March 2016 – ESA/WRAG Reforms

March 2016 – ESA/WRAG Reforms

Thank you for contacting me about reforms to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) announced nine months ago.

From April 2017, new ESA claimants who are placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG) will receive the same rate of benefit as those claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA). This change only affects new claims made after April 2017 and despite irresponsible scaremongering by some individuals and campaign groups, this change will NOT affect anyone already receiving ESA.

Those in the WRAG currently receive additional cash payments but little employment support. This fixation on welfare treats the symptoms, not the causes of poverty; and, over time, it traps people in dependency as, in the current system, the additional cash payment acts as a disincentive to moving into employment. That is why the Government are proposing to recycle some of the money currently spent on cash payments, which are not actually achieving the desired effect of helping people move closer to the labour market, into practical support that will make a genuine difference to individual’s life chances.

This new funding will be worth £60 million in 2017/18 rising to £100 million in 2020/21. It will support those with limited capability for work to take steps to move closer to the labour market, and when they are able, back to work.

This additional practical support is part of a real terms increase that was announced at the Autumn Statement. How the support will be spent is going to be influenced by a Taskforce of representatives from disability charities, disabled people’s user-led organisations, employers, think tanks, provider representatives and local authorities.

It is important to improve what is on offer because we know that most people with disabilities and health conditions want to work, including 61 per cent of the WRAG, and there is a large body of evidence showing that work is generally good for physical and mental wellbeing.

These reforms are aimed at improving the quality of life of those in greatest need. It is worth noting that we spend around £50 billion every year on benefits to support people with disabilities or health conditions, this is over 6 per cent of all government spending. The Government can be proud of that and is determined to ensure that those in need get the support they require.