The DWP has rejected the idea that disabled claimants have incurred additional costs during the pandemic, despite mounting evidence, and has refused to name a date when a long overdue report into the link between government policy and foodbank use will be published.
A report, Pandemic Poverty, released this month by the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) 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.
The DBC recommend that:
- The £20 per week increase to be extended to legacy and similar benefits (and backdated to April 2020).
- The £20 uplift to universal credit (UC) be also renewed in 2021-2, above the normal inflation uprating.
Meanwhile, a separate report by the Trussell Trust, Dignity or Destitution, is also calling on the government to keep the £20 uplift when it is reviewed next month.
Research conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Trussell Trust finds 41% of people claiming Universal Credit – representing more than 2.4m people across the UK – fear they will be very likely to cut back on food for themselves if the planned cut goes ahead in April.
13% of parents surveyed – representing more than 220,000 families – think they would be very likely to cut back on food for their children, meaning they simply would not have enough money to cover the basics.
The report forecasts an increase in the need for food banks amongst people claiming UC with 20% of people on UC -representing 1.2 million people – saying they would ‘very likely’ turn to a food bank for help with £20 less a week.
Emma Revie, chief executive at the Trussell Trust, said:
“The £20 increase to Universal Credit introduced at the start of the pandemic has been vital in protecting tens of thousands of people from being swept into serious financial hardship. This survey reveals the shocking consequences of what lies ahead if this lifeline is cut in April. This isn’t right. No one should have to suffer the indignity of relying on emergency food. It’s clear that action is needed to ensure our benefits system provides people with enough money to cover the essentials. That’s why we’re insisting the government turns this situation around. Keeping the £20 Universal Credit uplift, and extending it to legacy benefits, will provide an anchor from poverty for people who need it most.
The chances of the DWP increasing payments to legacy benefits claimants, seems slim, however.
When it was pointed out to DWP secretary of state, Therese Coffey, during a meeting of the Work and Pensions Committee last week that disabled people have borne higher costs during the pandemic, but those on ESA and JSA have not had any extra help at all, Coffey replied dismissively:
“I would not say they have been treated badly . . . I am not aware specifically of extra costs that would have been unduly incurred”
Coffey also refused to say when a report into how government policy contributes to foodbank demand would be published. It was due out in September 2019, but has been supressed ever since. Coffey’s only response was to say that:
“I do not have a specific answer on that single report, but if they are contributing to policy formation we will still have them under review.”
Coffey’s utter indifference to the plight of disabled claimants suggests there is little prospect of legacy benefit claimants receiving any additional help, without a huge surge of pressure being placed upon the government