Disability groups have condemned new rates for benefits which, they say, will leave many disabled people up to £400 worse off.
They claim the government has reneged on its promise that the new employment and support allowance would be higher than the current level of income support and have called for an urgent review of the proposals.
Last week the government announced the rates for the ESA, as regulations finalising plans to replace incapacity benefits were laid in parliament. From October 2008 all new and repeat claimants will undergo a work capability assessment for ESA entitlement.
On announcing the rates, secretary of state for work and pensions James Purnell said: “ESA will give more financial support to the poorest, most disabled people in society whilst extending the opportunity of employment to all those who can work.”
But disability groups argue that many claimants will lose out during the assessment phase, which carries lower payments, and through the loss of additions for age and spouses.
Those assessed as able to work will be placed in a “work-related activity group”. They will receive £84.50 a week ESA after 13 weeks and are required to go through a scheme to overcome potential barriers to work. Under income support they get £86.35.
Those identfied as unable to work will come under the “Support Group”. They will receive between £89.50 to £102.10, for the most severely disabled, compared with a top rate of £102.25 under IS.
Child Poverty Action Group’s head of policy Paul Dornan said: “Ministers gave their word in parliament that the new benefit would be higher. Pinning back the headline rate to the current level may leave them technically in the right, but morally in the wrong.”
He added: “Some groups will actually be worse off under the new benefit by as much as £400 a year. This reform was never presented as an opportunity to squeeze out savings from the poorest disabled people and it must not be used for that.”
A Disability Alliance spokesperson said: “We remain extremely concerned that alongside a new, more stringent test for entitlement, there will be an increase in the number of disabled people who will be forced into even greater poverty as a direct result of this introduction.”