Universal credit ‘spells bleak future for many’


The government’s radical “simplification” of the benefits system is likely to make the future “considerably bleaker” for many disabled people, according to the peer leading a new inquiry.

The disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson is working with Disability Rights UK, Citizens Advice and The Children’s Society on the inquiry into the impact of universal credit on disabled people.

The three charities published a briefing this week which looks at some of the planned changes, which will see key means-tested benefits combined into a new universal credit.

Although some disabled people will gain from the new system, many others will receive “very significantly less help”.

Some of the key changes include a reduction in additional support for most families with a disabled child from £57 to £28 a week, a loss of about £1,500 a year, which is set to affect around 100,000 disabled children; the abolition of the severe disability premium; the loss of the disability element of working tax credit; and the lack of a pensioner premium, where one partner is under pension age and seriously ill and the other is over pension age.

This week, Baroness Grey-Thompson was joined by John Packer, Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, and Kiran Stacey, a Financial Times political reporter, to take evidence from disabled people and carers about the extra disability-related costs they faced.

Claire Hobbs, a wheelchair-user from Ripon, north Yorkshire, told the meeting that she has to spend £80 a week on taxis.

She said disabled people who had discussed the changes were unaware that the severe disability premium would be scrapped under the universal credit system, and were “very alarmed” when they found out.

Civil servant Ruth Emery pointed to the cost of medical treatments, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, and medical equipment.

Others told of extra heating and washing costs, higher electricity and gas bills, and expensive specialist food and supplements.

Baroness Grey-Thompson said that no group would be affected by the change to universal credit more than disabled people.

She said she had wanted to launch the inquiry to find out how changes to support “would affect people’s day-to-day lives, the impact it would have on their family and their ability to fully participate in society”.

The inquiry is calling on disabled people and families with a disabled child to complete an online questionnaire to provide evidence of how disabled people use their current support to help meet the extra costs of daily life and how the changes would affect their lives.

Although existing claimants should not see any reduction in the cash sums they receive, inflation is almost certain to erode that protection over time, while new claimants and those whose circumstances change will be hit immediately.

Baroness Grey-Thompson’s review of support for disabled people under universal credit will be published in September.

Meanwhile, the government has called for evidence from disabled people as part of Professor Malcolm Harrington’s third review of the controversial and much-criticised work capability assessment (WCA).

Harrington is particularly interested in evidence about changes claimants may have experienced with the WCA – the test which determines eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits – since his first review was published in November 2010.

12 July 2012


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