Benefit changes leave disabled people facing poverty, charities warn

Hundreds of thousands of disabled and ill claimants left out of UK coronavirus measures

Hundreds of thousands of disabled and chronically ill people face poverty after being left out of emergency measures to bolster the benefits system to help claimants cope with the coronavirus crisis, 100 disability charities have warned.

The Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) said in an open letter to the work and pensions secretary, Thérèse Coffey, that changes introduced last week to raise the weekly rate of universal credit by £20 would not apply to those on legacy benefits.

Many claimants will not receive the increase, worth more than £1,000 a year, because they receive employment and support allowance (ESA), a disability unemployment benefit that pre-dates universal credit, the consortium said.

The DBC includes charities such as Leonard Cheshire Disability, MS Society, Parkinson’s UK, Mind, Macmillan Cancer Support, Age UK, Guide Dogs, Royal British Legion and Terrence Higgins Trust.

The charities have called for measures to protect vulnerable claimants from sudden falls in income, including a definitive commitment from ministers not to apply benefit sanctions, and a repayment holiday on advance loans from the Department for Work and Pensions to see new claimants through the five-week wait for a first universal credit payment.

The DBC warns that disabled people claiming tax credits who lose their jobs over the next few months will be worse off because they will not qualify for income protections promised when universal credit was introduced.

Transitional protection is a temporary top-up payment added to universal credit to offset any benefit losses when claimants are transferred from tax credits – but it is not payable when claimants move because of a change of circumstances, such as job loss.

“Disabled people in work and parents of disabled children stand to lose far more than most people if they lose transitional protection – sometimes amounting to thousands of pounds a year. This will make it even more difficult for them to recover from the economic shock of the next few months,” the letter says.

It also calls on ministers to protect the incomes of disabled people whose benefits are automatically reduced or suspended when they start an appeal against a benefit decision. About 90,000 people are currently awaiting an appeal.

Ella Abraham, the DBC’s campaigns co-chair, said: “These are unprecedented and extremely worrying times for so many people, across all of our organisations we are seeing the detrimental impact this is having on disabled and unwell people’s physical and mental health.

“It is therefore crucial the Department for Work and Pensions implement these changes with immediate effect to ensure people are not pushed further into poverty.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “This government is committed to ensuring that disabled people are supported during these unprecedented times.

“We have increased the standard universal credit allowance, suspended all face-to-face assessments for health- and disability-related benefits and removed the requirement for people to attend jobcentre appointments.

“We will respond fully to the issues raised by the Disability Benefits Consortium in due course.”

Contributor

Patrick Butler Social policy editor

The GuardianTramp

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