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Budget 2021: “Outrageous” that over 1.9 million disabled people on legacy benefits refused £20 week financial lifeline

09 March 2021

In last week’s Budget 2021, the Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that:

“To support low-income households, the universal credit uplift of £20 a week will continue for a further six months, well beyond the end of this national lockdown [and] we’ll provide working tax credit claimants with equivalent support for the next six months.”

Director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation Helen Barnard said that this change made “no sense”:

“It is unacceptable that the Chancellor has decided to cut the incomes of millions of families by £1040-a-year in six months’ time. He said this Budget would “meet the moment” but this decision creates a perfect storm for the end of this year, with the main rate of unemployment support cut to its lowest level in real terms since 1990 just as furlough ends and job losses are expected to peak. This makes no sense and will pull hundreds of thousands more people into poverty as we head into winter.”

She added:

“It is not too late for the Chancellor to do the right thing: announce an extension of the £20 uplift to Universal Credit for at least the next year. It is also totally indefensible that people who are sick, disabled or carers claiming legacy benefits continue to be excluded from this vital support. The Government must urgently right this injustice.”

Anastasia Berry, Policy Manager at the MS Society and Policy Co-Chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC), said:

“It is outrageous that over 1.9 million disabled people on legacy benefits, including Employment and Support Allowance and Jobseekers Allowance, have been refused the same financial lifeline those on Universal Credit have been getting for nearly a year.

How the Chancellor can stand up and say the Government’s response to COVID-19 has been “fair, with the poorest households benefitting the most” – when so many vulnerable are having to choose between heating their homes or eating – is beyond us.

Government excuses so far have been at best feeble, and at worst actively insulting to those being pushed further into poverty. They must give people on legacy benefits the £20 per week uplift, and end this discrimination against disabled people immediately.”

 In a pre-budget briefing, the Resolution Foundation had criticised the lack of proposals to keep and extend the £20 week UC uplift to legacy benefits such as ESA:

“Just as in April 2020, there are no proposals to increase (beyond the cost of living increase) any of DWP’s main ‘legacy’ income support benefits, including Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance and Income Support.  

This distinction is extremely hard to justify, and ends up creating a two-tier benefit system: these legacy benefits remain an integral part of our social security safety net, along with UC, and all their recipients will have been experiencing the same pressure on living costs through the Covid-19 crisis.”

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

“The Chancellor’s failure to  and extend the £20 week uplift will reinforce not ease the poverty of many disabled people.

Before the Budget, key bodies working across health and care said that that the £20 must be kept and extended to legacy benefits.

Highlighting in a open letter to the Prime Minister that more than two million people on legacy benefits, most of whom are disabled people and people with long-term mental and physical health conditions, were excluded from the uplift they said:

“Many of these people are at greater risk from Covid-19, and are taking more extreme and prolonged measures, to protect themselves. This not only increases their living costs, but intensifies their mental and physical strain which in turn worsens health. We urge you to ensure that the full support of this lifeline is extended to those on legacy benefits.”

In addition, a DBC research report found 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. 

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?

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”.  

You can find out more about the DBC campaign to #IncreaseLegacyBenefits here.