Up to half a million disabled people and their families will be worse off under universal credit if current plans go ahead, a report has found.
The inquiry, led by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson and supported by The Children’s Society, Citizens Advice and Disability Rights UK, found that 100,000 disabled children stand to lose up to £28 a week and 116,000 disabled people who work will be at risk of losing up to £40 per week.
In addition, 230,000 severely disabled people who do not have another adult to assist them face getting between £28 and £58 less in support every week, according to the inquiry report, Holes in the Safety Net: The impact of Universal Credit on disabled people and their families.
Disabled people and their families warned that cuts to the child disability additions and to the severe disability premium are likely to result in them struggling to pay for basic essentials such as food and heating.
For instance, 1 in 10 families with disabled children affected by the changes feared losing their homes. Meanwhile, 83% of disabled adults living alone or with a young carer said they would cut back on food and 80% said they would cut back on the amount they spend on heating. The findings also point to an increased burden on young carers as a result of the changes to the Severe Disability Premium.
Despite the intention of universal credit to make work pay, evidence in the inquiry shows that the changes could make it harder for disabled people to remain in work.
The report makes several recommendations, including protecting children on the middle-rate care component of disability living allowance. It also recommends disability support in universal credit should be provided to disabled people who are found to be fully fit for work but are at significant disadvantage in the workplace.
Baroness Grey-Thompson said: “The findings of this report do not make easy reading. The clear message is that many households with disabled people are already struggling to keep their heads above water.
“Reducing support for families with disabled children, disabled people who are living alone, families with young carers and disabled people in work risks driving many over the edge in future.”
The Children's Society's chief executive, Matthew Reed, added: “While it is true that some people will be better off under universal credit, it is shocking that so many disabled people – including children – will have to cut back on food, specialist equipment and, in some cases, be forced to move out of their homes or consider moving their child into full-time residential care.
“The government needs to act on these recommendations.”
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, also called on the Government to act: “These findings show all too clearly the daily struggle many severely disabled people already face to make ends meet. Not only will these cuts plunge many of the least supported, most isolated and most severely disabled people deeper into poverty, debt and despair, they will not even help the government achieve its main aims of creating a simpler benefits system that makes work pay and supports those in greatest need. This report comes up with solutions that it’s not too late to put in place at no extra cost.”
Disability Rights UK’s chief executive, Liz Sayce, added that while universal credit may benefit some disabled people, the findings are stark for thousands more. “We are fearful that the government aim of ensuring work always pays appears to be undermined by some aspects of universal credit proposals which could price some disabled people out of work and deeper into poverty.”
However, the Government has denied the inquiry’s claims. Speaking to the BBC, a Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said savings from abolishing adult disability premiums and changes in the child rate would be “recycled” into higher payments for more severely disabled people.
“The report is highly selective and could result in irresponsible scaremongering,” the spokeswoman said. “There will be no cash losers in the rollout of Universal Credit… In fact, hundreds of thousands of disabled adults and children will actually receive more support than now, including paying a higher rate of support for all children who are registered blind.”
The full report can be accessed here