I am pleased to be able to clarify why I voted for changes to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
Firstly, it is important to note that these changes will be introduced from April 2017, so only new ESA claimants found to be capable of returning to work in the future (the Work-Related Activity Group) will receive the revised rate, currently set at £73 per week. This is the same rate as people who claim Jobseeker’s Allowance currently receive. It will not apply to current ESA Work-Related Activity Group claimants and therefore we are not cutting the monies received by anyone currently claiming ESA.
These changes will also not affect those claiming ESA with no immediate prospects of returning to work. These people, who currently receive ESA payments in the Support Group, receive an additional payment of £36.20 per week on top of the £73 per week to support them through their illness. Nor will they affect those claiming ESA while awaiting an assessment to see if they qualify for the benefit, who currently receive £73 per week.
This Government believes the money currently given to ESA claimants in the Work-Related Activity Group simply treats the symptoms of poverty, but not the causes. We plan to recycle some of the money currently spent on benefit payments back onto spending practical support for life chances, funding that will be worth £60 million in 2017/18, up to £100 million in 2020/21. Taskforces including representatives from disability charities, disabled people's user-led organisations, employers, think tanks, and local authorities will influence how this money is spent. This is about helping people back into work, rather than keeping them on benefit.
In the end, I believe those people who are unwell but expect to be able to return to work should be treated the same as those who are looking for work in terms of the amount of benefit received, while ensuring they are supported to return to work in practical ways. This is while of course ensuring that those who are incapable of returning to work in the near future receive the extra support that is currently and will continue to be available.