Many of us have said previously that the government’s ‘flagship’ policy, Universal Credit (UC), is about implementing further cuts to welfare support by stealth. However, the loss of income to disabled people through hidden cuts has been under-reported.
Despite the systematic cuts to support that was originally calculated to provide sufficient support meet the costs of citizens’ basic living needs, UC is on course to deliver only marginal taxpayer savings despite driving through the huge cuts in benefit payments to many claimants, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), last month.
Disabled people who qualified for the support component of income-related Employment and Support Allowance and (ESA) are also eligible for a disability premium. This is also called the Disability Income Guarantee. However, as a result of the abolition of both the severe disability premium (SDP) and enhanced disability premium (EDP) under UC rules, according to the disability charity, Scope, the cut to the disability income guarantee will see disabled people lose as much as £395 a month.
The UC system has made an estimated £11bn in savings, mainly through Treasury cuts to the original set level of universal credit rates – most notably through reductions to work allowances, which will save around £3bn, and the removal of £2bn in disability premium payments – but UC planning and delivery has also incurred £8.5bn in expenses.
A terminally ill man is challenging the government regarding their catastrophic universal credit (UC) policy. Known only as ‘TP,’ a 52-year-old ex-City worker – who has non-Hodgkin lymphoma and a condition called Castleman disease which affects the lymph nodes – is launching a landmark challenge at the high court after becoming worse off under the new benefit system. The outcome of the legal challenge could have widespread implications for an estimated 230,000 disabled people who will be hit by the removal of disability premiums under UC rules.
TP discovered his illness is terminal in 2016 and he moved to London to receive treatment, but as it was an area where UC had already been rolled out in the capital, his lifeline support was cut by £178 a month.
The government has previously claimed that disabled people will be protected by ‘top-up payments’ as they transfer to UC but such payments are not planned to be implemented until July 2019. Transitional Protection will only be available to people who are moved over to Universal Credit from ‘legacy’ benefits (even though nothing has happened which makes them need to start a new benefit claim). The government calls this process ‘managed migration’. There will not be any managed migration until the Universal Credit full digital service is available in all areas – July 2019 or possibly later. No further details, as yet, have been published by the government regarding transitional protection.
The Department for Work and Pensions have claimed UC means that support is “focused on those who need it most”, but a government removing SDP and EDP, which is support designed to help severely disabled people who live without a carer – is pulling a basic safety net from citizens with the greatest needs.
This cut will also affect disabled lone parents who may rely on their benefits to pay for support to shop, cook and wash, for example. The cut may mean that they will be forced to rely on their own children as carers.
This exceptionally cruel cut will affect a social group that have already been hit the hardest by austerity. It’s difficult to imagine that these further targeted withdrawals of support are not deliberate.
Furthermore, councils hit by government funding cuts are increasingly charging disabled people for social care – and those who need to claim SDP don’t have a family carer, and so often have a greater need for council social care support. Scope found earlier this year that disabled people have to pay on average an extra £570 a month for the costs of disability for anything from specialist equipment and treatments excluded from charge exemptions on prescription, to taxis and a special diet, with one in five paying more than £1,000 extra per month.
As Frances Ryan says “Since its rollout, UC has become synonymous with hardship, often heaped on the most disadvantaged families: from an increase in food bank use and rent arrears, to now one million children set to miss out on free school meals because of UC’s new earnings threshold. But the threat to disabled and chronically ill people has up until now gone largely under the radar.
“Yet severely disabled people will collectively lose £2bn in disability premium payments (a fraction of what the government is spending on UC’s delayed rollout). Or to put it another way, a mother with multiple sclerosis won’t be able to afford to put the heating on or pay for a carer to help her wash.”
Universal Credit doesn’t meet the aims stated by government and lacks a political consensus of support
Last October, the Resolution Foundation said that a spree of Treasury-driven welfare cuts since 2015 has left UC unable to meet its original aims of ‘strengthening work incentives’ and supporting the incomes of low-income families.
The Foundation warned that the current fragile political consensus in support of universal credit risks breaking down unless ministers refinance the reform and fix multiple design and implementation problems.
At the time, Conservative MP Wendy Morton, David Gauke and other Conservatives responded by claiming that Universal Credit ‘helps’ people into work and criticised opposition MPs for ‘scaremongering.’ However, the new benefit has pushed people into debt and rent arrears, with some forced to rely on food banks to survive. It’s difficult to see precisely how a social security benefit that creates those extremely challenging circumstances could possibly help people into work.
The leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, was accused by senior Conservatives MPs of “paving the way for tyranny”, after the government whipped its MPs to abstain on a Labour motion on universal credit. Labour’s motion passed unanimously despite the concerns of several Conservative rebels, but some Tory MPs were infuriated at being urged by their own party to ignore it.
Leadsom faced criticism from some Conservative MPs because she said the government was not bound by the reasonable resolution, which called for the rollout of the controversial welfare changes to be paused.