The following letter was published in ‘The Observer’, 21 February 2016
SIR – I welcome the Prime Minister’s initiative on mental health care, but I am puzzled why the Government at the same time wants to cut out-of-work benefits to those with mental health problems.
Before Christmas, the House of Lords voted to remove two clauses from the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, cutting the benefits of new claimants to the Employment and Support Allowance Work Related Activity Group (ESA WRAG) from £102.15 to £72.40 per week, also cutting their Universal Credit. ESA WRAG is paid to sick or disabled people currently declared ‘not fit for work’, but who might be able to return to work in due course, assuming they receive appropriate treatment, training and support. Significantly nearly 50% of ESA WRAG claimants – almost 250,000 individuals – experience mental health problems.
The House of Lords called into serious question the notion that those found to be unable to work can be incentivised back to work by a cut to their living standards. The Government wants to bring the level of benefit paid to those in the WRAG into line with benefits paid under Job Seekers Allowance, with the stated rationale that a cut would “incentivise work” and is pushing for the Lords’ decision to be overturned.
This should not be allowed to happen. A cut in benefits may incentivise the fully able to find employment, but the Government has yet to provide any evidence that the same would hold true for those in the ESA WRAG, the majority of whom really do want to work.
Dr Alan Smith, The Bishop of St Albans