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Pandemic Poverty: new DBC research report shows why the £20 week UC uplift must be kept and extended

02 February 2021

In March 2020, in response to the unfolding Covid-19 pandemic, the Government acted swiftly and decisively to announce an emergency increase of £20 a week for both Universal Credit (UC) and Working Tax Credit.

However this increase was not provided for “legacy benefits” such as Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support and Jobseekers’ Allowance. The uplift will expire in April and to date no announcement has been made on its extension past April or extension to ‘legacy’ benefits.

As of May 2020, when the most recent figures are available, there were over 2.5 million people claiming legacy benefits, the majority of whom are disabled people on Employment and Support Allowance

Heading into the pandemic, disabled people were already more likely to be facing financial difficulty, with nearly half of people in poverty being disabled or living with a disabled person[1].  The past 10 months have brought further financial difficulties for disabled people due to new costs and the removal of previous support and services. 

A new report by the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC), a network of over 100 organisations, including DR UK, provides new evidence and lived experience from a survey of 1384 people claiming UC or legacy benefits:

  • on what these difficulties and increased financial costs look like; and
  • the importance of extending the £20 per week uplift to both UC and legacy benefits.

The DBC research finds that:

  • 82% of disabled claimants have had to spend more money than they normally would during the pandemic
  • this is most commonly due to greater food shopping and utility bills, as over half (54% and 53%) of disabled claimants said these costs had increased significantly
  • as a result of these increased costs;
  • two thirds (67%) of disabled claimants have had to go without essential items at some point during the pandemic;
  • almost half (44%) of disabled claimants are reporting being unable to meet financial commitments such as rent and household bills. 

The DBC counter the argument by Minsters that in respect of legacy benefits, claimants can, if they wish, discontinue their claim and switch to UC.

This is a flawed argument, it shows for several reasons:

  • some will still be worse off on UC – and may not realise this (the Department for Work and Pensions has said it is unable to advise individual claimants);
  • some who are better off on UC because of the £20 uplift will be worse off if it is removed in April;

many vulnerable claimants find the online UC claim and subsequent claim management intimidating and a real obstacle – precisely the issues that were being explored by the “managed migration” (also known as Move to UC) pilot before it was suspended.

To immediately address the increased financial costs disabled people are facing during the pandemic, and invest in the wellbeing and social and economic participation of disabled people and those with long-term health conditions, the DBC makes two key recommendations: 

  • the £20 per week increase to be extended to legacy and similar benefits (and backdated to April 2020)
  • the £20 uplift to be also renewed in 2021-2, above the normal inflation uprating.

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

“By restricting the £20 per week increase only to Universal Credit the Government has discriminated 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 Government should consider is: are those on UC, ESA, JSA and income support still facing significant extra costs due to the pandemic?

The DBC research shows that the answer is a resounding yes – it finds two thirds (67%) of disabled claimants have had to go without essential items at some point during the pandemic.

So the £20 UC uplift must not just be kept and but extended to those on ESA and other legacy benefits”.  

Read the DBC report Pandemic Poverty: Stark choices facing disabled people on legacy benefits.