Charities have welcomed changes to the Government’s flagship Universal Credit programme for disabled people, but say much more needs to be done to support those affected and their families.
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Esther McVey MP, has announced that people with severe disabilities who have moved from legacy benefits to Universal Credit will be compensated for the loss of the Severe Disability Premium, which has been axed under the new system.
Ms McVey also said others will only be moved to Universal Credit once there are adequate protections in place for the loss of income.
She also announced that claimants whose childcare costs increase after they are migrated from tax credits to Universal Credit will now always have those extra costs paid in full through their benefit payments.
Commenting on the concessions, Chief Executive at Citizens Advice Gillian Guy said: “The government’s improved protection for people who receive the Severe Disability Premium is a welcome move that will mean better financial security for many disabled people who move onto Universal Credit.
“The government now needs to ensure that protection is in place for all disabled people who face losses moving onto Universal Credit, and that adequate financial support is in place for new claimants who are disabled.
“We support the aims and principles of Universal Credit but it is essential that the benefit is delivered effectively. It’s therefore reassuring the government is continuing to make changes to Universal Credit.
“We will continue to monitor Universal Credit closely as it is introduced across the country.”
Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group Alison Garnham, welcomed the changes but added that extra support should also be made available for parents of disabled children.
Alison Garnham said: “These are really welcome changes which will correct the current clear injustice whereby so many severely disabled claimants lose large amounts as they move from legacy benefits to universal credit.
“We hope the Secretary of State will follow up today’s announcement with reforms to end the comparable unfair losses faced by claimants with disabled children.
“It’s also absolutely right that parents trying to get better off through earnings should receive extra help if their childcare costs increase after they migrate to universal credit.
“Parents in this position who are trying to do the right thing need a benefit system that supports their efforts rather than works against them. The change announced today moves them a little further in that direction.”
Vicki Nash, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Mind said: “It’s really concerning that thousands of people with mental health problems lost their much-needed income in the move over to Universal Credit, and hundreds of thousands more were left living in fear that it could happen to them. It’s right that the Government will repay those affected.
“What’s most important now is that they work quickly to identify and reimburse the people who have already lost their premiums. We’re seeking confirmation from the Government that everyone who is out of pocket under Universal Credit will be reimbursed.
“The premiums were introduced so that disabled people who live independently could get the support they need to make ends meet. Many people with mental health problems rely on this money to get to appointments, to see friends and family, and to live independent lives.
“If the Government is really committed to supporting people with mental health problems to have control over their own lives, they must reintroduce these premiums for anyone making a claim to Universal Credit.”
The news comes as a survey by the Department for Work and Pensions reveals how 40 per cent of Universal Credit claimants are struggling to afford household bills, including housing costs.
A survey of claimants by phone found: “Four in ten claimants at both survey waves were experiencing difficulties keeping up with bills approximately eight to nine months into their claim.
“In both waves, just over a third were experiencing housing payment arrears and, for 44 per cent, the situation had deteriorated between the two surveys.”
Only one in three claimants in arrears reported that their situation had approved.