A leading UK charity and disability rights organisation has written to the Minister of State for Disabled People, Health and Work, Penny Mordaunt MP, criticising a raft of “hidden” cuts set to affect thousands of young disabled people in the UK.
Disability Rights UK (DRUK) has expressed serious concerns regarding a number of cruel and contentious policy decisions that will see vital support for young disabled people drastically reduced.
The charity says these cuts have been “hidden” from public scrutiny, because the UK government has not explicitly announced the policy intent and has carried out no impact assessment or public consultation.
These cuts include a 55% per week reduction in the rate of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)/Universal Credit (UC) for under 25 year olds, full-time disabled students not being eligible for UC until they have received a work capability assessment, and the freezing of the lower disabled child element of UC.
Employment and Support Allowance
While it is well-known that the government is abolishing the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) of ESA for new claims, meaning those affected will miss out on around £30 a week, a reduction of around 55% a week in the amount currently awarded to certain under 25 claimants of ESA and UC has not been so well documented and reported.
Following a Work Capability Assessment to determine whether young people have a ‘limited capability for work’, claimants were paid the work-related activity component (WRAC) £57.90 per week) or the support component of ESA.
In addition to this, their personal allowance was increased to the same amount paid to those claimants who are 25 years or over, increasing the allowance by £73.10 per week.
But new regulations mean young disabled people will no longer be eligible for the extra financial support seen by older disabled people, meaning the amount the receive will remain at just £57.90 a week, despite having been found ‘unfit for work’ – the equivalent of Jobseeker’s Allowance for under 25’s.
The cut is equivalent to a 55% reduction in benefit, or a weekly loss of £50.25. The divisory measure effectively means that young disabled people will be receiving far less than their older peers.
Government ministers claim the WRAC acts as a “perverse disincentive” to disabled people gaining employment, but DRUK highlights a lack of any real evidence to support this claim and close the disability employment gap.
In their letter to Penny Mordaunt, DRUK says: “It is unrealistic to expect young disabled people to survive on £57.90 a week for at least two or more years.”
DRUK says: “We are very concerned that the exclusion of disabled students from UC will act as a disincentive and barrier to them pursuing higher education.
“As a result, it can only harm their future employment opportunities and do nothing to close the disability employment gap.
“We would urge that the UC policy with regard to disabled students be reconsidered as a priority.”
Disabled Students and Universal Credit
Disabled students in full-time education are eligible to receive Disability Living Allowance (DLA), or its replacement Personal Independence Payments (PIP), and automatically “treated as having a limited capability for work” and gain eligibility for ESA.
DRUK says they have uncovered evidence that suggests a disabled student will now only be treated as having a limited capability for work in limited circumstances.
This means they will only be awarded Universal Credit (UC) for living or rent costs after being found unfit for work following a Work Capability Assessment. Prior to these changes, disabled students in receipt of DLA or PIP were automatically passported for ESA.
DRUK says in their letter: “Not only will this mean some disabled people will not be able to face the financial week to week cost of being a student but they will also not be able to take up a residential college place.
“Whereas many students work in the evenings and vacations to top up their loans, for disabled students this is usually much harder (for instance, employers are unwilling to put in adjustments for temporary work; Access to Work may not be available fast enough to enable someone to do a holiday job).
“The above will be compounded by the problem that disabled people under 25 will only receive UC (or ESA) at a personal allowance rate of £57.90 a week if they are placed in the work-related activity group.”
Disabled Child Addition of Universal Credit
DRUK: “The rates of the higher disabled child element of Universal Credit (UC), the child tax credit disabled child element and the child tax credit severely disabled child element have all been increased from April 2017.
“However, the lower disabled child addition for UC remains the same and will be frozen for four years, effectively meaning it will remain [frozen] at £126.11 until 2020.”
DRUK argues there is “no logic” behind these changes and says they have been unable to discover any stated policy intent behind the freezing of the lower disabled child element of UC.
DRUK says in their letter: “What needs to be borne in mind is that we are dealing with children with substantial disabilities.
“For example, a child with cerebral palsy, who is not able to walk and needs frequent attention throughout the day in connection with their bodily functions, but is a sound sleeper – and so gets the high rate of the DLA mobility component and the middle-rate of the care component – would entitle their family to the lower rate of the UC disabled child addition (rather than higher rate, which requires receipt of the highest rate of the DLA care component).”
They add: “Such a reform should only have been properly considered following a comprehensive impact equality assessment.
“While the freeze is to be implemented, we would urge the Government to still fully evaluate the effect of the freeze.”