Disabled made to wait five months for disability benefits

Some disabled people are having to wait even longer, according to the IFS.

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Disabled people are on average having to wait five months for a disability benefit payment, according to new research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).

According to the IFS, the median wait time between applying for and receiving disability benefits is now 20 weeks, meaning half of people wait even longer than this.

The research, funded by the Joseph Rowntree foundation, says the long wait for disabilities benefits “likely contributes to the link between disability and deprivation”, with disabled people making up “nearly half of the most deprived working-age adults in the country”.

Of the most deprived tenth of the working-age population, the IFS says 5 million (44%) are also disabled.

However, 1.1 million of these people do not receive disability benefits. The IFS argues this could be because they are either ineligible (e.g. their condition is deemed not serious enough) or they choose not to claim. It may also relate to the increased waiting times to receive disability benefits.

Of the 1.1 million disabled and deprived people who do not get disability benefits, 59% are not in paid work, 58% are women, 77% do not have a degree, 58% are single, and 60% have mental health, social or behavioural problems.

Researchers also found the number of people on disability benefits has risen from 2% of the working-age population in the early 1990s (591,000) to 6% in 2020–21 (2.2 million), despite the introduction of draconian welfare reforms.

According to the IFS, this has been driven by an “increased prevalence of mental health conditions”.

Despite harsh welfare reforms, which saw Disability Living Allowance replaced with Personal Independence Payments, spending on disability benefits had in fact increased to around £11 billion per year before the pandemic.

Tom Waters, a Senior Research Economist at IFS and an author of the paper, said: “Of those with the lowest material living standards, about a third are both disabled and not getting disability benefits.

“These people are, compared with other disabled people, disproportionately likely to be single, female, less formally educated, and not in paid work.

“In some cases, they do not receive disability benefits because their condition is not of the sort or severity that the disability benefit system supports. Others will be eligible but not claim – perhaps because they find the application process too difficult.

“But some will simply be waiting to receive their benefits – median waiting times are now about five months. As recently as 2018, the average wait time was three months.”

Peter Matejic, Deputy Director of Evidence and Impact at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “Most people would be shocked to learn people living with serious health conditions are waiting on average five months for life-changing financial support, with half facing longer wait times than this.

“There is clear evidence disabled people face a higher cost of living. Delays this long are likely to have led many to go without essentials like food or basic hygiene in the cost-of-living crisis.

“The majority of the most deprived disabled people are not on disability benefits. Some of this will be due to ineligibility for support or choosing not to apply, but it is also likely that having to wait almost half a year for payments to start will lead to frustrated claimants giving up and not getting the cash they are entitled to.

“A just, compassionate society would not have people living with a disability being more likely to be in poverty than people who aren’t disabled. Yet, nearly half of everyone in poverty is either disabled or lives with a disabled person.

“This shows that the benefits system must fundamentally change, so it properly supports the millions of disabled people in this country.”



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