Disabled people need to be proactive on benefit reform not just reactive to cuts, says Andy Rickell.
There is no doubt that removing the premium that people who receive Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) get over Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA) from those in the Work-Related Activity Group (WRAG) in the recent budget is taking money from people in serious need and is unfair. I can entirely understand disabled people wanting to campaign for it not to happen, and I would support them.
It also gives us a chance to think through what positive welfare reform we should be campaigning for, than merely responding to the latest government decisions which are led as much by general politics as about the politicians’ views of what they think is the best way to support disabled people. We need to have a positive narrative about social security to challenge the “scrounger” narrative that goes beyond the straightforward “more benefit money is better” mantra.
Obviously if the Government’s wish to halve the disability employment gap was based around sustainable and accessible well-paid jobs that obviated our need for cash state benefits, rather than a simple wish to cut the benefit bill, that would be great. But clearly some disabled people would be better off health-wise not working, and others need support to work that the system does yet not provide. Non-working working age disabled people are exactly the sort of people the welfare state should work for.
It took nearly 50 years for the welfare state to introduce a benefit that recognised there was an extra cost of disability, disability living allowance (DLA), a cost that remains whether or not the person is working. Means testing it would only be fair if it covered the full extra cost, whereas DLA, and its replacement PIP, merely offer a sum based on a few tightly-drawn care and mobility criteria. A campaign to genuinely relate PIP to the real extra costs would be valid, as would a general public awareness-raising and influencing around what those extra costs are.
It is good that ESA remains for those not expected to work at all, though the Work Capability Assessment results in ludicrous outcomes for some, both in theory and in its implementation by the assessor contractors. I am pleased that more recent results are showing a greater number being assessed into this group. The premium that ESA (Support) recipients get over JSA can be justified because they can be expected to need to cover ongoing living costs over the long term.
So why do the WRAG group need an ESA premium ? Two reasons. Firstly, because the discrimination to find work will mean they can expect longer periods of unemployment, and hence need to cover a wider range of living costs, than the average JSA claimant. Secondly, because there are costs associated with job-hunting that disabled people face more than non-disabled people. For instance, needing a car or taxis or other assistance to obtain stationery to make applications, to post applications, to get to job interviews, JobCentre interviews and to otherwise meet their benefit obligations; accessible software and hardware to access and respond to job information online; and general support to maintain work-ready healthiness. ESA (WRAG) enables, it’s needed.