A Key Commons committee accuses the DWP of a “serious error” in removing disability premiums from Universal Credit, while initially failing to provide existing recipients of those benefits with transitional support.
As such, the Universal Credit transition plans risk some disabled claimants being helped at the expense of others, the Work and Pensions Committee found.
Committee chair Frank Field MP said the findings put an onus on government to “assure” disabled claimants their situation wouldn’t worsen – including families with severely disabled children.
“We have already seen the terrible cost of the Department’s failure to find out what is happening to the most vulnerable claimants in the transition to Universal Credit,” said Field.
“People receiving the disability premiums are already, by definition, managing in some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable in our society.
“It would be a terrible betrayal of these people to allow another failure of planning in this mega-reform to worsen their situations.”
The committee’s inquiry read between the lines of DWP claims that no claimant would be worse off by the transition, seeing that if “severely disabled” claimants supposedly get more than under the previous system, this comes at a price for those not designated “severely” disabled.
Under the previous system, disabled claimants without a paid-for carer could were able to claim top-ups to their benefits through the Severe and Enhanced Disability Premiums – worth up to £64 per week for a single person.
These Premiums – along with other benefits – covered essential living and care costs but do not exist under Universal Credit.
The Committee says DWP “made a serious error” in removing disability premiums from Universal Credit, while initially failing to provide existing recipients of those benefits with transitional support.
Such steps as DWP has subsequently taken to provide support are acknowledged as “welcome” but only as a stopgap when the committee saw transitional protection that could still be lost and eroded in value over time.
And there remained the core problem of lower benefit payments for new claimants – who do not receive transitional protection.
Where the DWP claimed to have “recycled” the money saved from removal into support for the “most severely disabled” claimants, the Committee’s report shows that even those claimants would receive less under Universal Credit than under the previous system.
Similarly, the committee found, changes to support for disabled children under Universal Credit mean that some families will receive more than they would have under tax credits.
But the report identifies this increase in support coming at a substantial price for other families.
Once Universal Credit is fully rolled out, 100,000 families caring for a “less disabled” child will receive less money than they would have under the legacy benefit system – with the potential for “disastrous consequences”, the report says.
With no full impact assessment of either of these changes, the report DWP directly challenges DWP assertions that costs and consequences will not emerge elsewhere – for example, in the social care system.
This, the report says, is despite widespread evidence of “offloading” of costs, across the country, onto councils, services and charities in the transition to Universal Credit so far.
DWP has also so far failed to satisfy expert scrutineers and stakeholders across the spectrum of its readiness for the next phase of transition – the so-called “managed” migration of existing claimants onto the new system, the report says.
Releasing the report the committee throws down a series of challenges to the DWP including:
- The correction of historical ESA underpayments before any ESA claimants are moved onto Universal Credit
- Not yet seeking Parliamentary approval for “managed” migration wholesale, but instead only for the 10,000 person pilot and the Severe Disability Premium transitional protections
- By mid-2019, carrying out and publishing an assessment of the impact of removing the disability premium from Universal Credit for new claimants, including the costs and benefits of introducing a “self-care” sum in Universal Credit, paid at the same rate as the existing “care” amount
- Systematically in conjunction with experts and stakeholders collect data on vulnerable claimants, and demonstrably feed it into their plans for protecting those claimants from further hardship and deprivation in the transition to UC