadian Leilani Farha (@leilanifarha) is the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing; see You can tweet her on UK housing issues or e-mail her at the UN's human rights office:; she does follow my Twitter account.] (Montreal, Canada)