Declaration of interest: I have multiple sclerosis and receive both ESA (in the support group) and Disabled Living Allowance (both care and mobility components at the highest rates).
Sneaky, very sneaky and possibly even underhanded, is the only way I can describe how the UK’s work and pensions secretary Stephen Crabb decided to reveal the government’s latest intentions to make further cuts to disability benefits.
Instead of making a statement in the House of Commons, he chose to disclose the proposals in an almost throwaway and casual style before the work and pensions committee select committee.
He told the committee that he wanted to go further than the controversial and much-criticised £12 billion welfare cuts set out in the 2015 Conservative manifesto and to ‘re-frame discussion’ around disability welfare reform.
And this, let me refresh your memory, from the same man who, after replacing Iain Duncan Smith as work and pensions secretary, announced the dumping of proposed changes to the Personal Independence Payment and said that the government had no plans to make further welfare cuts.
At the time, I warned that we should not be taken in by his ‘weasel words’.
This week Mr Crabb told the committee that he intended to set out a green paper later this year to propose further changes to disability benefits.
He explained that the measures that have either already been legislated for or announced add up to the planned £12 billion of welfare cuts but added: “Does that mean welfare reform comes to an end? I would say ‘no’. I’ve already pointed to what I see as one of the big challenges of welfare reform – and that’s around work and health.”
Mr Crabb told MPs on Work and Pensions Select Committee that he would deploy ‘smart strategies’ for cutting expenditure on disability and sickness benefits and would hopefully be able to secure the support of disability charities.
He said: “In terms of how you make progress of welfare reform there when you are talking about people who are very vulnerable, people with multiple barriers, challenges, sicknesses, disabilities – I am pretty clear in my mind that you can’t just set targets for cutting welfare expenditure,” he said.
“When you’re talking about those cohorts of people you’ve actually got to come up with some pretty smart strategies for doing it which carry the support and permission of those people and organisations who represent those people who we are talking about.
“This is why there’ll be further information in due course about this. I want to produce a green paper later this year which starts to re-frame discussion around this set of issues.”
Criticism to Crabb’s latest plans have been voiced by many including campaigning blogger Mike Sivier. Writing on Vox Political Online, he said: “He (Crabb) means he wants to cut funding to the vulnerable and make it more likely they will die, the same as Iain Duncan Smith always meant.
“This is a war of attrition; the Tories have already killed off a great many sick and disabled people and hidden the facts, in the opinion of this writer. That means there are fewer left to resist what may clearly be seen as a genocide.
“That’s why fighting these cuts is so vital. Stephen Crabb must not be allowed to think his murderous plan (whatever it is) will be easy to enact.”
Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Owen Smith has called on the government to dump the ESA cuts that have already been passed. He said: “The flimsy case for the cuts to Employment Support Allowance is now totally blown apart by this broken promise (that no further cuts were planned) and the Tories must listen to Labour’s calls for them to be reversed.”