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Broken benefits system forcing thousands of Disabled people to fall behind on payments and skip meals

01 September 2021

Thousands of Disabled people on out of work benefits, such as ESA and Jobseeker’s Allowance, are facing considerable mental health and physical challenges as the pandemic has left them struggling financially, new research shows.

The stark findings are from the latest Disability Benefits Consortium’s (DBC) survey.

It was completed by over 1,800 Disabled people in receipt of out of work benefits (also known as ‘legacy benefits’) and found:

  • Over two thirds (78%) said their financial situation was ‘worse’ compared to at the start of the pandemic
  • Half (52%) are spending ‘significantly more’ on household bills and utilities than they were before the pandemic, with a third (37%) spending ‘somewhat more’
  • Individuals’ weekly income meant they were unable or struggling to eat a balanced diet (67%), attend medical appointments due to public transport, petrol and taxi costs (33%), and pay bills, including their water, gas, electric, rent and mortgage (67%)
  • Just under half (46%) were falling behind on rent or mortgage payments.

The findings come one month before the High Court is to hear on 28 and 29 September whether the Government acted unlawfully by not giving nearly 2 million Disabled people on legacy benefits the same emergency increase of £20 per week that was given to people on Universal Credit to help them survive the COVID-19 crisis.

In response to the DBC survey, one person said: “I’ve lost over 15kg in body weight from going hungry.” Another said: “At the moment I have no bath or shower as I cannot use the bath due to my disability and the shower is broken and I cannot afford to replace it. It is a horrible way to live.”

In addition, someone wrote: “I cannot afford to socialise and attend events that used to help my mental health. I am now more physically disabled than before the pandemic started and cannot afford taxis.”

The Government has continually defended its decision not to uplift legacy benefits by £20 per week.

Excuses have ranged from saying this would be “too complicated” for their computer system to arguing they weren’t aware of any extra-costs or impact on Disabled people.

Most recently they have said people on legacy benefits have the option to switch to Universal Credit, ignoring the fact that wider adjustments could leave people worse off, as well as serious flaws in the assessment and monitoring process of Universal Credit.

Respondents to the DBC survey said they felt the Government’s actions were ‘discriminatory’ (46%), ‘cruel’ (21%), and unfair (21%), with one person saying: “The Government are sending a clear message that the disabled do not matter’. Another noted: “I think they hope to drive us all to suicide or an earlier death from our disabilities.”

Ella Abraham, Z2K’s Policy and Campaigns Manager and Campaigns Co-chair of the DBC, said:

“It’s been 18 months of discriminatory Government excuses which have continued to leave 2.5 million people without the vital income they need to support them throughout the pandemic and beyond.

The Government must end this two-tier welfare state to ensure Disabled people and those with health conditions aren’t pushed any further into poverty and destitution.”

The DBC report The Millions Missing out is available from disabilitybenefitsconsortium.com.

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