A disabled benefit claimant has spoken of his relief at securing the chance to challenge a court’s finding that the government did not break the law when refusing to offer recipients of so-called legacy benefits a £20-a-week increase during the pandemic.
Philip Wayland is one of four claimants given permission to appeal February’s high court ruling that ministers behaved lawfully when failing to offer recipients of benefits such as employment and support allowance (ESA) the same £20-a-week increase given to people receiving universal credit (UC).
That ruling sparked anger and frustration among disabled people, with one ESA claimant describing it as “a punch in the guts to every claimant who has been hanging onto the hope that someone in a position of power and authority would acknowledge and rectify the discrimination that we have suffered”.
Wayland told Disability News Service this week: “It is so blatantly wrong that help was denied to people who were so evidently in need.
“On any moral level the case should be clear cut.
“It is frustrating that we have to go through this to prove something that seems so obvious.
“Relieved is the best word, to finally get the news that they are going to accept and hear the case again, after what was quite a frustrating wait.”
He said the current cost-of-living crisis has made the case even more important than it was when they launched it through solicitors Osbornes Law* last year.
Wayland said he had been “more angry” at the start of the legal case when the injustice was “more raw” and figures showing how many people had died from Covid were being released every day.
But he said the importance of trying to secure payments of more than £1,500 “for so many people who are financially struggling even more now, even if they are not at risk so much from Covid”, meant the stakes were “still as high, even if my anger has plateaued”.
He said such a payment “would really help people at the moment who are quite literally on their knees”.
The high court found in February that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) did not breach the European Convention on Human Rights by increasing the standard allowance of universal credit by £20-a-week but not applying a similar increase to 1.9 million ESA claimants, and claimants of jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) and income support.
Whilst the high court accepted that there was discrimination towards disabled people on legacy benefits, the judge ruled that the difference in treatment was justified.
Mr Justice Swift had accepted the justification put forward by work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey that the UC increase was intended to provide extra support to those who had lost their jobs due to the pandemic and were forced to claim UC for the first time.
He found in favour of DWP even though the court had heard evidence that those new to benefits tended to have higher rates of savings and were therefore better able to meet the costs of the pandemic than existing claimants.
The court had also heard that hundreds of thousands of disabled people, who were already disproportionately affected by poverty, had been forced to survive on “historically low rates” of benefits during a pandemic that had led to a significant rise in their cost of living.
In March 2021, as part of its #20More4All campaign, Disabled People Against Cuts had delivered mail bags full of the testimonies of disabled people to DWP, the Treasury and 10 Downing Street, describing the financial struggles they had faced during the pandemic.
The uplift was maintained for 18 months, between 30 March 2020 and 5 October 2021.
Now, more than five months after the high court ruling, the Court of Appeal has given Wayland and three other claimants permission to appeal that decision.
Two of the claimants were in receipt of ESA and the other two received income support and JSA.
Martin Keatings, a carer and another of the claimants, welcomed the Court of Appeal’s decision.
He said: “It was wrong for Mr Justice Swift to say that those who were already on benefits were more accustomed to surviving on a low income, particularly with respect to [disabled people] and unpaid carers, the latter of whom received no assistance with the extra personal protective equipment they required to fulfil the same role as their private and public sector counterparts.”
He added: “It is simply not good enough to say on one hand that, yes, legacy claimants were discriminated against, but that it was proportional – discrimination of this type can never be proportional.
“It is my sincere hope that the court will see sense, particularly in light of current strains on carers, and overturn the previous decision.”
Wayland, Keatings and their fellow claimants now have to wait again to learn when the appeal will be held.
A DWP spokesperson said: “It would not be appropriate for us to comment while the litigation is ongoing.
“It has always been the case that claimants on legacy benefits can make a claim for universal credit if they believe they will be better off.”
In April, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) finally published figures proving that at least one million disabled people would eventually be left worse off through the move to universal credit.
That report concluded that just as many claimants of ESA would eventually lose out as would gain from the move across to UC, once the rollout of the new system was complete.
And Chloe Smith, the minister for disabled people, has told MPs on the Commons work and pensions committee that it was too expensive and too much effort to produce figures that would show what happened to disabled people who made a claim for universal credit and had been put through the work capability assessment process (see separate story).
*He and his fellow claimants were also represented by barristers Jamie Burton QC, of Doughty Street Chambers, and Desmond Rutledge, of Garden Court Chambers
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