BLACKBURN Labour MP Kate Hollern has warned thousands of her constituents could be affected in the long-term by government disability benefits reforms.

She is alarmed at government changes to Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and Personal Independence Payments (PIP).

Mrs Hollern has been researching Department of Works and Pension (DWP) figures for sickness and disability benefits in the House of Commons Library.

From this month, new ESA claimants in the Work Related Activity Group will only receive the same rate as Job Seekers’ Allowance, a reductions of almost £30.

Labour alleges 160,000 claimants with less obvious disabilities nationwide have had their existing entitlement to PIPs questioned under February reforms.

Mrs Hollern said: "Blackburn has more than 3,000 PIP claims and, of these, more than1,100 suffer from a mental health condition.

"However this does not mean the changes will affect every individual.

"Over half the recipients of ESA in the Work Related Activity Group have a mental health or behavioural disorder as their primary condition.

"Nationally, this is almost 224,000 people. In Blackburn, it’s 850.

"While these claimants aren’t affected, it’s accepted to be an indicator of the number of people who will eventually claim the revised benefit.

"The government have downgraded benefits for people who will be suffering from invisible disabilities in the future.

"The punishing cuts to disabled people will have extremely damaging effects on them as individuals and on our community as a whole.

"Disabled people are more likely to be in poverty and less likely to be in work.

"The changes to ESA that came into effect last week and the cynical undermining of rulings on PIP show that the government have no real interest in standing with disabled people.

"In February, instead of listening and reforming, the government chose to take money away from 160,000 people who are entitled to it and who rely on it.

"They have chosen to make life harder for disabled people in the future."

A DWP spokeswoman said: "The government is committed to ensuring our welfare system is a strong safety net for those who need it.

"That's why we spend around £50bn a year to support people with disabilities and health conditions."

The prime minister's official spokesman said: "We are restoring the original intention of PIPs: to make sure there was a sustainable benefit to provide continued support to those who face the greatest barrier to living independent lives."