Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Anna Morell

Dis Life: 'What exactly is the Government hiding in its unreleased benefits reports?'

Have you ever tried to live on benefits? Lockdown was a wake up call for many who had chanted ‘scrounger’ for years at those feckless oiks who wouldn’t or couldn’t work. The pandemic showed ordinary, ‘hardworking people’ that employment misfortune could strike at any time, and that living on bare bones benefits could be a struggle. We’re not talking furlough funding, we’re talking the sums those who suddenly lost work could live on.

The Government was so scared of what people might think, suddenly forced to live on so little, that they gave basic benefits a little boost during this time, by £20 per week (£1,040 a year), up from around £70 in normal times. But they didn’t add this extra cash to old-school benefits. Two million disabled people didn't get anything extra. Determined to push people on to Universal Credit (UC), and citing creaky old computer systems for the old-style benefits, the Government said it couldn’t be done.

Everyone on means-tested benefits is supposed to switch over to Universal Credit by the end of 2024. And the Government has said that people won’t lose money in doing so. But this simply isn’t true. It quotes figures such as 40% of people will be better off. Which is another way of saying that 60% of people won’t be better off.

Boris Johnson, Nadhim Zahawi and Therese Coffey during a Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street (PA)

At least one million disabled people will eventually be left worse off through the move to UC. And once UC is claimed, it’s not possible to ever return to a previous benefit (you know, like the ones that gave you enough money to live on, without being pared away under the auspices of moving you to a better system).

UC has insufficient severe disability components. There didn’t used to be a disability component at all, but legal action forced the Government to backtrack (the legal action is continuing due to the sums of money being too low – 50% too low).

Claimants aren’t even told what their prospective new benefits will be until a week before they are paid them – they have to wait a month to find out, hearts in mouths.

Around four million disabled people are living in poverty. Many are on benefits. And no benefits are currently keeping pace with inflation or the cost of living.

There is a lot of evidence and data out there on the impacts of living on very low incomes on people’s mental and physical wellbeing. And right now, the Government is actively trying to keep this info on the down-low.

When the independent Disability News Service attempted to get this information through Freedom of Information requests, it was labelled “vexatious” and in unexpectedly snowflake language, was told that releasing the information would place “undue burden and pressure” on the Department for Work and Pensions.

Undue burden and pressure. There’s a phrase. The deaths of 140 people are currently being investigated by the DWP to see whether there is a link between their deaths and (a lack of) benefits. Errol Graham was found starved to death after his benefits were stopped. Philippa Day overdosed. There’s real burden. There’s real pressure.

The Work and Pensions Minister, Thérèse Coffey, has written to the Select Committee responsible for checking up on how well benefits are working, and explicitly said she will not publish a raft of reports on UC, insisting that “where requests relate to research that is informing ongoing policy development, the Department reserves the right to withhold it”.

So she won’t go public on the investigations by the DWP into that huge number of deaths.

Nor will she speak out about how many people lose out money on when they switch to UC, and what support is provided for vulnerable claimants, including disabled people.

She is silent on whether the way benefits are set up – to make it hard to live on them – really does push people into becoming ‘hardworking’ by going into employment – a huge Government goal with UC.

She has said she is “not committing” to publishing facts and figures on work capability assessments for UC, which determine whether disabled people are fit for work.

And she hasn’t piped up about how hard the online systems are for people to use either. Not all disabled people are capable of using them. Which means not all disabled people can apply for what they are entitled to.

The word ‘benefits’ literally derives from the Latin for the word ‘good’ or ‘well’. The irony that the worry for many around benefits today results in a terror that actively destroys people’s health to a horrific level.

And ‘Universal Credit’ is also a massive misnomer. ‘Credit’ comes from the Latin word Credere for ‘trust’ or ‘belief’. And I don’t know a single disabled person who feels they can trust the DWP. Every time a benefit reassessment is due, we live in abject fear about the outcomes or changes.

The Government can’t stay silent forever. The ghosts of Errol, Philippa and every single other person who died because of the atrocious flaws in the benefits system are not going to go away. It’s time for the DWP to change tack and work with disabled people with openness, honesty, and change.

For help in seeking independent advice about Universal Credit (especially important if you are about to be moved over, or are looking to move over to Universal Credit) see:

Anna Morell works for Disability Rights UK – the UK’s leading organisation led by, run by, and working for Disabled people. It works with Disabled People’s Organisations and Government across the UK to influence regional and national change for better rights, benefits, quality of life and economic opportunities for Disabled people. Find out more about DR UK here. Contact DR UK here.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.