This was despite the pandemic causing a significant rise in the cost of living for low-income families and disabled people in particular, he added.
Lynn Pinfield, from West Lothian, is one of the four claimants. “They have made me feel like disabled people don’t matter,” said the 51-year-old, who is unable to work due to a multiple sclerosis diagnosis.
“During the pandemic, prices were steadily increasing but benefits remained the same, which was a struggle. With everyone at home all the time, our bills soared – our electricity bill doubled – and I’ve had to pay it all myself with no extra support.
“I had to buy a laptop for my daughter to do her online learning, so could have saved that £20 a week to pay for it instead of getting into debt to buy it.”
The hearing began on Wednesday at the Royal Courts of Justice in London and is due to wrap up on Friday. It could take up to six weeks for the court to deliver a decision.
Subscribe to The Big Issue
From just £3 per week
Take a print or digital subscription to The Big Issue and provide a critical lifeline to our work. With each subscription we invest every penny back into supporting the network of sellers across the UK.
A subscription also means you'll never miss the weekly editions of an award-winning publication, with each issue featuring the leading voices on life, culture, politics and social activism.
But even if it goes in favour of the legacy benefits claimants, it cannot compel the government to give them backdated payments.
“It is utterly disgraceful that at the height of the pandemic, when disabled people needed help the most, the government turned their backs,” said Anastasia Berry, policy co-chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium and policy manager for the MS Society.
“Seventy-eight per cent of disabled claimants told us their financial situation worsened during the pandemic, with some forced to skip meals, fall behind on rent, or miss vital medical appointments as they could not afford to travel.
“Not only was this decision cruel, but it is clear that denying one group of people extra financial support is discriminatory and creates a two tier social security system.”
But the DWP denied there was any “differential treatment on the grounds of disability”.
Edward Brown, the barrister acting for the government, told the court that “careful consideration has been given to the specific issue, namely whether or not to uplift legacy benefits.
“The reasons why the government has decided not to uplift legacy benefits are because it would be contrary to the specific fiscal and social policy goals” and it would be “inefficient and not capable of delivery via legacy payment systems,” he added.
But increasing universal credit – before cutting it back to pre-Covid levels early last month – was “an appropriate and effective response to the emergency facing society in the period since March 2020,” Brown said.
Opposition MPs including Labour’s John McDonnell, Marsha de Cordova and Debbie Abrahams – as well as Liberal Democrat Wendy Chamberlain and SNP MPs Marion Fellows and David Linden – attended a vigil held outside the court by campaign groups in support of the claimants.