Social Justice

DWP accused of ‘hiding evidence’ that disabled people can’t afford food

A group of MPs obtained and published a report on disability benefits themselves after the DWP refused to do so, despite having it since 2020.

legacy benefits

Campaigners outside the High Court in November 2021 ahead of the hearing. Image: @BenClaimant

MPs have published research showing disabled people on benefits struggle to afford food and bills.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has had the report since 2020 but refused to publish it. Instead, members of the Work and Pensions Committee have obtained it and published it themselves.

“By persisting in its decision to hide away evidence of the struggles people are facing, the DWP will only have further harmed its reputation with disabled people,” said committee chair Stephen Timms.

The committee was granted powers from parliament to bypass the DWP – instead getting the 80-page report straight from the NatCen researchers commissioned to carry out the investigation by the DWP. 

It came after work and pensions secretary Thérèse Coffey repeatedly rejected calls to publish the evidence, which includes first-hand testimony from people claiming health and disability benefits.

The report revealed that while benefits including universal credit, employment and support allowance (ESA) and personal independence payment (PIP) helped some claimants stay afloat, those with smaller incomes – mostly people in privately rented or social housing, in low-paid jobs or with no extra income on top of disability benefits – struggled to afford essentials like food, utility payments and housing costs.

It resulted in “widespread” debt as people fell into rent and energy arrears, turned to credit or had to cover budgeting loans and overpayments from the DWP.

Some also had to choose between essentials and their own health, paying for food instead of transport to appointments and equipment to help with their conditions. Many were forced to borrow from friends and family or use food banks.

The DWP’s refusal to publish the report themselves can only have worsened the “lack of trust” disabled people have in the government, “as its own officials have acknowledged”, Timms said.

“In order to rebuild its relationship with disabled people, the DWP must stop trying to bury uncomfortable truths.”

Researchers interviewed 120 people across England, Scotland and Wales who relied on health and disability benefits. One participant, a single mother with daughters aged three and 10, has experienced anxiety and depression all her life and started having epileptic seizures nine years ago.

She receives PIP, income support, child benefit and child tax credits, but is £8,000 in debt and spends up to 80 per cent of her monthly income on debt repayments.

The research was commissioned in 2019 and concluded in 2020, meaning the cost of living had not yet started to increase.

“With the energy crisis news, and social security set to increase by a mere three per cent, it is essential [the government] acts to ensure people receive adequate income which truly covers the cost of living,” a spokesperson for anti-poverty organisation Z2K said. “It is not enough to offer loans, which will push people further into poverty.”

A DWP spokesperson said the government was providing “extensive support to millions of disabled people and those with a health condition to help them live independent lives”.

“As the research shows, health and disability benefits, alongside other income streams, helped to meet almost all identified areas of additional need,” they added.

“We are currently considering a range of policy options, drawing on wide evidence, research and analysis as part of the upcoming health and disability whitepaper.

“Protecting a private space for policy development is important and we had committed to publish this report as soon as this policy work concluded.”

But the report unveiled the “inadequacy of these benefits for many disabled people,” said Anastasia Berry, policy manager at the MS Society.

Article continues below

Current vacancies...

Search jobs

“Despite the DWP’s relentless attempts to bury this research, we can finally see what they’ve been so desperate to hide,” she added.

“For years, disabled people have been subjected to a benefits system which is stressful, confusing, and fails to provide the basic support they need.

“Now, with the cost of living crisis erupting, many are reaching breaking point.

“They must urgently increase benefits by six per cent in April, in line with current inflation, and create a social security system that puts disabled people first.”

Support our vendors this winter and beyond

If you can't visit your local vendor on a regular basis, then the next best way to support them is with a subscription to the Big Issue. As a social enterprise, we invest every penny we make back into the organisation. That means that with every subscription, we are supporting people in poverty to get back on their own two feet.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
UK energy bills to fall – but millions still live in dangerously cold and damp homes
energy bills/ hob
Energy bills

UK energy bills to fall – but millions still live in dangerously cold and damp homes

Tories have promised free childcare for working families. But there's a major problem
childcare
Childcare

Tories have promised free childcare for working families. But there's a major problem

More than half of people on universal credit going without food because they can't afford it
Trussell Trust food banks
Food banks

More than half of people on universal credit going without food because they can't afford it

DWP benefit dates for March 2024 and other help as cost of living payments end
benefits/ money
Benefits

DWP benefit dates for March 2024 and other help as cost of living payments end

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Here's when UK households to start receiving last cost of living payments
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Here's when UK households to start receiving last cost of living payments

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know