Last month Iain Duncan Smith, the secretary of state for Work and pensions, stepped down from his role amid a furore about the planned cuts to Personal Independence Payment (PIP). Whether his resignation ultimately forced the decision to cut that benefit to be changed or not is not clear, but it certainly felt like a victory for disabled people that evening. But, many people are still confused about what cuts are going to happen, so we have tried to set out below what is happening. It is under no doubt that the benefits cuts and freezes since the Conservative part and the Coalition came in to power have affected disabled people the worst. We have seen the problems moving over to PIP and the confusion of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), which have both seen many people loose out on benefits and also be subjected to assessments by people who do not understand their disability. There has also been “bedroom” tax, the reduction of Council Tax benefits, changes to housing benefit, the end of the Independent Living Fund and its transfer to local councils and the general freeze and cap on benefits. But what is coming in the future and was the victory about PIP the end of the story.
Twice in the last few months the House of Lords has thwarted efforts for the government to reduce the amount of ESA for people in the Work Related Activity Group, but the government eventually forced the cuts through anyway. What does this mean? Well for people who are placed in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) as opposed to the Support group from April 2017 will receive the same amount of benefit as a person on Job Seeker’s allowance, a loss of £30 or so a week. People are generally placed in the WRAG group if they are ill or disabled and need help getting back to work, but would be capable to work in the near future. It is controversial, although disabled people would welcome helpful and supportive assistance in getting into work, there are many issues to consider, including employers reluctance to employ disabled people and the effectiveness of the work capability assessments. This cut has not been reversed, it will still affect people from next year.
There is also the worry about Universal Credit and how the disabled element of Child tax and Working Tax credits and the severe disability premium will disappear when people transfer to that benefit, something that has not been rolled out to Bradford as yet. So yes, while we can celebrate the win with PIP, it in one more cut that has been deflected, but there is still a fight going on