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Universal Credit rollout 'devastating' for disabled people, campaigners warn

Disabled and seriously unwell people receive a “severe disability premium” if they are on legacy benefits but this does not exist on Universal Credit

Image credit: JD Mack/Flickr

Image credit: JD Mack/Flickr

Millions of people risk falling into poverty as the “devastating” rollout of Universal Credit continues, campaigners have warned. 

Zacchaeus 2000 Trust (Z2K), the anti-poverty charity which campaigns nationally for welfare reform, said over two million people on old-style “legacy benefits” could lose out financially after being switched onto the “inadequate” new system

In the new research, the charity found 1.5 million disabled and seriously unwell people in particular could face harm as the financial support offered by Universal Credit doesn’t match other benefits. 

Anela Anwar, Z2K’s chief executive, said: “Universal Credit was designed to deal with the most straightforward of cases, but the reality is that most peoples’ lives are rarely straightforward. Ministers and senior officials have had their head in the sand for too long.”

Universal Credit is the Government’s flagship welfare benefit reform and combines six benefits into one payment. Its rollout is yet to be completed, with the current target date for completion pushed back to September 2024.

The Government has been accused of applying a “one size fits all” approach to the complex issues people face and Universal Credit has been blamed for soaring rent arrears and the use of food banks

Disabled and seriously unwell people receive a “severe disability premium” if they are on legacy benefits but this does not exist on Universal Credit, meaning some may find themselves worse off.

The Government pays a transitional payment to those previously in receipt of the premium and moving onto Universal Credit, but Z2K warned changes to the system from January 2021 mean this funding won’t be ring-fenced. 

Z2K has published testimony from two people they support in the hope it will “serve as a wake-up call to those in Government to think again”. 

Lee, who was wrongly moved onto Universal Credit despite being in receipt of a severe disability premium on ESA, told Z2K they had found themselves in debt and rent arrears.

Nadia, who was also moved from ESA onto Universal Credit, told Z2K there was a lack of information, support, and adequate communication from the Department for Work and Pensions. 

“I didn’t know anything about UC at all, I went to the Jobcentre and they assumed I could deal with a computer,” Nadia said. 

“They just pointed there and said you have to do the thing online. My work coach made me sign to say I was going to do 35 hours a week work when I had a brain injury. 

“He also gave me the wrong information about my rent. I became suicidal because I couldn’t deal with it, I was so worried about losing my home and having no money.”

Becca Stacey, Z2K’s Policy and Campaigns Officer added: “As these findings demonstrate, people with complex needs and in more vulnerable situations are currently being treated as collateral damage by the DWP, as they continue to push people from legacy benefits onto Universal Credit. 

“Before anyone else is migrated onto Universal Credit, it is vital that the system undergoes fundamental reform.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “Universal Credit provides a vital safety net for over 5.7 million people and replaces a complex and outdated system.

“Benefits change to reflect an individual’s change in circumstances and the majority of claimants are better off when receiving Universal Credit.”

Have you been affected by the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic? The Big Issue is committed to supporting its readers and find ways to help people stay in their jobs and in their homes through our Ride Out Recession Alliance. Send your stories and ideas to rora@bigissue.com to help us support those who need it most. 

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