DBC letter to Secretary of State on emergency covid-19 measures

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The Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC), a network of over 100 organisations, have written an open letter (below) to Thérèse Coffey, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to call for urgent changes to the benefits system to ensure we protect disabled and seriously unwell people from further physical and financial harm during the covid-19 emergency.

Full details of these proposals can be found in the DBC reports section.

“Dear Secretary of State,

Covid-19 – the Disability Benefits Consortium’s proposals for additional short-term measures to protect disabled people’s incomes

The Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) is a network of over 100 organisations with an interest in disability and social security. For our full list of members, see https://disabilitybenefitsconsortium.wordpress.com/dbc-members/

Using our combined knowledge, experience and direct contact with millions of disabled individuals, people with long-term health conditions and carers, we seek to ensure that Government policy reflects and meets the needs of all disabled people.

The DBC welcomes the recently announced measures designed to protect the incomes of large numbers of people whose livelihoods have been adversely impacted by the Covid-19 crisis. But we believe that these support measures need to go further.

People living with a disability and those with long-term health conditions tend to have lower real incomes and higher costs than the general population and we are calling on the Government to produce a more comprehensive package of support, to better protect these individuals and their families, at this difficult time.

1. One of the most pressing issues is the current level of demand on the system due to the unprecedented number of new claims. This is causing extremely long waiting times and problems with the digital claims process. We welcome the commitment to expand the Department’s capacity, but the challenge remains considerable. We believe that the Government should give high priority to resolving urgently the technical and capacity issues involved.

Also, clear guidance must be made available (to the public and to staff) regarding the correct process to make both a digital claim for Universal Credit (UC) and a non-digital claim, including how the verification call is to be made – that is, if outbound from the DWP rather than inbound from the claimant.

2. The increase in the UC standard allowance is very welcome, helping to cushion the financial shock, which many will experience. However, other claimants likewise face financial challenges, especially after several years of a benefit freeze. We recommend that the Government should give a corresponding uplift of “legacy” and similar benefits – including, for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), the restoration of the Work-Related Activity Group (and UC equivalent Limited Capability for Work) addition.

3. We believe that artificial limits that keep many households (mainly with children) below basic benefit levels are particularly inappropriate at this time. We recommend that the Government should suspend the benefit cap and the “two-child policy”.

4. Any Working Tax Credit (WTC) claimant who loses their job over the coming few months will not be able to continue claiming WTC and will have to claim UC instead. This means they will lose Transitional Protection (TP). As you know, this is a temporary top-up payment that would have been added to their UC to offset any losses, when the DWP eventually transferred them from WTC – but it is not payable when you move to UC because of a change of circumstances, such as job loss.

Disabled people in work and parents of disabled children stand to lose far more than most people if they lose TP – sometimes amounting to thousands of pounds a year. This will make it even more difficult for them to recover from the economic shock of the next few months.

The recommendation above to restore the Limited Capability for Work Addition to UC will help, as long as these claimants can retain it in their UC calculation up to and after they return to work.

Also, we recommend that the lower rate of the disabled child element of UC should be restored to its level in the legacy system.

5. New claimants for UC will have to wait at least five weeks until they receive their first payment. We know that this can mean people face a significant reduction in income, leading to worry about how to pay bills and buy food. The DWP offers an “advance payment”, in effect a loan deducted from future payments, which can leave people struggling to make ends meet. We recommend that the Government should make all UC advances for disabled people non-repayable grants.

6. There has been no formal indication that work-related conditionality has been suspended, although it is difficult to see how it could be meaningfully applied in present circumstances. We recommend that the Government should explicitly suspend work-related conditionality and associated sanctions.

7. Currently, 1.3 million claimants have deductions made from their UC payments to pay debts – over half of them losing 20% or more of their basic allowance. We recommend that the Government should suspend all debt repayment deductions from UC, to ease financial hardship for the duration of the current crisis.

8. It is very important that, during this epidemic, people living with a terminal illness have swift access to benefits via the Special Rules for Terminal Illness. It is our understanding that under UC, people with a terminal illness will temporarily be able to apply via the Special Rules without the DWP needing sight of a DS1500 form (a form signed by a medical professional to say that the person has a reasonable expectation of death within six months). If this is the case, then this is a very welcome step. We recommend that the Government should extend this provision to other benefits which can be applied for under the Special Rules: ESA, Personal Independence Payment and Attendance Allowance.

There are further measures that the Government could take that are likely to have an impact on those living with a disability and in need of benefit support at this time, including:

9. As medical professionals come under more pressure over the coming weeks it is unreasonable to expect they will be able to provide medical evidence to support a claimant’s benefit application. We recommend that the Government should extend the time requirements for claimants to return paperwork and to gather medical evidence where necessary.

10. Similar pressures are likely to slow down the Mandatory Reconsideration (MR) process. This will mean people could be receiving less financial support than they are entitled to. We recommend that the Government should pay the basic/ standard rate to claimants whose benefit is suspended pending MR, until the process is completed – and also, fully reinstate a benefit that has been wholly or partly withdrawn and is awaiting MR or an appeal.

11. Help to pay council tax is also crucial at this time of acute financial pressure. We recommend that the Government should encourage Local Authorities to remove features such as the two-child policy and the self-employed claimants’ Minimum Income Floor from their local Council Tax Support/ Reduction schemes. Some have simply copied these rules automatically from DWP benefits, possibly without fully appreciating their adverse impact where claimants are struggling.

We hope that, when something like a normal life returns, the support package as outlined above, which suggests achievable and positive temporary improvements, to be introduced in response to a crisis, might prove a focus for longer-term policy discussion.

Meanwhile, we commend to the Government the above proposals to make immediate changes to complement the emergency measures already taken.

In view of the widespread public interest in the current emergency measures, we shall be releasing these proposals to the media.

Yours sincerely,

Disability Benefits Consortium”

DBC’s response to the Chancellor’s Budget statement

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The March 2020 Budget statement, delivered by the Chancellor today, had two principal aspects – measures to address the impact of the coronavirus outbreak; and some considerable spending commitments, geared substantially towards infrastructure projects.

One missing dimension was the need to fix a number of problems created for benefit claimants – not least those with disabilities – by changes to the social security system through the long period of austerity.

The DBC, of course, understands the need to deal with the coronavirus threat and is aware of the importance of infrastructure projects. Nevertheless, it is disappointing that the need to repair the impact of austerity on disabled claimants has not been recognised.

The upcoming spending round must tackle the numerous problems in the benefit system. Disabled people and those with long-term health conditions should expect no less.

DBC recommendations

These were our pre-Budget recommendations to the Chancellor:

  • Build upon the end of the benefit freeze by uprating payments by 2% above inflation for four years, so as to restore the amounts lost during the freeze – and restore the link between the “Local Housing Allowance” and rents at the 30th. percentile of the market.
  • Restore the disability elements lost in the transition from “legacy benefits” to Universal Credit.
  • Review the current Personal Independence Payment assessment criteria and process, in consultation with disabled people.
  • End the 5-week wait for Universal Credit.
  • Remove sanctions on disabled people’s benefits – base policy instead on high-quality, impairment-specific employment support

 

Further details from:

Geoff Fimister

Tel. 07743 813740

E-mail gfimister@blueyonder.co.uk

Policy Co-Chair,

Disability Benefits Consortium

DBC’s recommendations for the 2020 Budget

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The Disability Benefits Consortium has submitted a series of recommendations for this year’s Budget.

In our representation to the Treasury, the DBC called on the Government to:

  • Not only end the benefit freeze but also uprate payments above inflation so as to restore the amounts lost during the freeze.
  • Restore the disability elements lost in the transition from “legacy benefits” to Universal Credit.
  • Review the current PIP assessment criteria and process, in consultation with disabled people.
  • End the 5-week wait for Universal Credit.
  • Remove sanctions on disability benefits.

A copy of our submission can be found in the DBC reports section.

DBC’s message for the new Government

The DBC is looking forward to working with the new Government on improving the benefit system which many disabled people rely on.

For too many years, the voice of disabled people has not been heard and this must change going forward.

We are therefore calling on this Government to finally address our concerns raised during the election campaign and ask that this Government:

  • Ends the benefit freeze and uprates payments above inflation so as to restore the amounts lost during the freeze.
  • Restores the disability elements in the benefit system.
  • Reviews the current PIP assessment criteria and process, in consultation with disabled people.
  • Ends the 5-week wait for Universal Credit.
  • Removes sanctions on disability benefits.

 

DWP ad judged dangerous to disabled people – charities demand apology

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The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld a complaint stating a government advert for Universal Credit is “dangerous to the health and financial security of disabled people”.

The Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC), a coalition of over 100 disability charities, is now demanding an apology from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Earlier this year the ASA launched a formal investigation after it received a complaint from the DBC – along with 43 others – about a DWP campaign in the Metro newspaper. Positioned as a “myth buster” on Universal Credit, the DBC argued the adverts were “misleading” and “dangerous to the health and financial security of disabled people”.

Today the watchdog upheld the complaint, agreeing that government officials had breached the advertising code when promoting supposed advantages of Universal Credit.

In its ruling, the ASA said the DWP couldn’t sufficiently substantiate its claims about Universal Credit. It said the so-called “facts” presented in the adverts were all misleading. These included claims people could move into work faster under Universal Credit, and payments could be made sooner than five weeks, as well as the promotion of “advance payments” without explaining the fact these were a loan, and came with conditions.

One member of the DBC, Z2K – an anti-poverty charity,  has today launched a campaign calling for an independent investigation into how and why the DWP approved these misleading adverts.

Jonathan Blades, External Relations Manager at the MS Society and Parliamentary Co-Chair of the DBC, said: “This ruling exposes the DWP’s indefensible attempt to provide inaccurate information to vulnerable people. The fact is that Universal Credit is leaving disabled people significantly worse off, and in some cases forcing them to turn to food banks. It’s equally disgraceful these adverts have cost the taxpayer more than £225,000, at a time when disabled people are typically losing £1,200 a year thanks to welfare system changes.

“The DWP must apologise for its actions and concentrate on fixing Universal Credit. MS is relentless, painful and disabling and benefits are crucial for people to maintain their independence. Instead, people are being pushed needlessly into debt by a government disguising loans as “advanced payments”. They need to stop messing around with misleading adverts and focus on reform – like scrapping the five week wait so people don’t need these loans in the first place.”

DBC launches new report on Universal Credit

“Mending the holes” – the DBC report setting out costed proposals to restore lost disability elements to Universal Credit – was launched on 17 October at a seminar at the House of Lords, chaired by Lord Low of Dalston.

Sue Royston, who researched and wrote the report for the DBC, took an audience of parliamentarians, benefit specialists, DBC members and DWP observers through the ten recommendations designed to remove income losses and work disincentives, comparing UC with the outgoing (and itself far from perfect) “legacy” system.

Whether improving UC or (as Labour proposes) replacing it, the DBC report sets out a specific plan to tackle weaknesses.

The report was well-received, being recognised as a package of measures that could fix problems and genuinely simplify a complex system. You can read the report here.

The DBC will now pursue these recommendations with Ministers and opposition parties. We want to see these issues placed firmly on the political agenda.

 

DBC responds to Amber Rudd statement on managed migration

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On Monday, 22 July 2019, Amber Rudd announced that the Government would be laying regulations to enable the pilot of transferring existing welfare claimants onto Universal Credit (UC) to go ahead. The regulations, which were originally to be discussed in Parliament, have now been laid by negative resolution, meaning that after months of delay there will be no substantial debate in parliament of what is included in the regulations.

The announcement, and the regulations, also include a new measure to give claimants previously in receipt of the Severe Disability Premium (SDP) backdated payments of up to £405 per month alongside their Universal Credit award, up from a maximum of £360. We are seeking clarification of how these figures have been arrived at.

The DBC has long argued for a review-based approach to migrating existing benefit claimants onto UC, looking at each case individually, and therefore remains concerned by the approach taken by the Department. The DBC believes that this approach risks vulnerable claimants, including disabled people, who are not in touch with any services, falling through the cracks. Questions also remain how the Department will scale up this ‘who knows me’ approach to a national level.

Furthermore, the DBC would like to see more detail as to how the pilots will be evaluated, how the Department arrives at the compensation figures for previous SDP claimants and how the Department will address the outstanding concerns by the DBC around level of benefits available to disabled people under UC, as well as the five-week waiting period.

As outlined in our recent report ‘Has welfare become unfair?’ the introduction of Universal Credit is likely to increase levels of poverty amongst many of those reliant on this benefit for their income. The DBC will therefore continue to campaign for a better deal for disabled people.