Dear Ms Milne,
Thank you for contacting me about the Welfare Reform Bill.
I believe the bill makes the tough decisions that will restore fairness to the benefits system, support the vulnerable and provide the right incentives and support for people to find work. This is why the Government overturned the amendments that the House of Lords made. Having read your concerns about the legislation, I would like to take this opportunity to reassure you about aspects of the Bill which you have raised.(Oh, so they didn't oppose the Lords' amendments because they had financial implications then? Well just fancy that!)
The one year time limit on the length of time that people can receive contribution-based Employment & Support Allowance (ESA) is an important measure designed to ensure that people make the journey back towards work. It strikes the right balance between restricting access to contributory benefits and allowing those with longer-term illnesses to adjust to their health condition and surrounding circumstances, and it is double the time allowed for contribution based JobSeeker's Allowance in recognition of that fact. The one year time limit is not an arbitrary time limit. It is in line with similar limits in other countries around the world including France, Spain and Ireland. It should also be noted that it is only the contributory element of ESA that will be time-limited, not income-related ESA.(You could double, triple, or multipy by ten the JSA time limit. Many with sickness and disability would still not be fit for work. The Government's own figures show that people with learning difficulties, for instance, take over 2 years to gain employment. Those of us with progressive conditions know that if we're not fit for work now, we never will be again.)
Members of the House of Lords also rejected Government plans to remove the automatic qualification that children with disabilities receive to contribution-based Employment & Support Allowance 'Youth'. However, this change was not made with the intention to reduce the support available to children with disabilities when they progress to adulthood.
The three principal reasons why the Government has instituted this change is because it simplifies the benefit system by abolishing a category where the majority of claimants would be entitled to income-related ESA. This is paid at the same or a higher rate for many people. Second, this measure aligns the treatment of ESA 'Youth' with other groups claiming contributory ESA to create a consistent system in the run up to the introduction of Universal Credit. Third, entitlement to income-related ESA will help ensure those recipients automatically qualify for passported benefits, such as free NHS prescription charges, instead of having to make a separate claim.(Now, it's entirely possible I've misunderstood this second paragraph completely. But it seems to me they're saying income-related when they mean contributory, and vice versa. And, of course, these individuals won't be entitled to income-related ESA, to passport them to things like free prescriptions, if they're still living with their parents, or with a partner who's earning. They'll have no income of their own at all.)
One of the other measures that Peers voted on was a proposal to exempt cancer patients from any time limit on contribution-based ESA, which is unnecessary as the vast majority of cancer patients would be placed in the ESA support group and or choose to be in work.(With recent decisions including a man in a coma being found fit for work (due to a clerical error), and a terminally ill man with dementia being called to a Return To Work interview, I wouldn't be so sure.)
The evidence put forward by various oncologists and other experts shows that for some people, being able to continue working or getting back into work after diagnosis is an important part of the recovery process. People should not be confined six months out of work if that is not appropriate for them. Similarly, there is also a need for some patients to have full financial assistance at what is a very difficult time for them and their families. In those cases, the Government has been quite clear, people shall continue to receive all the help that they need. You should also be aware that the Government's changes to the criteria for the support group mean that more people will be able to access the support because the (sic) certain treatments, including oral and chemo-irradiation therapies are now recognised.(I know that for some people work is an important part of their recovery. For some, not all. And I don't believe that anyone is suggesting sick leave should be compulsory, except in the rare situations where healthcare professionals believe that returning to the workplace could cause danger to yourself or others.)
I realise you are concerned by the Government's proposal to place a cap of £26,000 on the amount of benefits that a workless household can receive but I believe that the cap has been set at an appropriate level. It is right to include Child Benefit in the cap disappointed by the decision in the House of Lords to exempt Child Benefit (sic). This is because the cap would be set so high that it would become meaningless as well as undermining the key principles of fairness that our welfare system is based on.
There has to be a limit on the amount of money benefit claimants can receive and Minimsters believe that the limit is currently set at a fair rate of £26,000, which it is worth noting, is the equivalent to someone earning £35,000 before tax. This is a salary that many working families would be happy to receive and underlines the point that hard working people should not pay their taxes in order to support people who refuse to work.(The benefit cap has received much of the media attention over the WRB, in spite of affecting far fewer households than other provisions of the Bill. Those it does affect mostly live in central London, with the bulk of the benefit concerned being paid to rapacious landlords. The figures quoted are not comparing like with like: another example of Government misdirection. This excellent post by Declan Gaffney explains in detail. And "people who refuse to work"? Again, the government pushes its "scrounger" rhetoric. Over half the households which will be affected by the benefits cap contain at least one disabled member. And in the current economic climate, to be jobless most certainly doesn't mean you "refuse" to work!)
With regard to the under occupation of social housing, I believe that when there are 250,000 social housing tenants living in overcrowded accommodation and over 5 million people on social housing waiting lists, it is unacceptable for the Government to subsidise people to live in accommodation that is too big for their actual needs. Many ordinary people are not in a financial position to be able to afford to have a spare room. There is also a fundamental misallocation of resources in that there are over 1 million spre rooms that are paid for by the taxpayer.(Wow. If only there was more social housing. If only some Government hadn't sold it all off and banned councils from using the proceeds to build more social housing. Uh, what Government was that again? By the way, we don't seem to know yet what'll happen about disabled people who need a second bedroom for equipment storage, or to allow a carer to sleep over.)
I know that the issue of charging has alarmed people but it should be recognised that this is a principle that all parties support and was originally set out in Sir David Henshaw's review of the CSA in 2006. The charge itself will act as an incentive for parents to establish their own arrangement. The £100 charge will cover only a proportion of the costs of an application and those on out of work benefits will pay only a (sic) £50 with an upfront charge of £20.
It should also be noted that 50 per cent families (sic) believe that with the right support, they could develop their own arrangements. The Government is spending £20 million improving support to families at this stage and it should also be noted that some people will be exempted from charges if for example, they are the victim of domestic violence.(Only £50. Only. There speaks someone who's never been on benefits. And frankly, I don't care if this policy is supported by the Dalai Lama. I believe it's discriminatory.)
I hope this clarifies why the Government is making the changes that it is and that it reassures you that this will not undermine the support available to the disabled and people who genuinely need support.(Well, frankly, no. And calling us "the disabled" doesn't help.)
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.(My pleasure)
Yours sincerely(Love and kisses)
James Clappison(Margo xx)