A new report by a committee of MPs has added weight to concerns that hundreds of thousands of disabled people could find themselves driven “over the edge” by one of the government’s key welfare reforms.
The concerns were raised last month by Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, who led an inquiry by Disability Rights UK, Citizens Advice and The Children’s Society into the impact of “universal credit” on disabled people.
That report, Holes in the Safety Net, concluded that about 450,000 disabled people could eventually lose out under the planned changes, which will start to be introduced in April and will see key means-tested benefits and tax credits combined into a single payment.
Those concerns were given new weight this week by the Commons work and pensions committee, which is chaired by the disabled peer Dame Anne Begg, in a new report on how universal credit would meet the needs of “vulnerable” claimants.
The committee’s report calls on the government to “reconsider” the loss of additional disability payments which are available under the current benefits system, particularly those affecting disabled children and disabled people with high support needs.
The government insists that “transitional protection” will ensure that no-one moving onto universal credit will see their benefits cut in cash terms.
But Dame Anne said: “Ministers have told us that the total expenditure on disabled people as a whole will not be reduced but we are concerned about those disabled people whose entitlement is reduced under universal credit.”
Although the committee does not estimate how many disabled people will lose out under the changes, Dame Anne pointed out – as did Baroness Grey-Thompson – that the transitional protection will diminish over time because of the effect of inflation, will not be available to new claimants, and will end altogether if the claimant’s circumstances change.
Dame Anne added: “The government needs to address concerns about disability additions within and outside universal credit to ensure there is no diminution in the benefit package which disabled people receive.”
The work and pensions committee’s report accepts that Baroness Grey-Thompson’s research was “contentious” and that the government had “refuted many of its findings”, but quotes extensively from her report.
Holes in the Safety Net estimated that, under universal credit, 100,000 disabled children could lose up to £28 a week; up to 116,000 disabled people with jobs, who have been found “fit for work” by the government’s benefits assessors, could lose up to £40 a week; and nearly a quarter of a million disabled people with high support needs who do not have a carer to assist them could eventually receive between £28 and £58 a week less.
22 November 2012