Disabled people’s experiences of the benefits system: Committee publishes withheld Government-commissioned research

Wed,9 February 2022
News Benefits

The Work and Pensions Committee of MPs has used parliamentary powers to publish a report on Disabled people’s experiences of the benefits system that the DWP had consistently refused to make public.

The report - The Uses of Health and Disability Benefits - was received by the DWP in September 2020. It followed a research project led by the National Centre for Social Research, which interviewed Disabled people about their experiences of receiving PIP, ESA, and Universal Credit.

It reveals that Disabled people who did not have income outside the benefits system “reported that they were often unable to meet essential day to day living costs”, such as food, rent, and heating.

This research also highlights that health and disability benefits are a key element of the support that is available. For those with restricted financial circumstances, they offered a regular income which provided reassurance that some of their essential day-to-day living costs would be met. However, some of this group reported that they were still unable to meet essential living costs such as food and utility bills. 

Among the report’s key findings concerning benefit payments include:

  • Participants with very limited financial resources in particular said that an increase in benefit payments would improve their overall wellbeing.
  • Recipients of PIP felt that eligibility for the benefit should enable passporting to other benefits, including free prescriptions, eye tests, and Housing Benefit.
  • Where participants had moved from one benefit to another eg DLA to PIP, they felt payment amounts should be maintained and not reduced.

Other key findings include:

  • Participants believed better access to health services, particularly mental health services, would improve their quality of life and wellbeing.
  • Support to combat social isolation and loneliness through peer support, was identified as a key need amongst participants, regardless of financial circumstances.

Suggested improvements to DWP services included: greater awareness-raising and signposting to benefit entitlements, enhanced customer service from Jobcentre Plus increasing certain benefit amounts, and giving claimants more control over when and how payments were made.

Stephen Timms MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said: “The report gives a valuable insight into the experiences of people claiming health and disability benefits. While the system is working for some, we now know that others reported that they are still unable to meet essential living costs such as food and utility bills.

By persisting in its decision to hide away evidence of the struggles people are facing, the DWP will only have further harmed its reputation with Disabled people at a time when - as its own officials have acknowledged - lack of trust is a major issue. In order to rebuild its relationship with Disabled people, the DWP must stop trying to bury uncomfortable truths.”

Anastasia Berry, Policy Co-Chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium (of which DR UK is a member) and Policy Manager at the MS Society said: “The DWP’s failed cover-up of this damning research is just the latest example of their disregard for Disabled people, including those with MS. For years, Disabled people have been subjected to a benefits system which is stressful, confusing, and fails to provide the basic support they need.

Now, with the cost of living crisis erupting, many are reaching breaking point. The Government can no longer continue to push Disabled people aside, or hide key pieces of evidence. They must urgently increase benefits by 6% in April, in line with current inflation, and create a social security system that puts Disabled people first.”

The Uses of Health and Disability Benefits is available from committees.parliament.uk.