Why is the DWP trying to hide the figures on the cut it inflicted on Employment and Support Allowance claimants, years ago?
The government department has backtracked over an answer to a written Parliamentary question by the minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson.
SNP MP Marion Fallon asked: “What savings have accrued to the public purse under the £30 reduction for claimants of… [ESA WRAG] in each month since that reduction was implemented?”
She was referring to the highly-controversal cut, announced in 2015 and implemented from April 2017, that took £29.05 per week from ESA payments to people in the Work-Related Activity Group.
This aligned it with the amount paid to people on Jobseekers’ Allowance. The announced intention was to remove a financial incentive “that could otherwise discourage claimants from taking steps back to work”.
Apparently no account was taking of the physical (and mental) discouragements inherent in the long-term illnesses and conditions that cause people to claim a sickness benefit in the first place.
The stated intention was to save £640 million by 2020-21. But in 2015 it was also forecast that the cut would save £1.365 billion over four years. The cut was predicted to affect half a million people once it was rolled out fully.
But in his – initial – response, Mr Tomlinson said: “There are no savings from the removal of the… [WRAG rate] for new claims from April 2017.
“This change enabled the Department to recycle money into providing practical support… We have invested £330m over four years with £100m available in 2020/21 and will support those with limited capability for work to move towards and into suitable employment.”
The DWP has now amended Mr Tomlinson’s response – apparently due to embarrassment after his figures were questioned.
The official response now states:
“The information requested on the savings accrued from the removal of the Work Related Activity Component (WRAC) is not available. It would incur disproportionate cost to calculate any actual net savings from the removal of the WRAC.
“When the WRAC was removed we made a clear commitment to instead provide practical support that will make a significant difference to the life chances of those in the Work-Related Activity Group. We have been investing an additional £330m over four years to support those with limited capability for work to move towards and into suitable employment.”
It seems to This Writer that, if the latest statement is accurate, then the £330 million investment need not be subtracted from any savings that were predicted back in 2015; it was part of the calculation.
So we are left with the question of the savings. Why was it entirely possible for the Tories to make grand predictions about the amount of money they would stop paying to sick people back in 2015, and why is it now impossible for them to tell us how much they actually didn’t pay?
And in the meantime, the proportion of people who have died while claiming ESA in the Work-Related Activity Group has been rising steadily.
How many of those are due to Tory cuts making it impossible for them to make ends meet?
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