The government has admitted that households which include disabled people are more likely to be affected by its decision to restrict most benefits to below-inflation increases.
Although the government insists that disability benefits – including disability living allowance and disability-related premiums – are protected from a new one per cent cap on annual increases, many disabled people will still be affected.
The government’s own impact assessment of the welfare benefits up-rating bill – published hours before MPs debated the proposals this week – shows households where someone is disabled “are more likely to be affected than those where there is not a person who describes themselves as disabled”.
It adds: “This is because those who report themselves as having a disability are more likely to qualify for those benefits which are affected by the policy change.”
Iain Duncan Smith, the Conservative work and pensions secretary, claimed the bill was about “the renewal of what I believe is a principled welfare state based on affordability, integrity and fairness”.
But his bill will mean that many benefits will be up-rated by only one per cent in 2014-15 and 2015-16, in addition to the one per cent increase to be implemented this year, far below the expected rate of inflation.
The main element of employment and support allowance – currently £71 – will rise by just one per cent next year, as will the extra element for claimants in the work-related activity group – currently £28.15 – for those disabled people expected to move eventually into jobs.
Other disabled people who no longer qualify for out-of-work disability benefits, and are forced instead to claim jobseeker’s allowance, will also see their benefits cut in real terms.
The disabled Labour MP Dame Anne Begg warned that if the bill was passed, “some families might have a few days [every month]when the children get neither food nor heating, unless food banks, which are increasing, come to the rescue. We should not wish that on our society in the 21st century.”
The Liberal Democrat MP and former minister Sarah Teather voted against the bill at this week’s second reading and warned that “hammering” on the faultline between the working and non-working poor by using the language of “shirkers” and “strivers” would “make society less generous” and “less sympathetic”.
Opposition MPs described the bill as “rancid” (Labour’s David Miliband) and “invidious” (Mark Durkan, for the SDLP), while the Green MP Caroline Lucas said it was “likely to be massively counter-productive and to destabilise already struggling groups in society, pushing them into greater despair and desperation”.
Lucas added: “It will be counter-productive because as people are pushed into greater desperation, they are more likely to be forced to make greater calls on the state, for example as those who are struggling to pay rent are finally pushed into homelessness or as those who are struggling with mental disability or mental illness are finally tipped into greater ill health.”
Sajid Javid, the Conservative economic secretary to the Treasury, said the savings made by the bill – forecast to save £2.5 billion by 2015-16 – would be “crucial”.
He said: “It is not fair for my working constituents to pay out more to sustain welfare benefits at the exact time they are facing pressures to stretch their wages further.
“Nor is it fair to benefit claimants if we ensnare them in a position where it pays to claim benefits rather than to get out and find work.”
10 January 2013