Increase Benefits And Scrap WCA Proposals - DR UK Writes To Chancellor Ahead Of His Autumn Statement

Fri,17 November 2023
News Benefits
Disability Rights UK (DR UK) has written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt ahead of his Autumn Statement to highlight the need for social security benefits to be urgently increased.
In addition, proposals to reform and then abolish the work capability assessment be withdrawn.
Our full letter, from our CEO Kamran Mallick, is below.

17 November 2023

Dear Chancellor,

We are writing to you ahead of your 2023 Autumn Statement to raise two issues of vital importance to Disabled people – benefit levels and proposed reforms to the work capability assessment (WCA).

Benefit Levels

Disabled people are almost three times as likely to live in material deprivation in comparison to the rest of the population.

We believe that the benefit system should not only provide a financial safety net for Disabled people and those with long-term health conditions, but also that the level of support should be such that they can live independent lives.

Yet, since 2008, changes to welfare benefits have led to this safety net failing, causing Disabled people to feel abandoned by a cruel and  unfair system.

Disabled people have lost benefit payments of around £1,200 on average each year, as a result of the changes. Non-disabled people have seen a reduction of around £300.

Disabled people on low incomes encounter many of the same problems as others, but also have additional, disability-related costs.

The higher cost of specialist equipment, higher usage of everyday essentials and energy, and an inadequate welfare system, are all making it harder for disabled households to meet the extra cost of disability.

In April this year, Scope published its new Disability Price Tag 2023 research highlighting that  on average, disabled households (with at least one disabled adult or child) need an additional £975 a month to have the same standard of living as non-disabled households.

In its report, UK Poverty 2023, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) found that although  benefits were increased in line with inflation for 2023, that the basic rate of benefits remains “close to destitution levels”.

It also highlighted that “Disabled people face a higher risk of poverty and have done so for at least the last 20 years”.

There has been no Government cumulative impact assessments of its social security reforms. In addition, there has been no official study of the adequacy of benefit levels.

While the lump sum cost of living payments are welcome, the low-figure sum of the £150 disability cost of living payment do not adequately account for the disproportionately high extra costs that disabled people face. Especially as it is a small fraction of the additional monthly costs disabled households face as outlined by Scope

We would like to see policy in relation to benefit rates for Disabled people informed by annual independent research on  Minimum Income Standards along the lines of that conducted annually by the JRF. In the immediate term, we would urge you in your Autumn statement at the very least to uprate working-age benefits

We would urge you to commit to uprating benefits at least in line with the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) inflation rate for September 2023 of 6.7%, rather than the recently published  lower CPI inflation rate for October 2023 of 4.7%.

Not to do so would only exacerbate the current cost of living crisis faced by Disabled people and when coupled with the proposed changes to the work capability assessment it could mean some disabled people will see their benefits dramatically reduce.

In addition, action should be urgently taken to reverse the damaging impact of recent policies that have contributed to cutting the amount many people receive to often seriously low levels:

  • The benefit cap and two-child limit must both be ended
  • End the sanctions and conditionality regime, which causes hardship and pushes disabled people further from employment The Work-Related Activity component of ESA (and Universal Credit equivalent) must be re-introduced
  • Universal Credit must have a disability element added
  • the “Local Housing Allowance” should be restored to at least the 30th percentile of local private sector rents.

Without these changes, disability benefits will continue to fail to meet people’s actual cost of living.

Work capability assessment reform

The Government has provided no cogent reason for reducing financial support to disabled claimants through its proposed reforms and then abolition of the work capability assessment (WCA).

The March 2023 White Paper proposals to abolish the WCA and replacing it with Personal Independence Payment (PIP) poses real risks to Disabled people’s financial security:

The deeply flawed PIP assessment process will now also determine eligibility for financial support if you’re not well enough to work.

The Institute of Financial Studies estimates that one million Disabled or seriously unwell people who can’t get PIP will lose out by £390 a month.

A dangerous lottery for sanctions: The new system will devolve assessments of someone’s ability to work to tens of thousands of medically unqualified Jobcentre staff.

Similarly, the proposed changes to the WCA itself would see more Disabled people pushed into poverty, more deaths and greater deterioration in health. 

The proposal to remove the WCA’ s “substantial risk to physical or mental health” provision  is deeply concerning and potentially dangerous. Currently this safeguard can only apply when there is good evidence with the WCA Health Assessment Handbook stating:

“The substantial risk criteria should only be recommended if there is evidence that substantial risk to the mental or physical health of any person, by reason of some specific disease or bodily or mental disablement, would be triggered if the claimant were found not to have limited capability for work or work-related activity”.

Removing the substantial risk provision could put people’s health or lives at risk given that people who have medical evidence saying that taking part in work preparation activity could place them at this level of risk would be left to depend on the judgement of Work Coaches.

We know that Work Coaches often do not have the specific knowledge or skills to support a range of disabled people.

The Government’s stated aim to “support more Disabled people into work” will not be achieve through subjecting them to benefit conditionality or sanctions or reducing their income.

In reality, the proposals are a huge and potentially deadly cost-cutting exercise.

If the Government simply wants to help more people attempt to work, they could easily do so just by guaranteeing a safe return to existing levels of benefits for a Disabled person who tried working but was unable to sustain it. 

Support should be offered to prepare for work without any threat to benefits.

We would urge that the Government should drop the WCA reform proposals and instead commit to a comprehensive and detailed review commissioned by the DWP to establish what works and what does not, regarding how successful various employment support schemes are in getting disabled people into work and supporting them to stay in work.

The DWP should collaborate with Disabled people and our organisations to better understand what effective models for supporting disabled people to move towards work look like.

We would welcome meeting with you to discuss the issues raised in this letter.

cc Mel Stride, Secretary of State for work and Pensions.

Yours faithfully

Kamran Mallick


Disability Rights UK