Government must assess impact of Universal Credit on disabled people, says Committee

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Posted on 19/12/2018

An influential group of cross-party MPs has published a report urging the Government to properly look at the impact of Universal Credit on disabled people.

The Work and Pensions Select Committee, chaired by Frank Field MP, is particularly concerned about people currently on the older benefit Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) losing out on ‘disability premiums’* – extra money which will no longer be available after they’ve moved over to Universal Credit (UC).

In addition, the report expresses concern about the lack of clarity or adequate protections for people facing the process of ‘managed migration’, which will see thousands of people with mental health problems make a new claim for UC within three months, and lose their income if they fail to do so.

Vicki Nash, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Mind said:

“We welcome this report which adds to the growing body of evidence highlighting the impact of Universal Credit on disabled people. We’ve been calling on the Government to scrap their plans for ‘managed migration’ - it’s unjustifiable to place all the responsibility of moving over to a new benefit on those who are really unwell. We know the application itself can be a complex and stressful process, and there is a real risk that many will be left without income and facing destitution.

“It’s not too late for Government to see sense and withdraw and amend these regulations. Otherwise we want MPs of all parties to vote against them. Only by fixing the regulations now can we make sure that no-one faces having their benefits cut off before they have moved to Universal Credit.

“We also share concerns around the loss of severe disability premiums – these were introduced so that disabled people who live independently could get the support they need to make ends meet. Many people with mental health problems rely on this money to get to appointments, to see friends and family, and to live independent lives. If the Government is really committed to supporting people with mental health problems to have control over their own lives, they must reintroduce these premiums for anyone making a claim to Universal Credit.

“There needs to be a benefits system which works for everyone and allows disabled people to live full and independent lives, not one that leaves people destitute. We want the Government to reconsider proposals that could see people fall through the cracks, losing vital income, through no fault of their own.”  

Jay Power is 56 and lives in Somerset.

He has depression and anxiety. He had a Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessment last year, and as a result his PIP was stopped in December 2017. Losing his PIP meant Jay also lost the severe disability premium of ESA. This amounted to £400 a month, a huge sum of money for anyone let alone someone reliant on benefits. Jay ended up homeless after being forced to make a new claim for Universal Credit. At the same time he was dealing with throat cancer. It was only thanks to his oncology nurse that the council were able to find him a home. This October Jay finally had his benefits hearing and his PIP was awarded 22 points (up from six) – enhanced living component and standard mobility component. It was awarded until 2023 which means he doesn’t have to worry about being reassessed for a while.

Jay says:

“The decisions they’ve made cost people their lives. Without financial stability, what do people have? The Government talk about ‘parity of esteem’, but it took a cancer diagnosis for my homelessness to be taken seriously. Becoming homeless could have been avoided if the assessments worked better and they didn’t make people wait so long to get universal credit. Many people are living hand to mouth with bills to pay – waiting 6 weeks or more is leaving us destitute and in some cases, it’s too late.”

*Disability premiums are additional benefits paid to disabled people who live independently. They are intended to recognise the extra costs people face if they are not being supported by a carer. The disability premiums exist within ‘legacy benefits’ including Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA) but have been removed in Universal Credit.

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