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The welfare safety net is not fit for purpose says Work and Pensions Committee

31 July 2019

The welfare safety net is not fit for purpose for people living on the breadline, and disabled people are at higher risk of falling into, and becoming trapped in, poverty than non-disabled people, says a report published today by the Work and Pensions Committee.

The Committee conducted an inquiry into the current state of the UK’s welfare safety net, prompted by the evidence of debt, hunger and homelessness it has heard across several recent inquiries. 

In highlighting the contrast between the DWP’s characterisation of poverty and hardship since 2010, the report says that:

“It is difficult to avoid concluding that the Department simply does not understand the impact of its reforms on some of the most vulnerable people it supports. DWP’s policy decisions have a direct impact on the incomes of millions of people. There is no excuse for a lack of understanding or transparency about the effects of those decisions.”

The new report is clear that disabled people are at higher risk of falling into, and becoming trapped in, poverty than non-disabled people:

“That is, in part, because disabled people frequently face additional living costs. These range from basic essentials like food and fuel, to the costs of the adaptations and support that are needed to make society accessible.

Disability benefits such as PIP are intended to help cover those costs and ensure that disabled people can participate in the economy and society on an equal footing. But benefit rates often fall short of the real costs of disability—and for many disabled people, boosting income through work can be difficult or impossible.

The Department says that some of the most severely disabled people will receive more support under the current welfare system than they would have before 2010. But it has come at the cost of support for people with conditions that, while not the “most severe”, can still have a substantial impact on their day-to-day lives and living costs.

This includes people in the ESA work related activity group and Universal Credit equivalent. These claimants have also been subject to freezes and reductions in the generosity of benefits they are entitled to—despite the Department itself finding them not “fit for work”.”

The Committee recommend that the DWP commission an independent survey of the additional costs of disability and long-term health conditions.

In addition, it stresses that this should be developed alongside its new poverty measure as a means of understanding where benefits are falling short and informing policy to address poverty amongst disabled people.

The Work and Pensions Committee’s Welfare Safety Net report is available @ www.parliament.uk

See also Nearly half of all those living in poverty live in a household where someone is disabled @ www.disabilityrightsuk.org 

Ken Butler DR UK’s Welfare Rights and Policy Adviser said:

“This latest Work and Pension Committee report is one of a growing number it’s issued over several years that highlight the devastating impact of welfare reforms.

The social security system is intended to provide a financial safety net for some of the most vulnerable people in our society including disabled people and people with long-term health conditions.

Yet, since 2008, changes to welfare benefits have led to this safety net failing, causing people to feel abandoned by a cruel and unfair system.

These changes have had a devastating impact on disabled people and. financial security for most disabled people has all but vanished and who have been left living in poverty and isolation as a result.”

DR UK is a member of the Disability Benefit’s Consortium (DBC).

The recent DBC report - Has welfare become unfair - highlighted that while disabled people have typically lost around £1,200 per year due to welfare reform.

However, the report is also important as it makes a series of recommendations including to remove disabled people from poverty, including:

  • an end the benefit freeze;
  • bringing back the ESA work-related activity component and the equivalent element in universal credit;
  • introducing a disability element to universal credit to replace the disability premiums that have been cut from the system
  • removing the benefit cap for everyone who receives a disability-related benefit; 
  • returning the work allowances in universal credit to pre-2016 levels; and
  • reviewing the assessment criteria for PIP.