Harrogate MP defends voting for £30-a-week disability benefit cut

Andrew Jones MP

Andrew Jones MP

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Andrew Jones MP has argued that his decision to vote in favour of a £30-a-week cut to disability benefits will help claimants get back into work.

Earlier this month, MPs forced through cuts to the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) affecting claimants in the work-related activity group (WRAG).

The cuts mean that, from April 2017, new WRAG claimants will claim £73.10 in weekly unemployment, bringing it in line with job seeker’s allowance (JSA), down from current claimants who earn £102.15.

Despite the House of Lords rejecting the bill and calling for an impact assessment, Tory MPs, including Mr Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) voted to push ahead.

An estimated 500,000 ESA claimants in WRAG will be affected by the cuts but Mr Jones stressed in a letter to concerned constituents that the move will benefit claimants wanting to return to work.

He said: “Support must be provided to those who have health challenges but are capable of taking steps back to work. We know that 61 per cent of claimants in the ESA WRAG want more help to get into work.

“At the same time those who are placed in the WRAG receive more money each week than those on JSA but receive nothing like the same amount of help to find suitable employment.

“Aligning these two payment levels will mean those with health difficulties are on an even footing as those without.

“These reforms are about listening to those who are already in the WRAG and concentrating future resources on helping claimants receive the same help to get into work as those who claim JSA.”

The cuts package, which is estimated to save the Treasury £1.4bn over four years, affects claimants who may be capable of work in the future but will leave them £1,500 a year worse off than current claimants.

Mr Jones stressed those in the ESA Support Group, with limited capability for work, will not be affected and urged those campaigning against the change to consider the whole ‘financial and practical’ package of support.

Tory MPs across the district, including Alec Shelbrooke, Nigel Adams and Julian Smith, also voted in favour of the cuts, but three Conservative MPs rebelled against them.

Disability charities, including Scope, have also raised concerns that the cuts won’t get ESA WRAG recipients into employment and will push them further into poverty.