Our last blog on the bill outlined the two priority areas for Scope – the proposed reduction in financial support to some disabled people and reporting on the Government’s progress in getting disabled people in to work.
The Bill has now reached ‘ping pong’ stage – it will be passed between the House of Lords and the House of Commons until an agreement can be reached.
During their last debate in January, members of the House of Lords voted on a number of changes to the Bill, including:
- Preventing unemployed disabled people from losing essential support
The Bill proposes a reduction in financial support for new claimants in the Work Related Activity Group Employment of Support Allowance of around £30 per week.
This would impact nearly half a million people, risking households falling in to financial hardship and pushing disabled people further away from the jobs market.
The Government’s plans to reduce this support were defeated by 283 votes to 198 at the House of Lords. Now the Bill is being passed back to the Commons, it will fall to MPs to either uphold or reject this decision.
We think MPs should accept this amendment because we are worried about the impact a reduction in financial support could have. Disabled people are usually out of work for longer periods of time than people claiming jobseekers allowance. They are less likely to have savings and more likely to be in debt than non-disabled people, which makes adjusting to a reduction in income much more difficult.
Whether it’s paying for an internet connection to look for jobs, to transport to an interview, or appropriate work clothing, the process of finding work can come with substantial additional costs for disabled people. Reducing the amount of money available to meet these costs could move some disabled people further away from work.
People who are currently supported under the Work Related Activity Group should be protected from these changes, which are intended to only affect new claimants from April 2017. However, an unintended consequence of this could mean that some disabled people are put off starting work, because if they were to then fall out of work they would receive ESA at the new lower rate.
- Measuring progress towards halving the disability employment gap
In their 2015 election manifesto, the Government committed to halving the disability employment gap.
The employment rate for disabled people doesn’t follow economic cycles in the same way as the employment rate for the wider population. This means it’s crucial that we measure progress towards reducing the gap in employment between disabled and non-disabled people to ensure that disabled people have the same opportunities to get in to and progress in work as everyone else.
This priority was raised through another amendment to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, which proposed to make annual reporting on progress on the gap a legal requirement for government.
Although this amendment wasn’t taken up, we were pleased to hear Lord Freud ‘formally commit’to including updates on progress in reducing the disability employment gap within a new annual report on progress towards full employment. His comments mark the firmest commitment from government in this area over the course of the bill so far.
We are now looking for more detail on what reporting will involve. It is essential that changes in the employment gap are measured against the same criteria on an annual basis. This will give a clear indication of where further work is needed to ensure the government makes real progress towards its goal.
We will be live tweeting the debate on Tuesday 23 February, and you can follow proceedings live online on Parliament TV. Watch out for more blog updates on the bill as it progresses through parliament.