Universal Credit and Me

Disabled people face unavoidable costs as a result of their disability and cannot afford to lose substantial sums each year, yet under Universal Credit, the reality is that many disabled people are significantly worse off.

The five week wait is having a devastating impact on disabled people with a significant number having to wait even longer. Even once payments have been made, the lack of a disability element within Universal Credit means disabled people are struggling financially.

The DBC recently surveyed around 500 disabled people about their experience of Universal Credit. The survey highlights some serious concerns and deeply worrying findings.

The 5 week wait

The five week wait (even longer for some – 7% of people we surveyed waited over 12 weeks before receiving their first payment.) is having a significant impact on disabled people who in many cases have no other financial income, and no savings to fall back on. 30% of people told us that waiting for a payment meant they couldn’t eat. 30% told us they couldn’t heat their home. 40% of people got behind with their rent or mortgage, which for some led to eviction.

Over 30% of people we surveyed told us that waiting for their first payment had meant they were forced to use a food bank. People are falling into debt or relying on family and friends to get them though. Most worryingly, a number of people said they had considered suicide.

“I couldn’t pay my rent, so I had to move out and I tried to kill myself.” “There was a lot of stress, anger, crying. I wished I was dead.”

Many people couldn’t understand the reason for having to wait five weeks, when they had been assessed as being unable to work due to their disability or health condition.

“I am willing and planning to commit crime to get out of the debt I’m now in. I worked until I was too unwell to. I paid my taxes. I am very angry.”

“5 weeks with no income and no way to tell if or when any money will arrive is impossible. I’m down to one meal a day, my rent is late and I can’t afford my prescriptions.”

In the last few weeks, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have been running a series of newspaper advertorials to “myth-bust common inaccuracies.” The DWP state that advance payments are available to help people during the five week wait. What they fail to make clear is that these advance payments are in fact loans that have to be paid back. Disabled people who have taken out these loans are finding themselves with even more financial problems once their UC payment begins.

“The full monthly payment is nowhere near adequate anyway, and now I’ve taken an advance I get even less. I’ve never been in such a financial mess and I’ve now been forced to get help from a foodbank. It felt like a walk of shame.”

Disability premiums in the previous benefits system provided disabled people with financial support for the extra disability related costs they face. The majority of respondents who moved from ESA onto UC said they now get less or a lot less money than they did previously.

People told us that the impact of having less money includes struggling to pay for food (70%), driving a significant number of people to food banks (35%) and a worsening of people’s health, in particular their mental health (85%) and again, most worryingly driving people to consider suicide.

“I have considered suicide frequently. I’m not sure I can cope with this forever. The DWP are basically killing me.”

Despite reassurances from the government that people who have had their Severe Disability Premium removed will receive a backdated payment and those yet to claim will have transitional protection applied, people are still waiting. Even when they do receive backdated payments, it will still not cover the money they lost.

These are some of the most vulnerable people in society. It is a disgrace that they are being treated with such disregard. Our survey clearly indicates that the claims recently made by the Department for Work and Pensions in their advertising campaign are not reflective of many disabled people’s experience on the ground.  

We join with other organisations in supporting the #5WeeksTooLongCampaign calling for an end to the five week wait for Universal Credit. It is leaving many disabled people without enough money to cover the essentials. It is unnecessary and cruel.

The DBC and its members urge the government to introduce a disability element to Universal Credit, to replace the disability premiums that have been cut from the system leaving disabled people unable to afford basic essentials.  

As the Department is looking to start migrating more disabled people onto Universal Credit, we ask the Government to listen to these experiences and not only improve the claiming process, but also the financial support available to disabled people. Until these problems are resolved, the managed migration process must not be allowed to go ahead and all current transfers from old benefits to UC should be paused.

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