Charities warn people will suffer in benefits ‘chaos’

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CUTS to benefits threaten to force sick and disabled people “further away from work and closer to poverty”, local charities have warned.

Ahead of a key House of Lords vote on the proposed reductions to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), more than 30 charities and three peers - including Paralympian Baroness (Tanni) Grey-Thompson - have today signed an open letter to Iain Duncan Smith urging him to think again.

They released polling figures showing that 1% of disabled people felt that the planned £30-a-week cut in ESA would motivate claimants to get a job, compared to 45% who said it would mean them returning to work later.

Meanwhile, charity Mind released separate figures suggesting that almost three-quarters of Department for Work and Pensions threats to cut the ESA payments of people with mental health problems were issued incorrectly.

Using DWP figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Mind calculated that some 244,000 people were receiving ESA in the so called “work-related activity group” (WRAG) - meaning they were deemed unfit for work but capable of undertaking activities to lead them towards employment - because of mental health problems in 2014/15.

Of these, 39,190 - 16% of the total - received decisions which could have led to benefits being cut.

But Mind said that 28,624 (73%) of these decisions were eventually overturned.

Mind policy and campaigns manager Tom Pollard, said: “The system is in chaos with three-quarters of referrals for sanctions wrongly issued to people with mental health problems.

“Despite having been found not well enough to work, these individuals are being threatened left, right and centre, often unjustifiably.

“There is a complete lack of evidence to show that stopping, or threatening to stop, someone’s financial support is an effective approach.

“In fact, pressurising people with mental health problems to engage in activities under the threat of losing their benefit is counter-productive, causing additional anxiety, often making people more unwell and less able to work.”

Mind joined other members of the Disability Benefits Consortium - including Mencap, Macmillan Cancer Support, Parkinson’s UK, the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and the MS Society - in signing the open letter to protest against Mr Duncan Smith’s plan to cut £30 a week from new claimants in the WRAG group of ESA in order to bring it in line with Jobseekers’ Allowance.