Radical reforms to the benefit system due to be implemented next year will make tens of thousands of disabled adults and children worse off, according to new analysis by a group of disability and children’s charities.
The Disability and Universal Credit report, compiled by Disability Rights UK, the Children’s Society and Citizens Advice, warns that few people have yet grasped the full impact of the changes, which will be implemented in October 2013, when a series of means-tested benefits are streamlined into a single new benefit, universal credit.
“No group will be more affected than disabled people,” the Paralympic champion Lady Grey-Thompson, writes in an introduction to the research.
Grey-Thompson, who is now a cross-bencher in the House of Lords and who has already spoken of her concerns over cuts to disability benefits, writes: “Under the new system, financial support for some groups of disabled people will be much lower than current support available for people in the same circumstances.
“Cuts such as those to support for most disabled children and disabled adults living alone are going to make the future considerably bleaker for many of the most vulnerable households in Britain.”
The report highlights in particular the impact of the abolition of the severe disability premium, which will remove around £60 a week from benefits paid to adults who live alone, or just with their children, and who are so seriously disabled they are unlikely ever to find work. The cut leaves them with less to spend on paying for carers, and will mean an estimated 25,000 lone parents with severe disabilities will become more reliant on their children for help.
It also analyses how families with a disabled child currently receiving support through the disability element of child tax credit, which is worth £57 a week, will see this payment cut to £28 a week, calculating that this is equivalent to a loss of around £1,500 a year for most families with a disabled child. The reduction will push many families below the poverty line, it warns.
Although individual aspects of welfare reform have been carefully scrutinised during parliamentary debates on the Welfare Reform Act, the charities argue that the combined effect of a series of changes is only gradually becoming clear.
“The government estimates that about 2.8m households will gain financially from the changes, and about 2m households will lose out. While some disabled people will gain from the new system, many disabled people will get very significantly less help because some of the additional support in the current system will not be provided to the same degree in universal credit,” the report states.
“We are very concerned that the scale of the cuts in support for some groups of disabled people has not yet been properly understood because the changes have been viewed in isolation.”
Sue Royston, of Citizens Advice, said the severe disability premium was a hugely important benefit, and its abolition would lead to a very significant drop in claimants’ income. “Universal credit simplifies things, but this is a simplification too far,” she said.
Neil Coyle, of Disability Rights UK, said: “Some MPs have belatedly realised that, as they cheered the introduction of the universal credit and its benefit cap, they also voted through cuts for disabled people that particularly penalise disabled children, disabled people living alone without a carer and disabled couples.
“The universal credit will end the top-up pots of support for the most disadvantaged, like the severe disability premium. A third of disabled people already live in poverty in the UK and the cuts to be imposed under universal credit plans will penalise many thousands more.”
A DWP spokesperson said the charities’ analysis was “highly selective”.
“The present system of disability support is a tangled mess of premiums and add-ons which is highly prone to error and baffling for disabled people themselves. The universal credit will deliver a simpler and fairer system, with higher payments for the most severely disabled people and improved support for carers. Transitional protection will make sure that people do not lose out just because they move onto universal credit,” the department said in an emailed statement.
Citizens Advice is calling for recipients of disability benefits to complete an online questionnaire to help improve understanding of the likely impact of these changes.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010