Dear Mr B________
Thank you for contacting me regarding proposed changes to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
We spend around £50 billion every year on benefits to support people with disabilities or health conditions and this is over six per cent of all Government spending. I am proud of that record. I have voted for the Welfare Reform and Work Bill as it progressed through Parliament and thought I would take this opportunity to explain my reasons for doing so.
Support must be provided to those who have health challenges but are capable of taking steps back to work. I have met several times with the local MIND branch and attended Mental Health Forum locally, in addition to my campaigning in Parliament on a number of issues surrounding mental health. It is an important issue and it is a priority for me that people with mental health conditions continue to be supported.
Firstly let me confirm that these changes will not affect those already in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) or claimants with limited capability for work. These people will continue to receive the additional payment.
We know that sixty one percent of claimants in the ESA WRAG want more help to get to work. At the same time those who are placed in the WRAG receive more money each week than those on Job Seekers Allowance but receive nothing like the same amount of help to find suitable employment. Aligning these two payment levels will those with mental health difficulties are on an even footing as those without. I believe it is important for all people to have access to the help they need to move back in to work. We must not write people off simply because they have a health condition but rather offer the appropriate support for the way their condition affects them. Those campaigning against this change only focus on the financial element but the whole package of support – financial and practical – need to be considered as a whole.
I could not support the amendments made by this policy in the House of Lords as this would have prevented the Government’s proposal from taking place. The amendments asked the Government to publish a report based on data that is not available. The Government has provided the estimated financial impact of the reforms in an impact assessment published last July. This document is available at the following website: tinyurl.com/ngceopf.
These reforms are about listening to those who are already in the WRAG and concentrating future resources on helping claimants recieve the same help to get back to work as those who claim JSA. As I have mentioned these changes will not affect those who are already in the WRAG or with limited ability to work.
I hope this provides some clarity on the issue which is not as has been portrayed in some quarters. Please let me know if you have any further comments or questions on the issue.
Yours sincerely – Andrew Jones MP.