Disability benefits changes are a cause for deep concern
Leading charities today slammed the announcement in the Autumn Statement of changes to disability benefits.
The proposals, announced by Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt, would mean that people undergoing a new Work Capability Assessment from 2025 would find it harder to access the additional money and protection from benefit sanctions it can provide.
But anti-poverty, advice, health, and disability organisations, led by Z2K, have written to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Mel Stride, to express “deep concern” over the move, and questioned whether the consultation that led to this announcement was genuine.
In an open letter sent after the Chancellor’s statement, the signatories, including Save the Children, Child Poverty Action Group, Sense, and Mencap, demand that the Secretary of State reverses the change, and publishes details of the responses to its consultation, as well as an Equalities Impact Assessment. The letter states that the consensus against the proposals at consultation events held by the Department was “overwhelming”, and that as a result “it is unfortunately hard to avoid the conclusion that in part, [the consultation’s] outcome was in large part already determined”.
The consultation is also subject to an ongoing legal challenge, brought by the Public Law Project on behalf of a disabled activist.
Z2K, which co-ordinated the letter, said that the proposals only tackled the symptoms, not the causes, of the rising disability benefits bill, and would deepen poverty among seriously ill and disabled people. It also warned that proposals to water down the ‘substantial risk’ criteria, which provide a safeguard for people with serious mental health difficulties, could lead to dangerous consequences for some claimants including self-harm, suicide, or harm to others.
Anela Anwar, Chief Executive of Z2K, said:
“Despite near-unanimous opposition, government has chosen to go ahead with dangerous and unevidenced proposals that will deny many seriously ill and disabled people the financial support they need, and put some at serious risk of harm.
“Working fully from home is simply not an option in many sectors – and low-paid workers are less likely to do so than higher-paid workers. The Department for Work and Pensions has also given no thought whatsoever to whether people have the skills or equipment to work remotely, or even a suitable place or home environment to work in.
“Disabled people are already more likely to live in poverty than non-disabled households, and two thirds of people in destitution are disabled. Ministers should treat this as the scandal it is, alongside focusing on the causes of rising ill health. Instead, government has responded with the tired and ineffective approach of yet more cuts and threats. It must think again, and put disabled people themselves at the heart of future policymaking.”
Commenting on the wider changes to benefits announced by the Chancellor, Anela added:
“The long-overdue increase to Local Housing Allowance, and the welcome decision to increase benefits with the usual measure of inflation, will ease some of the financial pressure on our clients. But these should never have been up for debate.
“Benefits should always increase as the cost of living increases, and support for housing should cover actual housing costs. These are basic principles of any functioning social security system, and people who rely on social security deserve better than to be a political football every autumn.
“And for our clients, the cost of living crisis started long before 2022. Today’s announcements stop this getting even worse – but until the last decade of cuts and freezes is overturned, we will not be close to a social security system that guarantees dignity.”
Commenting on the ‘Back to Work’ package announced, Anela said:
“We’re pleased to see greater investment in support to help people with manageable conditions to return to work.
“However, it’s both predictable and concerning that this comes with yet more talk of ‘tougher sanctions’. Sanctions are already incredibly damaging – leaving people with no money for food or bills for weeks or months on end.
“The changes announced today will cut off some people’s access to medicine and dental care, which will do nothing to move anyone closer to work.
“Even among people who will not be affected, this demonising and dehumanising rhetoric causes huge amounts of fear and anxiety among many of our clients.”