The budget is on the 3rd and it is pretty certain that the £20 per week uplift paid to those on Universal Credit is to be extended, HOWEVER, there continues to be no uplift to those of us who are disabled and on what are called legacy benefits, i.e. the benefits paid before Universal Credit was introduced. Disabled people who this affects are urged to raise the matter with their MPs in advance of the budget, as a result here is the letter that I have sent to mine:
Derek Thomas MP (by email) 1 March 2021
Disabled People Against Cuts’ Day of Action on 1 March
I am writing to ask you as my MP to call for the £20 Universal Credit (UC) uplift to be extended to legacy benefits, in addition I consider that it should be backdated to the date that the additional £20 was added to UC.
This personally affects me because I receive Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and have been placed in the Support Group following a personal assessment that determined that I am too disabled to be able to work. I am virtually housebound as I have had my driving licence withdrawn by the DVLA on disability grounds and throughout the Pandemic I have rarely been out. My last outing was to my GP’s surgery in Marazion last week to receive the Covid vaccine and the return taxi fare for a round trip of 3 miles cost me £15. I have no option but to shop on-line which has seen the cost of my weekly supermarket shop increase significantly, not least as the delivery charge continues to rise which well exceeds the £20 uplift that we beleaguered and ignored disabled people are seeking; in addition the supermarkets are selective in what items they offer to on-line shoppers which increases the cost of basic items. Other significant additional costs include heating; due to my low income I receive the £140 annual heating allowance which ordinarily covers the additional cost of heating my one bedroomed bungalow, however this year it will not cover the cost and my monthly electricity payments have already increased from £35 to £48 despite the allowance being applied.
It still beggars belief that the Government thought it was right to give the increase to one kind of claimant, but deny it to others, especially when you realise that three-quarters of those 2.2 legacy benefit claimants are disabled people on ESA. For months ministers and senior officials at the Department for Work and Pensions pretended this happened because there was no easy way of increasing the rates of ESA, Job Seekers Allowance, Income Support or Carer’s Allowance paid into those claimants’ accounts (which is an answer I received from your office when I raised the issue last year), but the Director General let the cat out of the bag at a Resolution Foundation webinar in May 2020 when he revealed Ministers had actually asked if the extra £20 a week could only be paid to those who had made a claim for Universal Credit since the start of the pandemic. The original comment was, therefore, a blatant lie.
Many of those who have spent years if not decades paying their National Insurance while in work (and in my case putting my life on the line for my Country whilst serving in the Armed Forces) would have been shocked to discover those payments entitled them to just £73 a week to live on – a rate that had been frozen since 2016. The Prime Minister and Chancellor would almost certainly have faced a wave of protest. This attempt to create a two-tier welfare state – one part for the newly-unemployed middle class and another for those who have been unable to work for some time because of their disability, ill-health, or caring responsibilities says an awful lot of a Conservative Government.
More than 2.2million claimants who have not yet been moved on to UC missed out on the £20 uplift when it was introduced in March 2020. This is despite the fact that many of those claimants are disabled with underlying health conditions and their expenditures have significantly increased as a direct result of the pandemic and the need to shield for almost a year now.
UK social security payment levels also represent only a relatively small percentage of the Minimum Income Standard (MIS). This is the amount calculated by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation as what is needed for an acceptable standard of living. After the uplift, UC payments are just 43.4% of the MIS. For those still on legacy benefits, as they have been throughout the pandemic, the amount they continue to receive in benefits represents just 33.9% of the MIS.
Many of the more than 2.2 million benefit claimants who have not received the uplift are disabled. Disabled people have been badly hit by increased expenditures as a direct result of the pandemic and the need to shield. Many have been self-isolating for nearly a year now. Higher spending has been caused by, for example, the need to purchase PPE for social care support workers coming in and out of their homes, costs of online food deliveries and increased energy costs.
Research carried out by the Disability Benefits Consortium found that:
1. The majority (82%) of disabled people surveyed said they had spent more than they normally would – due to greater food shopping and utility bills, as well as having to pay for taxis to attend essential appointments – since the COVID-19 crisis began.
2. Two thirds (66%) said they had to go without essentials like food, heating or medication as a result of increased costs since the pandemic started.
3. Nearly half (44%) said they had fallen behind on financial commitments like rent, mortgage payments, or household bills.
In response to this research, the government says that benefits will be increased by 37p per week in April 2021 (which is an insult) and that claimants still on legacy benefits have the option of moving over to Universal Credit. Contrary to what the Work & Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey says, legacy benefit claimants cannot just claim Universal Credit to get the extra £20 a week. Hundreds of thousands would have lost their disability premiums if they had done so and also become subject to Universal Credit’s problematic digital-only platform and notorious 'conditionality'. Those downsides were exactly the reason Ms Coffey’s predecessors decided to pilot the process of 'managed migration' for existing legacy benefit claimants with transitional protection of their income for most ESA claimants.
Neither of these points provide a suitable remedy to the situation.
The benefit increase is designed to reflect higher costs of living due to inflation, not the pandemic. It is also below the level that is realistically needed to cover inflation, being linked to the CPI and representing a mere 0.5% increase while state pensions will rise by 2.5%.
Many disabled people are financially worse off on Universal Credit which for example removes both Severe and Enhanced Disability Premia and would have more to lose than to gain by moving off legacy benefits.
There is also the question of how disabled people without access to the internet or support to navigate the benefit system are supposed to be able to make the move over to Universal Credit with the operations of welfare advice and community support organisations so heavily restricted by the pandemic.
Keeping, extending and backdating the £20 uplift is vitally important to prevent greater poverty, debt and misery amongst the disabled community and to help those able to but currently out of work to find employment.
In addition I would urge you to fight the proposed new tax on on-line shopping which was rumoured in the media a few weeks ago as this would have a serious adverse effect on those of us who have no option but to shop on-line.
I look forward to hearing from you.
I very much doubt whether there will be a positive response but, nonetheless, we have to try!