Universal credit cut will cost carers for disabled £1,000 a year

More than 300,000 people will be hit by the end of the £20 temporary increase in the benefit, government figures show

More than 300,000 unpaid carers of disabled people face a £1,000 annual benefit cut from next month due to the withdrawal of the universal credit uplift, as pressure grows on the government over the cost of living crisis.

Despite rising food and fuel prices, chancellor Rishi Sunak has resisted pressure to abandon or delay the end of the £20 weekly increase in universal credit payments on 6 October.

The Resolution Foundation thinktank recently described it as the biggest ever overnight cut in benefits by a British government.

Last month work and pensions secretary Thérèse Coffey defended the cuts, saying people would only need to work an extra two hours a week to make up the £20 shortfall – leading to accusations that she had got her figures wrong.

But the rules governing carers’ benefits make it hard to take on paid work. To receive the universal credit “carer element”, paid to people who have substantial caring responsibilities, someone has to spend at least 35 hours a week looking after a severely disabled person.

The most recent figures from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) show that in May this year, 338,882 households were in receipt of this part of the benefit.

Sarah Spoor lives in a one-bedroom flat in west London with her two disabled sons in their early 20s, both of whom have a condition that means their bodies do not produce certain hormones. As a result she has to care for them throughout the day, grabbing brief spells of sleep when she can.

“My sons will appear normal but they become unwell very quickly, so I’m having to monitor their blood sugars 24/7,” she said. “Last night I was so tired. I’d set my alarm on my phone for say 15 minutes or 20 minutes or 30 minutes if I think they can be OK for that length of time, and then I have to get up and check.” All three are on universal credit. As a result, they face a combined £3,000 annual benefit cut next month – just as her fuel bill has risen from £90 to £140 a month.

She laughed at Coffey’s suggestion she could mitigate the cut through paid work. “I don’t have the opportunity to earn any money at the moment. And my sons don’t have the opportunity to earn any money. And so it’s insulting, and just outrageous that she’s not understood that not everyone can earn extra money.”

Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, Jonathan Reynolds, said: “This cut will be an absolute catastrophe for struggling families who are already up against it, including unpaid carers, who face Conservative tax hikes and spiralling price rises this winter.

“The government’s assertion that people can simply work more hours to make up for their cut doesn’t stack up for those already working full time or with caring responsibilities. There is still time for the prime minister to change course. It is not too late for the government to see sense and stop this devastating cut.”

Emily Holzhausen, of Carers UK, said: “Unpaid carers have made huge sacrifices during the pandemic to protect older, disabled and seriously ill people in our society. Eighty-one percent took on more hours of care, with many struggling to meet the higher costs of caring and manage with the lack of support services available to help them stay in work. For many they have had no choice but to turn to food banks and get into debt to manage.

“The £20 uplift has been a lifeline to those carers receiving universal credit and it is vital that the government keeps it in place. Without targeted financial support many carers are continuing to face hardship and suffering as they remain caring around the clock for loved ones.”

The DWP said: “We recognise and appreciate the valuable role unpaid carers play in looking after loved ones. Since 2010 the rate of carer’s allowance has increased from £53.90 to £67.60 a week, putting an additional £700 a year in carers’ pockets. Those receiving carer’s allowance may also be able to apply for a range of other support.

“The uplift to universal credit was always temporary. It was designed to help claimants through the economic shock and financial disruption of the toughest stages of the pandemic, and it has done so. Universal credit will continue to provide vital support for carers, and those both in and out of work.”


Chaminda Jayanetti

The GuardianTramp

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