On Wednesday 13th January, disabled people travelled to Parliament to lobby MPs on the damaging effect the provisions in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill will have on them. This is an issue I have spoken on in Parliament many times, including at Third Reading in October which you can read about here.
I was pleased to meet with a number of local and regional lobbyists, including with Greg from the MND Association (pictured below) and Tony from RNIB (pictured right), to hear first-hand of the effects on them of Government’s proposed changes to the social security system. If the Bill is amended in the Lords, it will return to the Commons and I will continue to argue hard against the wide range of cuts that will have a devastating impact on disabled people and others.
The lobby came just a day after a Westminster Hall debate, led by my colleague Ian Lucas MP, on employment for disabled people. As Shadow Minister of State for Disabled People I responded to the debate and you can read my speech in full below:-
Debbie Abrahams: It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. Congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas) on raising such an important issue, and on representing his constituent Margaret Foster so ably. The situation he described is, unfortunately, what is happening to disabled people up and down the country.
Since 2010, 3.7 million disabled people have been affected by £23.8 billion of cuts as a result of, for example, the Welfare Reform Act 2012. It does not stop there. Under the Welfare Reform and Work Bill that is passing through the House at the moment, another 500,000 disabled people will be affected by changes to ESA WRAG support—another £640 million of cuts. That does not include the cut to the universal credit work allowance, or the £3.6 billion of cuts made to social care since 2010. My hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) was absolutely right to mention that disabled people are twice as likely as non-disabled people to live in poverty. The figure increased by 2%, or 300,000 last year; those measures will definitely impact on disabled people living in poverty.
Jessica Morden: My hon. Friend mentioned the cut to the work allowance in universal credit. Has she seen the research by Liverpool Economics that shows that disabled people in work could lose up to £2,000 a year, making them one of the hardest-hit groups?
Debbie Abrahams: I have seen that analysis. My hon. Friend makes a vital point. I know that that area is not the Minister’s responsibility, but we must try to get the Government to think again. That change will result in the same cuts as those that the Government reversed to tax credits; the process will just be slowed down slightly.
I want to get back to what happened with Remploy. The coalition Government closed 48 Remploy factories, and a total of 2,000 disabled people—including Margaret—were made redundant. Of those former workers, 691 were given the Government’s work-related activity support, 830 received jobseeker’s allowance, and we just do not know what happened to 470.
In addition to what has been said about Work Choice and the effectiveness of the Work programme, we must not forget Access to Work, which some people have mentioned. Of the 4 million disabled people in work, Access to Work is currently supporting only 36,800. If we are really serious about halving the disability employment gap, which is a noble target, that is totally inadequate. I know that the Government stated in the spending review that there will be a real-terms increase in spending on Access to Work, but what is the money? Nobody has said. Will it be a smaller chunk for more people? The Government need to be very clear on that.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) has mentioned the specialist advice and support in Jobcentre Plus. There used to be only one adviser for 600 disabled people, but that has gone down further. I commend the Minister for what he is doing about the Disability Confident scheme. He is doing his very best on that, but across the country there are only 79 active members—79 employers—33 of which are disabled charities. We will not meet the target of reducing the 30% disability gap—it is 34% in my constituency—with such low take-up. To echo the language that has been used, it is absolutely vindictive to take money from disabled people who do not have the opportunities, support or resources to enable them to take up a job. It is quite perverse.
I am coming to the end of my time, but I would like to know from the Minister what is planned for Access to Work. Will he also undertake to investigate the position of the people who were made redundant when Remploy closed? Clearly, the situation is not good enough. Will he also look at the perverse position that we are in now, where we are making cuts to support for disabled people before we have work for disabled people to get into and support for employers?