Food banks become lifeline for disabled people as benefit changes hit

Disabled people hit by changes to the benefits system are having to rely on food banks, according to a coalition of disability charities. The Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC), which is made up of 50 charities and other organisations such as the MS Society, Leonard Cheshire Disability and RNIB, is warning the situation will get even worse as the government implements more changes.

A survey of nearly 4000 disabled people, carried out  by the DBC, reveals that of those hit by housing benefit changes – such as the ‘bedroom tax’ – more than one in ten (12 per cent) have needed to use food banks to feed themselves and their families.

There have also been changes to council tax that have hit some disabled people hard, increasing the amount of money they have to pay when they were previously exempt. A similar number of people affected by those cuts – 9 per cent – have also needed to use food banks.

Among those people unfortunate enough to be affected by changes to both housing benefit and council tax, as many as 15 per cent are using food banks.

The DBC is warning the government that even more disabled people and their carers are going to be forced to rely on food banks as benefit changes continue to come into force.

The Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is currently being replaced by Personal Independence Payment (PIP). PIP is supposed to help disabled people with the additional costs of living with a disability, but under the plans more than 600,000 people will no longer qualify for support. It will leave them even more likely to need help with the costs of housing and council tax.

Claire Nurden from the MS Society, and Co-Chair of the DBC said: “The combined impact of the changes to the benefits system will be nothing short of devastating for many disabled people. It’s extremely worrying that disabled people are already being forced to rely on food banks. With many of the cuts yet to kick in, the situation can only get worse from here.”

Rosanna Singler from Leonard Cheshire Disability and Co-Chair of the DBC said: “No one in Britain wants disabled people to be going hungry. We are calling for the government to conduct an urgent investigation into the impact of the benefits changes on disabled people. A major re-think of how the cuts are being delivered is vital to prevent disabled people being pushed into poverty – which as this research shows, is already starting to happen.”

Sally Bell is 46 and lives in Bristol. She has ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), Fibromyalgia and Bipolar. She has been forced to use her local food bank after being hit by increased council tax contributions: “I now have to pay £20 per month towards my council tax whereas I hadn’t had to before. This might not sound like a lot but it is quite a lot to me as I have to feed myself and my 17 year old daughter on £40 per week. It is difficult to make one proper meal a day for both of us on this.

“Although the staff at the food bank are very respectful, being forced to use the food bank and having to rely on such little money has made me feel less of a human being. I wish the government would stop and realise we are human beings, not second class citizens.”

Ends

For press enquiries, please contact:

Andrea Lisher, Press Officer, MS Society: 020 8438 0840

For out of hours or urgent enquiries: 07909 851401

Notes to editors:

  • The Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) is a national coalition of over 50 different charities and other organisations committed to working towards a fair benefits system.
  • Using combined knowledge, experience and direct contact with millions of disabled individuals and carers, the DBC seeks to ensure Government policy reflects and meets the needs of all disabled people.

Survey data

  • Nearly 4,000 disabled people were surveyed by the Disability Benefits Consortium between July and October of this year. The survey asked disabled people about their experiences and views of the welfare system and the changes that are happening.
  • Of the people who were unemployed and said they were affected by housing benefit reductions (357), 12% said they had had to rely on a food bank as a result. Of those who were not working and said they had to start contributing to council tax when they hadn’t before (551), 9% said they had had to rely on a food bank as a result.
  • Of those who said they had been affected by both reductions in their housing benefit and changes to council tax (increased contributions), 15% said they had had to rely on a food bank as a result.

What are the changes to housing benefit?

  • The ‘bedroom tax’ came into effect in April 2013. This means that if disabled people are considered to have a spare bedroom, the amount of housing benefit they get can be reduced
  • Under the new rule, disabled people can lose at least 14 per cent of their housing benefit, often 25 per cent and in some cases most or even all of it
  • 77 percent of people on DLA live in social housing and two thirds of people hit by the ‘bedroom tax’ are disabled[1]
  • Disabled people living in private rented accommodation who rely on housing benefit are also being hit
  • Changes mean that the help disabled people get is now capped, and that level is based on a figure that covers the cheapest third of properties in their area

What are the changes to council tax?

  • In April 2013 Council Tax Benefit was replaced by Council Tax Reduction Schemes devised and administered by individual local authorities
  • Because the government has reduced grant funding to local authorities working age claimants have seen reductions in the help given towards their council tax. This includes disabled people receiving benefits such as income based Jobseeker’s Allowance or income based Employment and Support Allowance who previously received a full rebate.
  • The amount that an individual who no longer qualifies for a council tax exemption has to pay will vary between areas – but will typically range from £96 (£1.80 per week) and £255 (£4.90 per week) a year under the reforms[2]. This is a potentially significant sum for a disabled person who could be living on as little as £71.70 per week.

[1] P4, ‘The Bedroom Tax: Some home truths’, National Housing Federation, http://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/doc.housing.org.uk/News/Bedroom_tax_home_truths.pdf

[2] P3, ‘No clear benefit’, Resolution Foundation, 2013 http://www.resolutionfoundation.org/media/media/downloads/No_Clear_Benefit.pdf

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