Two disabled people have launched a legal action against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) over its failure to offer recipients of so-called legacy benefits the same £20-a-week benefit increase given to those on universal credit.
They and hundreds of thousands of other disabled people were outraged when chancellor Rishi Sunak again failed to provide them with the same benefit “uplift” that was first handed to universal credit claimants at the start of the pandemic last March.
Instead, Sunak used last week’s budget to extend the uplift to those on universal credit for another six months.
This means that an estimated 1.9 million disabled people will continue to miss out on the £20-a-week payments.
The two campaigners have secured legal aid for their claim for judicial review of the failure to extend the uplift to those on the out-of-work disability benefit, employment and support allowance (ESA).
They are arguing, through legal firm Osbornes Law, that the government’s decision has unlawfully discriminated against them as disabled people, under the European Convention on Human Rights.
One of the two claimants has requested anonymity, but the other, Philip Wayland, from Essex, told Disability News Service (DNS) that he believes the failure to extend the uplift was “blatant discriminatory policy”.
He said: “Their claim is ‘we have put our arms around the most vulnerable people’, when they have categorically not done that.
“After 10 years of it, that is what pushed me into it, because I have had enough.
“It was an accumulation of the last 10 years, feeling as though we were being treated as second-class citizens, of years of feeling ignored and treated badly.”
He said he believed that the government was deliberately withholding the uplift from disabled people to try to force them to move onto universal credit and its stricter regime of conditions and sanctions.
Wayland, who has been receiving ESA for the last 10 years, is set to receive an annual inflation-linked increase of just 65p a week in his ESA next month.
Both the Commons work and pensions committee and DWP’s own social security advisory committee have called on DWP to extend the uplift to those on legacy benefits.
And last week, as part of its #20More4All campaign, Disabled People Against Cuts 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.
Many of them wrote of their “soaring food costs”, including the extra costs of needing to have food delivered during the pandemic, and how they have “to choose between eating and heating”.
One said: “I would be able to bathe more and have my heating on. And be able to eat three times a day instead of two times.”
Another said simply: “On chemo… need to eat properly.”
Wayland said he was appalled when he heard Therese Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, tell an MP this week that she did not even ask Sunak to extend the uplift to those on legacy benefits.
Coffey told the SNP’s Marion Fellows to encourage people on legacy benefits to “go to independent benefits calculators to see whether they would automatically be better off under universal credit (UC)” rather than waiting to be moved across to UC by DWP in the next few years.
Early in the crisis, Coffey had argued that extending the uplift to those on legacy benefits like ESA and jobseeker’s allowance would risk the “safety and the stability of the benefit system”.
Only last week, DNS reported how it was branded “vexatious” by DWP for trying to secure a key unpublished document that could finally show how many disabled people are expected to lose out in the move to universal credit.
The most recent DWP equality impact assessment, published nearly a decade ago, in November 2011, suggested that the number of disabled households gaining financially from universal credit would be at least matched by the number losing out (with about 800,000 households in each group), with disabled people who are out of work particularly likely to lose out.
By noon today (Thursday), the Treasury had still not been able to explain last week’s decision not to extend the uplift to those on legacy benefits.
A DWP spokesperson said the department could not comment on ongoing legal proceedings, but he pointed to the comments made by Coffey on Monday, and similar comments by fellow DWP minister Will Quince, who said the uplift had been introduced “to support those facing the most financial disruption due to the pandemic”.
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