Universal Credit–a weapon for attacking the disabled and their families

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Thousands marched through London  in May 2011 against the cut in disability benefits
Thousands marched through London in May 2011 against the cut in disability benefits

UP TO half a million (450,000) disabled people and their families – including children and disabled adults living on their own – will be worse off under Universal Credit.

This is the finding of an inquiry led by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson and supported by The Children’s Society, Citizens Advice and Disability Rights UK.

Disabled people and their families warned that cuts to the child disability additions and to the Severe Disability Premium are likely to result in them struggling to pay for basic essentials such as food and heating.

Many disabled people who are already finding it difficult to make ends meet face further hardship under the new benefit system, leading to potentially disastrous consequences.

This includes up to 230,000 severely disabled people who do not have another adult to assist them getting between £28 and £58 less in support every week.

The inquiry report, Holes in the safety net: The impact of Universal Credit on disabled people and their families also reveals that:

• 100,000 disabled children stand to lose up to £28 a week.

* 116,000 disabled people who work will be at risk of losing up to £40 per week from help towards additional costs of being disabled.

One in ten families with disabled children affected by the changes feared losing their homes.

83 per cent of disabled adults living alone or with a young carer said they would cut back on food and 80 per cent said they would cut back on the amount they spend on heating.

The new system will be ‘piloted’ in parts of north-east England next April and will come into force across Britain for new claimants from October 2013.

Existing claimants will be transferred to the new system in stages until 2017, while Universal Credit will be capped at £26,000 per household.

The report says the impact of the cuts in support for disabled children could be ‘extremely severe’ for families currently receiving the mid-rate ‘care component’ of the Disability Living Allowance, a payment made where a child can be severely disabled but does not need care overnight.

Of those families affected, one in 10 expressed fears that they could no longer afford their own home, while two thirds said they would have to cut back on food, and more than a half said it would lead them into debt.

Some families said the changes to support for disabled children could result in their children having to be placed in full-time residential care.

The report says 83% of those eligible for the severe disability premium, which will be abolished under the changes, reported that a reduction in benefit levels would mean they would have to cut back on food and 80% said they would have to cut the amount they spent on heating.

The findings also point to a greatly increased burden on young carers as a result of the changes to the Severe Disability Premium.

Despite the claim that the intention of Universal Credit is to make work pay, evidence in the inquiry shows that the changes could make it harder for disabled people to remain in work.

The report makes key recommendations, including protecting children on the middle-rate care component of Disability Living Allowance.

It also recommends disability support in Universal Credit should be provided to disabled people who are found to be fully fit for work but are at significant disadvantage in the workplace.

The Universal Credit will replace Jobseeker’s Allowance, Tax Credits, Income Support, Employment and Support Allowance – formerly known as Incapacity Benefit – and housing benefits with a single payment.

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson said: ‘The findings of this report do not make easy reading.

‘The clear message is that many households with disabled people are already struggling to keep their heads above water.

‘Reducing support for families with disabled children, disabled people who are living alone, families with young carers and disabled people in work, risk driving many over the edge in future.’

The Children’s Society Chief Executive Matthew Reed said: ‘This inquiry has lifted the lid on the stark reality that many disabled people will face when the new benefits system comes into force.

‘While it is true that some people will be better off under Universal Credit, it is shocking that so many disabled people – including children – will have to cut back on food, specialist equipment and, in some cases, be forced to move out of their homes or consider moving their child into full-time residential care.’

Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said: ‘These findings show all too clearly the daily struggle many severely disabled people already face to make ends meet.

‘Not only will these cuts plunge many of the least supported, most isolated and most severely disabled people deeper into poverty, debt and despair, they will not even help the government achieve its main aims of creating a simpler benefits system that makes work pay and supports those in greatest need.

‘This report comes up with solutions that it’s not too late to put in place at no extra cost. The government needs to act on these without delay.’

Disability Rights UK Chief Executive, Liz Sayce, said: ‘We are very grateful to Baroness Grey-Thompson for spearheading this inquiry.

‘Whilst the Universal Credit may benefit some disabled people, the findings are stark for thousands more.

‘We are fearful that the government aim of ensuring work always pays appears to be undermined by some aspects of Universal Credit proposals which could price some disabled people out of work and deeper into poverty.’

The new benefit is due to come into place in October 2013.

In the report, Baroness Grey-Thompson and the three supporting organisations make recommendations to make sure that some of the most vulnerable people are protected.

The fear is that these changes will leave gaping holes in the safety net for many disabled people.

One family who will be left struggling financially is Janet. She is a lone parent who lives with her ten-year-old son Jack, who has autism.

She receives the low rate care component of Disability Living Allowance for him.

Under the current system, the family income is £231 per week after housing costs. Under Universal Credit this will be reduced to £203.

Janet is concerned that she will have to cut back on essential items for her son.

Janet is not alone in these concerns. As one disabled person said: ‘I dread to think where these changes will leave us.

‘It leaves me in a state of panic when I think about living on less money.

‘There are so many hidden costs to disability and it seems the most vulnerable are being hit the hardest.’