We’re not just fighting for an extra £20 a week for people, we’re fighting to ensure that the Government treats all people with dignity and respect, regardless of their status in society.
Before we launched our #IncreaseDisabilityBenefits campaign in coalition with over 100 disability organisations, I spoke with Chris* who has a rare health condition, has survived five heart operations and has been told he has a life expectancy of 35 years. Because of his condition, Chris receives Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and lives with his parents. He has said that the pressure on his parents has become immense because of the pandemic. They fear that every time they go out for food, or work, they put his life in danger. They worry about income and whether they will have enough to eat and to pay their bills. His mother is his full time Carer yet only gets £67 a week in Carer’s Allowance – an unacceptably small sum. Life has become enormously stressful for Chris and he has become more fearful for the future than ever before, as he struggles to manage with the money he receives from ESA during the Covid-19 lockdown. Unlike people on Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits, he is without the additional emergency increase to his benefits that would help him cover the extra costs he now faces as a result of Covid-19. ‘Just because you are not on Universal Credit, doesn’t mean you should be left behind.’
In 2012, Chris lost his brother who was serving in Afghanistan and, at the time, the Government praised the family with admiration. But it wasn’t long after, that Chris and his family saw themselves at the mercy of the bedroom tax; a cruel rule meaning that because Chris’ brother had died, his room was now unoccupied, and therefore the family had to begin paying more rent for this room, if it remained unfilled. As Chris says, ‘my brother didn’t die so people could be treated like this.’
Chris’ words are particularly pertinent during a time where healthcare professionals are praised as heroes by the Government yet are simultaneously being denied the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) they need to adequately protect themselves and others.
The last 10 years have seen huge cuts to disabled people’s income; research shows that on average they will have lost £1,201 in welfare benefits each year by 2021-22 compared to 2010 levels. Other benefit ‘reforms’ such as the benefit cap and bedroom tax, as Chris’ family have experienced, only make things more difficult.
We are asking that the Government immediately increase all out-of-work benefits by £20 per week, the same COVID-19 emergency increase that Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits has seen. Too many like Chris are struggling to survive on the income they receive and the pandemic is only making it harder, with people having to choose between heating their home or paying for a taxi to go and collect their medication because public transport is too unsafe. They are having to put themselves at risk by going to their local shop because they can’t afford the minimum spend needed to get a free food delivery.
The Government are discriminating against millions of disabled people by choosing to, as the Work and Pensions Secretary herself has said, ‘focus on new claimants’ on Universal Credit. By increasing Universal Credit by £20 a week during this pandemic, the Government clearly recognises the need for a higher rate of income during these unprecedented times. They must now do the same for everyone else.
Join 100,000 people, over 100 disability organisations and MPs in our calls to #IncreaseDisabilityBenefits today.
**A pseudonym has been used to protect our client’s identity