Social Justice

Labour government urged to fix 'broken benefits system' for disabled and vulnerable people

Charities are calling on the new Labour government to tackle poverty through reforming the benefits system so that it shows more compassion and ensures people have the money they need to survive

jobcentre plus/ dwp

Labour wants to reform Jobcentres so that they support more people into work. Image: Flickr/ Max G.

The new Labour government must fix the “broken benefits system” to lift people out of poverty and protect the most vulnerable, charities have warned.

In the run-up to the general election, Keir Starmer prompted concern from anti-poverty and disability charities with his tough rhetoric around the welfare system and sharp focus on employment.

He said: “Handouts from the state do not nurture the same sense of self-reliant dignity as a fair wage”, although promised that Labour would “never turn our backs on people who are struggling”.

Previous Labour governments under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown invested billions into the welfare bill, lifting hundreds of thousands of children and more than a million pensioners out of poverty.

By comparison, Starmer’s plans to tackle poverty are around ensuring more people move into employment and off benefits – and as a result, cutting the welfare bill rather than increasing financial support.

Plans for improved workers’ rights and support have been welcomed by charities, but there are fears that those who are disabled and too ill to work have been forgotten by the Labour Party, and that its rhetoric around the benefits system could heighten stigma.

James Taylor, director of strategy at disability equality charity Scope, said: “Change on disability equality needs to begin now. For too long, disabled people’s voices have been absent from our national debate. It’s now time for them to be heard by the government, and it’s time to seize this opportunity to build trust with the UK’s 16 million disabled people.”

As charities like Scope have long pointed out, life costs more if you are disabled. On average, a household with a disabled person spends around £975 more every month for extra costs like powering equipment and heating bills.

Disabled people have repeatedly told the Big Issue that they want to work, but there isn’t the support or flexibility there from employers.

“It’s time to tackle the extra costs of disability; to transform attitudes to disability; to make sure that those of us who want to work can do so; and, to fix our failing benefits system so that all disabled people are valued,” Taylor said. “This is the change disabled people want and deserve. We look forward to working with this new government to make it happen.”



Mikey Erhardt, campaigner at Disability Rights UK, added: “The Labour Party has an opportunity to use an immense majority in the House of Commons to deliver real change for disabled people across the country. The electoral mandate was for change, not for the status quo, which for our welfare system would mean perpetuating harm to more and more people.

“Mere months before votes were cast, the United Nations found that our social security system devalued Disabled people and undermined our human dignity. No matter our background, no one should be left without a financial safety net, meaning we can live independent lives.”

Erhardt called on the new government to create a system “built on respect, dignity, and support that enables us to live the lives we deserve”. He wants Labour to scrap punitive sanctions, the two-child limit, benefit caps and the five-week wait for benefit payments.

“This election proved change is possible,” he said. “Disabled people across the country are ready to push for a social security system to deliver all we deserve.”

The Big Issue has reported extensively on the harrowing experiences faced by people navigating the disability benefits system, which has been condemned by charitiesMPsthe United Nations, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and many more.

And yet the Conservative government was plotting to make it even more difficult for disabled people to access financial support.

There are proposals around disability benefits which the new Labour government must consider or scrap – including tightened eligibility criteria for personal independence payment (PIP) and potentially replacing the benefit with one-off grants or vouchers.

Rishi Sunak’s government were also planning to scrap the work capability assessment, a move which Labour has confirmed they would follow.

However, the new government has not said whether it will continue with plans to make it more difficult to get the health element of universal credit, which is awarded to people with mental and physical health conditions who have limited capability for work.

Figures published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show that planned changes to the work capability assessment, which are due to come into effect next year, will lead to lower benefits or higher work-search conditions for around 457,000 people by 2028/29.

Ayla Ozmen, director of policy and campaigns at anti-poverty charity Z2K, said: “One of the first things that the government must do is to scrap the plans set in motion by the previous government to restrict eligibility for incapacity benefits from 2025 – a move that will serve only to push seriously ill and disabled people deeper into poverty.”

Z2K welcomed Labour’s manifesto pledges to reform the work capability assessment, deliver a child poverty strategy and review universal credit – but the party has revealed few concrete plans.

Research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has found that universal credit falls short by around £120 each month of the money people need for the essentials they need to survive.

It is leading to millions of people going without food and basics like heating and toiletries, and overwhelmed food banks unable to cope with soaring demand.

The foundation, alongside the Trussell Trust and the Big Issue, is calling on the new government to implement an ‘essentials guarantee’ in universal credit so that people can at least afford the basics. Yet there is nothing within Labour’s plans around a benchmark for benefit levels.

Helen Barnard, the director of policy at the Trussell Trust, said: “We are ready to work with the government on a long-term plan to significantly reduce the need for food banks by the end of this Parliament, and eventually end it for good. This plan must include reform of our social security system.

“All of our research shows that the biggest driver of food bank need is the failure of the current system to protect people from going without the essentials. We know what’s needed to end the need for food banks, but it is achievable only if decisive action is taken. We urge our new government to work with us to achieve long-lasting change for the benefit of all our communities.”

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