Application for emergency debate (Standing Order No. 24)
I now call Neil Gray to make an application for leave to propose a debate on a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration under the terms of Standing Order No. 24. The hon. Gentleman has up to three minutes in which to make such an application.
I seek leave to propose that the House should debate a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely mitigating support for the employment and support allowance work-related activity group. There is an urgent need for the House to discuss the cuts to be applied to the ESA WRAG.
We have known about this cut for some time; indeed, I have raised the issue in collaboration with others on a cross-party basis on a number of occasions. The cut is unanimously opposed by disability charities and disabled people’s organisations, but it comes into force next week, and the House has not been given the information we were promised about what the Government will do to ensure that ESA recipients—new and existing—are not financially penalised.
I will use the couple of minutes I have to appeal to the House for a fuller debate, but also to appeal to the Government. Next week, a cut of one third to the income of ESA WRAG participants will begin, taking their income from £100 a week down to £73 a week. That means that many sick and disabled people found unfit for work will be £30 a week worse off—money desperately needed to pay bills, stay healthy and undertake work-related activity, such as volunteering or attending courses.
A large proportion of those currently in the ESA WRAG are struggling to make ends meet on what they receive now, with that “extra” £30 a week. We have no idea what the impact on them will be when ESA for the WRAG is cut back. These are people with disabilities or mental health conditions. They want to work, but are currently unable to. Pushing them further towards, or deeper into, poverty will hinder, not help, any move towards employment. They face the double indignity of wanting to work but being unable to find a job, and then being told that the level of financial support they are struggling to live on is a disincentive to work. That should shame us.
In November, MPs from eight political parties, plus independents, helped to unanimously carry a motion I brought to the House calling for the UK Government to pause these cuts. We were promised by the Minister that mitigations would be in place before next week, but there has been no oral statement, no written statement and no announcement—just vague commitments to social tariffs and hardship funds. That is no way to treat people desperate for this support. I have been asking questions—I did so on Monday—and I do not take the lack of a proper response personally, as the expert charities have been seeking the same information, only to receive the same vague responses.
I know that time is tight this week of all weeks. I understand that, but time is not on the side of people who desperately need this support. That is why I make this request of you, Mr Speaker, and why I am grateful to have had some time to appeal to the Government. It is not too late for them to publish details of the support they have secured, which they promised will make up for the cut of £30 per week. This is the last chance we have to discuss this issue, which has united Members across political divides, before it is too late and before nothing can be done. I hope Ministers hear this and act.
The hon. Gentleman asks leave to propose a debate on a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely mitigating support for the employment and support allowance work-related activity group.
I have listened carefully to the application from the hon. Gentleman, but I am afraid I am not persuaded that this matter is proper to be discussed under Standing Order No. 24. As the hon. Gentleman, and doubtless colleagues, will be aware, the Standing Order does not permit me to give my reasons to the House. That said, and although, certainly, today was the last opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to seek such a debate before we depart for the recess, there may well be an opportunity for this matter to be debated in another way upon our return, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will eagerly seize any such opportunity.