In a report published today, Wednesday 19 December 2018, the Work and Pensions Committee warns of potential “disastrous” consequences for disabled people, including disabled children, and the services that support them in the transition to Universal Credit as currently planned.
Rt Hon Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said:
“The Government’s plans will see “very” disabled people getting the extra help they need at the cost of other disabled people. We have already seen the terrible cost of the Department’s failure to find out what is happening to the most vulnerable claimants in the transition to Universal Credit. People receiving the disability premiums are already, by definition, managing in some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable in our society, and this includes disabled children, and children forced to care for a disabled parent. It would be a terrible betrayal of these people to allow another failure of planning in this mega reform to worsen their situations, even one bit.
“No one should ever be forced further into poverty, deprivation, miserable hardship by a policy reform. The Government must assure disabled people across this country that will not happen to them, and plan and put the measures in place to make that promise good.”
DWP has said that no Universal Credit claimant will be worse off when they move directly from the benefits Universal Credit replaces, and that “severely disabled” claimants will get more in benefits than they would have under the previous system. But this comes at a price for disabled people and their families who are not designated “severely” disabled by DWP.
Under the previous system disabled people who do not have a paid-for carer were able to claim top ups to their benefits: the Severe and Enhanced Disability Premiums, worth up to £64 per week for a single person. Disabled people use the Severe and Enhanced Disability Premiums—along with other benefits—for essential living and care costs. Even with this additional money, meeting costs can be a struggle.
The premiums do not exist under Universal Credit. The Committee says DWP “made a serious error” in removing disability premiums from Universal Credit while initially failing to provide existing recipients of those benefits with transitional support. The steps it has taken to provide support for people already in receipt of those benefits are welcome but only a stopgap: transitional protection can still be lost, and it erodes in value over time. And the core problem of lower benefit payments for new Universal Credit claimants – who do not receive transitional protection – remains.
Removing this vital additional support from Universal Credit risks disabled people living more isolated lives, relying on unpaid care - including from their own, dependent children - or simply being unable to complete certain basic daily tasks. DWP claims to have “recycled” the money saved from removing them into support for the “most severely disabled” UC claimants – but the Committee’s report shows that even those claimants would receive less under Universal Credit than under the previous system.
Supporting disabled children
Changes to support for disabled children under Universal Credit similarly mean that some families with severely disabled children will receive more than they would have under tax credits. But this increase in support comes at a substantial price for other families. Once Universal Credit is fully rolled out, 100,000 families with a “less disabled” child will receive less money than they would have under the legacy benefit system. The consequences—for claimants unable to make up the shortfall, and for local services that need to step in and support them—could be disastrous.
The Department has not carried out a full impact assessment of either of these changes. It nonetheless confidently asserts that costs and consequences will not emerge elsewhere: for example, in the social care system. This is despite widespread evidence of “offloading” of costs, across the country, onto local authorities, services and charities in the transition to Universal Credit so far. It has also so far failed to satisfy expert scrutineers and stakeholders across the spectrum of its readiness for the next phase of transition, the so-called “managed” migration of existing claimants onto the new system.
The Committee says:
- The Department must get its house in order and correct historical ESA underpayments before it begins to move any ESA claimants onto UC;
- The Department should not yet, as it has planned, seek Parliamentary approval for “managed” migration wholesale, but instead only for the 10,000 person pilot and the Severe Disability Premium transitional protections.
- By mid-2019, when “managed migration” to Universal Credit is due to begin, DWP should carry out and publish an assessment of the impact of removing the disability premia from Universal Credit for new claimants, including the costs and benefits of introducing a "self-care" amount in Universal Credit, paid at the same rate as the existing “care” amount. This would provide financial support for disabled people who do not have a paid for carer;
- DWP must systematically in conjunction with experts and stakeholders collect data on vulnerable claimants, and demonstrably feed it into their plans for protecting those claimants from further hardship and deprivation in the transition to UC.