ESA threat proves continuing punitive cutting agenda

ESA threat proves continuing punitive cutting agenda

As it emerges that the Government may be planning to radically reduce employment and support allowance payments, Ian Macrae says that there are many reasons why this is bad for disabled people.

The BBC Social Affairs Corespondent Michael Buchanan reports the existence of Government proposals to radically cut Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). Apparently DWP officials and ministers are concerned at the extent of migration by people on jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) to ESA. The current differential between the two is £30 in favour of ESA recipients. The government proposal is to reduce the difference to 50p.

But Buchanan says that he has also been told that “This is not government policy.”

He is as puzzled by this statement as I am.

Does it mean that this is not yet government policy? Does it mean that this is not likely to become government policy? Or is that this is not government policy but? Whichever. All of these are very different from them saying that this will not be government policy, ever.

Given the dubiety and ambiguity attaching to what is considerably less than a ringing denial, we must proceed on the basis that it is at least a possibility.

In any case, we know from George Osborne’s speech to the Conservative party conference that the Treasury is continuing to look for further savings from reduced spending on benefits. This raises yet another question.

Is the reduction of £29.50 to ESA really about concerns over the numbers of JSA migrants? Or is it more about finding additional cuts?

Whatever the real motivation, it clearly represents yet another attack on disabled people in several respects.

Once again the Government is choosing as its target one of the groups least able or likely to mount any kind of defence. They also happen to be, as I pointed out in an earlier entry to this blog, less likely to vote Conservative making this a low or no risk strategy for the Government.

But away from high (or low) politics it’s a move which directly hits disabled people where it hurts most, in the pocket. Because despite claims by certain sections of the tabloid press which in turn are fed by government propagandising, life on ESA even with the extra thirty quid is not one of luxury. This is likely to result in people going hungry, heating being turned down or off, bills going unpaid, mental and physical health conditions being exacerbated.

Next, the way to get more disabled people back into work is not to starve them into it. People end up on ESA because they are likely to have encountered prejudice and discrimination in the job market.

Where are genuine government initiatives to tackle these attitudes among employers? The laughable “disability confident” hardly cuts the mustard. Meanwhile as recent evidence to the work and pensions select committee shows, Access to Work, the system which is supposed to give concrete employment support to disabled people, is creaking under bureaucratic weight and hampered by incompetence.

But let none accuse Messrs Cameron, Osborne and Duncan Smith of lacking a sense of irony. MIchael Buchanan’s story emerges shortly after an announcement that the Government is to create an initiative, complete with funding attached, to counter disablist hate. That’ll be the kind of disablist hate whipped up by their own agenda of presenting disabled people as spongers, scroungers and takers of anything we can get from the state.

The implication of the claim that ESA needs cutting because people are migrating to it for a cushy life represents the pouring on that particular fire of petrol while they simultaneously claim to be attempting to douse it with a tiny amount of water.

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