WRAG And The Budget

By: A.C.

I watched the Budget on Wednesday 8 July 2015 and found my blood–pressure rising as IDS fist–pumped the air, and mouthed “Fantastic” as George Osborne announced the Welfare Cuts 

The relevant, and almost incidental reference by George Osborne to WRAG and ESA is contained in his speech.

“For future claimants only, we will align the ESA Work-Related Activity Group rate with the rate of Job Seekers Allowance. No current claimants will be affected by this change and we will provide new funding for additional support to help claimants return to work.”

As always the devil is in the detail. This means effectively that new claimants for ESA after April 2017 and placed in the WRAG, will receive the same amount of benefit as Jobseekers Allowance. For those who love trawling mind–bogglingly difficult to understand legislation you can go here. The relevant section is 13. This legislation is what is being pushed through the Commons by IDS and is subject to his decision – or possibly Parliament – on what it will contain.

The website at Benefits and Work Guides states “ The Welfare Reform and Work Bill is primarily enabling legislation which contains very little in the way of detail about the changes that are to be made to the benefits system. However, in relation to abolishing the WRAC the bill makes provision for “transitional or transitory provision or savings as the Secretary of State considers necessary or expedient”.

What is not clear- and I have yet to find any clarification either way – is whether those who face annual re-assessment will be then be treated as “new claimants” and have their allowance reduced and possibly become liable to the same punitive sanctions as Jobseekers.

The reassurance that current claimants on ESA WRAG will not be affected makes me very suspicious of the terminology used. If one is re–assessed, then the outcome is surely then current – to that new assessment. That possibly means all current claimants become “new claimants”. This is a wait and see situation, which only adds yet more stress to those who are awaiting assessment or re-assessment.

I have also tried to get answers on the following questions:

Does the DWP expect the disabled to attend Jobcentres every single day and fill out forms constantly? Will the disabled be sanctioned for failing to get to a Jobcentre? At the moment, Government websites offer no answers.

I came across this analysis at Ekklesia, a think–tank of various non–conformist Christian organisations, the article being written by Simon Barrow who is its co–director.

“New ESA claimants who are placed in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG), will now only get the same rate of payment as those on standard Job Seeker’s Allowance – if they are able to demonstrate some “work-related activity”.

That is a loss of £30 a week, and ignores the fact that the people concerned have been assessed as not being able to work at present. It means that from now on these disabled people will lose around a third of their income.

The support component of ESA will not be frozen from April 2016. But the ESA basic allowance of £73.10 (for people aged 25 and over) and the work-related activity component of £29.05 will both be subject to a four year freeze. This will lead to many more ESA claimants struggling to survive by 2020, disability groups and charities point out.

Osborne’s cut will also hit many people with serious degenerative conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and Motor Neurone Disease who are not yet sufficiently incapacitated to qualify for the support group, but whose condition will only get worse. These are people who are very unlikely to work again, but will still be punished.

Their conditions will mean that they face substantial extra costs for things like heating, disability aids, transport and special diets – up to £200 a week in some cases. But to Chancellor Osborne, the extra £30 a week they are being denied is merely a ‘perverse incentive’ that keeps them from making the necessary effort to find an employer willing to take them on.

Simon Barrow at Ekklesia then summed up his comment thus:

“In view of these implications, it would be quite misleading to describe the 2015 Summer Budget as a “one nation budget” or as favoring “working families” and “giving the nation a pay rise” in any meaningful sense. On the contrary it hits low income households and disabled people, and will increase further Britain’s alarming levels of inequality. Though easing austerity slightly, it also fails to address key economic weaknesses. But that is another story.”

A list of websites giving reaction and analysis can be found at Update.org

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