New Z2K Report Security Not Sanctions: Making Universal Credit Work For Seriously Ill And Disabled People

Wed,22 May 2024
News Benefits
The anti-poverty charity Z2K has published a report, with recommendations co-produced with disabled claimants, calling for a major overhaul of how universal credit works with health and disability.

The report highlights that ‘economic inactivity’ and disability benefits are high on the government’s agenda.

In recent months, it has made several proposals to reform the disability benefits system and increase economic activity, including proposals to tighten the work capability assessment (WCA) and later abolish it and reform personal independence payment. 

However,  Z2K says that these proposals miss the point:

“They don’t address the key drivers of economic inactivity within the benefit system itself – inadequacy and risk – and, in some ways, exacerbate them.

“Instead, we need a solution that would truly tackle economic inactivity and would also work for disabled people and people with long-term conditions that prevent them from working.” 

It adds: “At Z2K, we set out to identify how we could make Universal credit work better for seriously ill and disabled people. But it quickly became clear that it’s not possible to achieve this by only looking at how the disability-related elements of Universal credit work.

“Looking narrowly at this part of the system just keeps in place the risk of a poor WCA and the drop in income to a level that just isn’t enough.” 

Z2K sets out a proposal “that removes the key drivers of economic inactivity within universal credit and crucially, works for disabled people”.

The proposal has three core elements, which are designed to be taken together to take the risk out of the system, provide genuine security for everyone receiving Universal credit, and enable people to move toward work without fear of a sudden and significant income drop:

  1. Increase the Standard Allowance in universal credit so that over time it reaches the level of the Standard Allowance plus the Limited Capability for Work and Work-Related Activity Element of Universal Credit

“This would remove the cliff edge and fear of trying work for those receiving the limited capability for allowance (LCWRA). It would also give genuine security to this group.

“And crucially, it would lift many who are long-term unemployed, including many disabled people and people with long-term conditions that are currently judged to have limited capability for work but receive no additional income to account for this, out of deep poverty.

“This would enable people to engage with support and move back towards work without worrying about how they will afford food, energy, or rent, and while they would remain in poverty, this would be much less deep poverty than the current system forces them into.”

  1. Overhaul the WCA and eventually have it only determine the conditionality group you are in

“This reformed WCA should be overhauled to ensure it properly reflects the world of work and should be based around the social model of disability, which recognises that people can be disabled by the lack of adaptations from the world around them.

“This should be based on a full consultation in genuine coproduction with disabled people.

“Although this research was about the WCA, there is also no reason not to apply these to PIP assessments as well:

  • An end to ‘covert assessments’ – assessments should be based on the written evidence and the evidence from the assessment interview itself
  • DWP should review the quality of observations and inferences within an assessment  
  • Audio record assessments as standard and provide a copy to the claimant
  • Better match claimants with assessors with a credible claim to knowledge of the claimant’s primary health condition
  • Allow claimants the opportunity to comment on a draft assessment report before it is sent to DWP for a decision, to correct misunderstandings, omissions, or errors”

  3. Introduce a floor into Universal credit, below which someone’s Standard Allowance cannot fall

“No system of assessment will ever be perfect, so it will always risk some people falling through the net, either because they don’t apply, or because the wrong decision is made. So we need to also take the risk out of being found fit for work, to provide genuine security.

“That means that alongside the levelling up of the Standard Allowance, we propose an income floor is introduced, that someone’s universal credit Standard Allowance cannot fall below. This is also a part of the Essentials Guarantee proposed by Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Trussell Trust.  

“… A floor would strike a balance between providing an incentive to look for work for claimants who can, and ensuring that the impact of a poor decision about someone’s ability to work, or an unfair sanction, is not as extremely harsh as it currently is.”

Ken Butler, DR UK’s Welfare Rights and Policy Officer, said: “Z2K has provided an important contribution to the debate around universal credit and the work capability assessment. It is certainly recommended reading and worthy of discussion.

“The points it makes around overhauling the WCA and introducing an Essentials Guarantee are ones that most would readily agree with.

The suggestion of avoiding a “cliff edge” by aligning the Limited Capability for Work and Work-Related Activity Element of universal credit with its standard allowance paid to those deemed ‘fit for work’ less so.

Although not perfect, alternatives would be the payment of the enhanced disability and severe disability premiums within universal credit as they are within employment and support allowance and being able to return to the support group after working for a longer period than six months as now.”

Security not Sanctions: Making Universal credit work for seriously ill and disabled people is available from

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