Three Conservative MPs have been asked to resign as patrons of disability charities following their decision to back government cuts to benefits its service users rely on.
Zac Goldsmith, the MP for Richmond and the party's London mayoral candidate, agreed on Wednesday to step down as a patron of Richmond Aid, a charity run by and for disabled people in west London.
Kit Malthouse, the MP for North West Hampshire, was asked by the MS Society, a national charity that campaigns on issues surrounding multiple Sclerosis, to resign as a patron.
Finally, James Cleverly, the MP for Braintree and a five-year patron of Advocacy for All, which works to help vulnerable people in the local area, was asked to resign as patron “with immediate effect”, a statement from the charity said.
The three men were among 311 MPs who voted to pass a £30 weekly cut to Employment Support Allowance (ESA) on 2 March in a move widely condemned by campaigners and charities.
The Disabilities Benefits Consortium, an informal coalition of 60 national disability charities, has described the government’s decision as a “step backwards” and said the cut betrayed disabled individuals.
Changes to applicants’ payments will result in a reduction from £103 to £73 a week from April 2017.
Lucy Byrne, CEO of Richmond Aid, told BuzzFeed News they were “shocked and disappointed” by Goldsmith’s decision to vote in favour of cuts.
“Having voted for this brutal cut we believe that Zac Goldsmith’s position as patron is no longer tenable,” Byrne said.
After internal discussion, the charity contacted Goldsmith, who – while thanking them for their work – said he would be happy to step down. “His response was that of a politician, to be honest,” Byrne said.
Ed Holloway, director at the MS Society, confirmed to BuzzFeed News that its Andover branch had asked Malthouse to step down.
"After careful consideration, the branch felt that Mr Malthouse’s lack of support for the MS Society’s campaigning on disability benefits prevented him from being an effective patron,” he said in a statement.
In a statement published to his website on 14 March, the MP said he was “sorry” the charity no longer wished to have him as a patron, but added there had been a “wide misunderstanding about what is proposed”.
“Given the strong desire of newly disabled people to continue working this seems sensible especially since having a job is surely the best therapy of all,” he wrote.
Advocacy for All said it was “disappointed and surprised” to learn Cleverly had supported cuts that will “have a profound and detrimental affect on the lives of disabled people”.
The charity’s CEO, Vivienne Lester, said in a statement on its Facebook page that she would have “expected” the MP to have at least consulted with members ahead of the vote and as a result had asked him to resign as patron.
Cleverly, who was asked to resign on 15 March, told the Halstead Gazette he intended to speak to the charity and "explain my position".
“I will respect their decision at the end of that discussion," he said. He added that "one of the things no one understood" was that under the intended provisions no one currently on ESA would "lose a penny".
Goldsmith and Cleverly had not responded to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment at the time of publication.