The problem is that in the next breath he announced that, along with most other working age benefits, ESA would be included in the restriction to a 1% annual growth for the next 3 years. Well below the rate of inflation this amounts to a cut in real terms.
ESA is mostly paid to disabled people who are too sick to work. To qualify for this benefit they have to have undergone rigorous testing and passed the much maligned WCA (Work Capability Assessment) administered by ATOS and been classed as unfit for work. Some are considered to be able to work again at some time in the future (possibly years). These are put in the WRAG (Work Related Activity Group). Others are considered too ill or disabled ever to work again and are put in the Support Group.
So how can the chancellor be promising disability benefits be exempt when ESA is included in the cuts?
Well turning to the small print of the Treasury Costings (p33) we see the following:
“The following benefits, tax credits and payments will be up-rated by 1 per cent for 3 years from 2013-14:
• The main elements of Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Income Support, applicable amounts for Housing Benefit;
It will not apply to the premia within these benefits relating to disability, pensioners, and caring responsibilities, the support group component of ESA, or the disability elements in tax credits, which will be uprated as usual.”
A claim for ESA comprises:
- A main element of ESA (the bulk of the benefit)
- A Support Group component or WRAG component (Anyone unfit for work gets one of these after passing the WCA)
- Any relevant disability premiums (not everyone qualifies for these)
For both WRAG and Support group claimants the main element part will only rise by 1%.
For WRAG claimants the WRAG component will only rise by 1%
For Support Group claimants the Support component will rise by inflation.
For both WRAG and Support Group claimants any disability premiums will rise by inflation.
- WRAG claimants who do not receive disability premiums will see their benefit restricted to 1% growth for 3 years.
- All Support Group claimants and those WRAG claimants who receive disability premiums will see their benefit restricted to a growth slightly higher than 1% but still significantly lower than inflation. In fact it works out at approximately 1.4% according to DRUK.
ESA claimants are seriously ill and disabled people who have fairly and genuinely been found unfit for work. The statement that disabled people will be supported and disability benefits will be unaffected is totally and unequivocally untrue. It is high time that someone stood up and said so.