“The welfare system should always support the elderly, the vulnerable and disabled people”.
These were the Chancellor’s words when he delivered his Summer Budget in July. It was a clear statement of intent that this government will continue to care for people who need our support, even while difficult decisions are being made elsewhere.
We spend more than £13bn a year on sickness and incapacity benefits for more than two million people of working age, a figure that will rise under this Budget. Governing as One Nation means making sure that those people who need our help can rely on it.
Equally, it’s just as important that we help the majority of disabled people who are capable of and want work to find it. We should do everything we can to give people the dignity of a job, the opportunity to achieve their career aspirations and the security of a pay cheque. The focus should always be on what a person can do, giving them every opportunity to fulfil their potential. No-one should be written off to a life on disability benefits and it should always pay to work.
This is why we are reforming Employment Support Allowance (ESA) for future claimants, aligning the Work-Related Activity Group rate with the rate of Jobseekers Allowance. Though some may criticise this change, it is a sensible decision which aims to address what for many has proved to be a major barrier to work.
Previously someone placed in the Work-Related Activity Group would receive more money every week than a person on Job Seekers Allowance, but get nothing like the help to find suitable employment. Why was this wrong? Because the vast majority of disabled people – just like most non-disabled people – want the right support, not a system which traps them on benefits.
The recent budget provided £60m to fund additional practical support for those who claim ESA from April 2017, when the removal of the WRAG rate will come into effect. This will rise further to £100m by 2020. This will help deliver our wider pledge to get more disabled people into employment and meet our ambition to halve the disability employment gap. This will mean around another one million disabled people having the satisfaction of providing for themselves or their families.
Of course, some people are unable to work and those people will always be protected. The Prime Minister promised that before the election and it’s a promise we’re keeping.
This is my first article for Able Magazine and I want to use this platform to talk about the real issues that affect disabled people. If any readers have a specific topic that they want to hear about then please feel free to contact the Magazine – or me directly via Twitter – with your suggestion. You can find my profile @MinisterDisPpl
Other political matters relating to disability are reported on and discussed at: ablemagazine.co.uk