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Government rejection of £20 per week increase to ESA is unacceptable says DR UK

04 August 2020

Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey has rejected the call from the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) to award ESA claimants the same £20 week increase those receiving Universal Credit.

In May 2020, the SSAC wrote to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions,  Dr Thérèse Coffey, recommending major changes to the DWP’s emergency response to Covid-19.

These included the exclusion of ESA (and JSA) claimants from the increase of  the Universal Credit standard allowance and the Working Tax Credit basic element by £20 a week for 12 months.

The SSAC says that it was of the “of the strong view that it is increasingly untenable for this group of claimants to be excluded and to continue to have a lower level of income than those in receipt of Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit”.

However, some two months later, Dr Coffey has responded to the SSAC letter, has refused to extend the increase – worth £1,000 per year – to those on ESA and JSA.

In her reply, the Secretary of State says that:

“DWP has no plans to increase Employment and Support Allowance, Jobseeker’s Allowance or Income Support. These benefits were increased by 1.7% in April 2020 following the government’s announcement to end the benefit freeze.

It has always been the case that claimants on legacy benefits can make a claim for Universal Credit (UC) if they believe that they will be better off. There are special arrangements for those in receipt of the Severe Disability Premium, who will be able to make a new claim to Universal Credit from January 2021.

Claimants should check their eligibility before applying to Universal Credit as legacy benefits will end when they submit their claim and they will not be able to return to them in the future.

For this reason, prospective claimants are signposted to independent benefits calculators on GOV.UK. Neither DWP nor HMRC can advise individual claimants whether they would be better off moving to UC or remaining on legacy benefits.”

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

“This response by the Secretary of State is unacceptable.

While ESA, JSA and income support were increased by 1.7%, Universal Credit was also subject to a similar increase.

What the Secretary of State fails to mention is the four year benefit increase freeze that preceded this. Or that since April 2017, the £30 week limited capability for work addition was no longer payable to new claimants of ESA.

In addition, since January 2019 those who receive the severe disability premium have been barred from even claiming Universal Credit .

It seems even those who may be eligible to claim Universal Credit cannot seek advice about this from the DWP itself.

It’s simply not good enough for Dr Coffey to blandly asset that “neither DWP nor HMRC can advise individual claimants whether they would be better off moving to UC or remaining on legacy benefits.”

Many disabled people cannot access or use the internet and since lockdown access to advice agencies has become much more difficult.

Both the DWP and HMRC should have a legal duty to advise people of their potential benefit entitlements. Particularly as it is not possible to return to ESA or JSA once Universal Credit is claimed even if it is not payable.

By restricting the £20 week increase only to Universal Credit, the Government continues to discriminate against the millions of disabled people on other benefits. Even before the Covid-19 crisis, benefit cuts and austerity hit disabled people the hardest.

The question a responsible Secretary of State should consider is: are those on ESA, JSA and income support  facing significant extra costs due to the pandemic like those on Universal Credit ?

The answer is clearly yes - so the £20 increase should also be payable to them.”

Note: In her reply, Dr Coffey also rejects the SSAC’s recommendations that the benefit cap be amended and that the shared accommodation rate in the local housing allowance be suspended.

The Secretary of State’s response to the SSAC is available from gov.uk.

For more information see the following available from disabilityrightsuk.org: