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Disability charities have raised deep concerns at the news that the government is refusing to confirm its previous assurance to increase benefits in line with inflation from April 2023.
The Disabled Children’s Partnership has said it is unfathomable that the government is considering further cuts to health, education and social care services and is backtracking on a stated intention to raise benefits in line with inflation.
The charity said that families with disabled children are on their knees after years of battling for services hollowed out by austerity and the Covid pandemic. And they are among the worst hit by the cost of living crisis. Financial help and support services are vital to the health and wellbeing of every family up and down the country, but they are literally a lifeline to families with disabled children.
Disability Rights UK said that around half of all people living in poverty are either disabled people themselves or have a disabled person in their household. More than half of people who use food banks are disabled people.
Ken Butler Disability Rights UK’s Welfare Rights and Policy Adviser said: “While all benefit claimants would suffer by not receiving a rise in line with cost increases, disabled claimants will be especially hit hard. In April this year, benefits rose by just 3.1%. Inflation is now three times that rate and shows no signs of decreasing. All those on benefits are already suffering the effects of this, with a dramatic rise in food bank use.
“Disabled people face increased energy bills. Disabled people often need more hot water, more heating, and more energy to run specialist equipment than non-disabled households. There is not just a compelling case that benefits need to rise by inflation from April 2023, a rise is needed now.”
It comes as the prime minster Liz Truss said today (Tuesday) that she was “very committed to supporting the most vulnerable”, but the government has to be fiscally responsible and it is looking “at all of these issues very carefully” with an announcement to be made in due course.
There is now speculation that rather than raising benefits for millions of people next April by about 10%, in line with the convention that the uprating should follow the previous September’s CPI inflation rate, the government will instead raise them by only 5.4%, in line with September 2022 earnings.
Increasing benefits in line with inflation was a promise made by Boris Johnson’s government and in May former Conservative Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “I can reassure the House that next year, subject to the review by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, benefits will be uprated by this September’s consumer prices index, which on the current forecast is likely to be significantly higher than the forecast inflation rate for next year.”
The decision to overturn this has received criticism from some Tory MPs, including the Leader of the House of Commons. Penny Mordaunt said: “We want to make sure that people are looked after and that people can pay their bills. We are not about trying to help people with one hand and take away with another.”
Home Secretary Suella Braverman said, however, that the issue of raising benefits in line with inflation is “under review” and there are “lots of issues to consider”.
She added the government needs to keep public spending under control, “but we’ve also got to ensure that the most vulnerable are supported”.
Disability Rights UK said that there is legal protection for disability benefits such as disability living allowance, personal independence payment, and attendance allowance being increased annually by inflation.
However, Research by the Institute of Financial Studies (IFS) in July this year shows that those on disability benefits have much higher rates of relative income poverty than working-age adults in general (29% versus 20% in 2019–20).
The IFS also found that disability is strongly related to material deprivation. With close to half (44%) of those in the most deprived tenth of the population being disabled people, compared with 18% of the whole working-age population.
Torsten Bell, Chief Executive of the Resolution Foundation, said in a Twitter thread that of those not currently working, they not doing so as the government doesn’t think they should. This is basically those with a disability or caring responsibilities.
He added: “To save significant £s via lower benefit upratings you will need to go far beyond lazy stereotypes of adults sleeping behind curtains – it’ll mean cutting benefits for children and those with disabilities because that’s where we spend £s (remember housing support is already frozen).”