Pandemic Leaves UK Disabled Behind on Bill Payments and Skipping Meals
Author: Disability Benefits Consortium | Contact: disabilitybenefitsconsortium.com
Synopsis: UK’s broken benefits system forcing disabled people to fall behind on payments, skip meals, and face considerable mental health and physical challenges as the pandemic has them struggling financially. It's been 18 months of discriminatory Government excuses which have continued to leave 2.5 million people without the vital income they need to support them throughout the pandemic and beyond. How much more evidence do they need to show that disabled people, including those with MS, must stop being ignored and given the financial support they desperately need?
Thousands of disabled people on out of work benefits, such as Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Jobseeker's Allowance, are facing considerable mental health and physical challenges as the pandemic has left them struggling financially, new research shows.
The stark findings are from the latest Disability Benefits Consortium's (DBC) survey(1). It was filled out by over 1,800 disabled people in receipt of out of work benefits (also known as 'legacy benefits') - including those with multiple sclerosis (MS), motor neurone disease (MND), and learning disabilities - and found:
- Over two thirds (78%) said their financial situation was 'worse' compared to at the start of the pandemic.
- Half (52%) are spending 'significantly more' on household bills and utilities than they were before the pandemic, with a third (37%) spending 'somewhat more'.
- Individuals' weekly income meant they were unable or struggling to eat a balanced diet (67%), attend medical appointments due to public transport, petrol and taxi costs (33%), and pay bills, including their water, gas, electric, rent and mortgage (67%).
- Just under half (46%) were falling behind on rent or mortgage payments.
The findings come one month before the High Court is to hear on 28 and 29 September whether the Government acted unlawfully by not giving nearly 2 million disabled people on legacy benefits the same emergency increase of £20 per week that was given to people on Universal Credit to help them survive the COVID-19 crisis.
Samantha, 50, from Southampton is partially sighted. She also lives with chronic spinal problems, bowel incontinence, nerve damage in her right foot, as well as depression and anxiety. She is on ESA and Personal Independence Payment (PIP), and relies heavily on her sister and 13-year-old son to care for her.
Talking about the impact of the pandemic on her finances, she says:
"The Government have made me feel like a second class citizen - it's incredibly unfair and discriminatory that they didn't give people like me the extra £20 per week to help survive the pandemic. I understand the top up was for general living, but when you're disabled your living expenses are exactly the same."
"My finances have taken a huge hit since the pandemic started. My son - who does the shopping for me - had to shop locally as he was too young for me to send him to a major supermarket. This meant everything was more expensive - even things like a loaf of bread. As he was off school it meant we were going through more food, so I was going without my meals so he could eat three times a day."
"I also couldn't risk putting the heating on, so through winter we both had to wear three cardigans each. I had to make sure I was taking my medication as I was in a hell of a lot of pain - made worse by the cold."
"Having an extra £20 per week then, and now, would mean I could get a supermarket delivery and not rely on my son to be off school so he could push me in my wheelchair to the shops."
In response to the DBC survey, one person said:
"I've lost over 15kg in body weight from going hungry."
"At the moment I have no bath or shower as I cannot use the bath due to my disability and the shower is broken and I cannot afford to replace it. It is a horrible way to live."
In addition, someone wrote:
"I cannot afford to socialise and attend events that used to help my mental health. I am now more physically disabled than before the pandemic started and cannot afford taxis."
The Government has continually defended this decision. Excuses have ranged from saying this would be "too complicated" for their computer system to arguing they weren't aware of any extra-costs or impact on disabled people. Most recently they have said people on legacy benefits have the option to switch to Universal Credit, ignoring the fact that wider adjustments could leave people worse off, as well as serious flaws in the assessment and monitoring process of Universal Credit.
Respondents to the DBC survey said they felt the Government's actions were 'discriminatory' (46%), 'cruel' (21%), and unfair (21%), with one person saying:
"The Government are sending a clear message that the disabled do not matter'. Another noted: "I think they hope to drive us all to suicide or an earlier death from our disabilities."
Anastasia Berry, Policy Manager at the MS Society and Policy Co-Chair of the DBC, says:
"The impact of the pandemic has been devastating for many disabled people, and it's heartbreaking to read these latest findings. For the last 18 months we've called on the Government time and time again to stop discriminating against disabled people, and yet here we are again. How much more evidence do they need to show that disabled people, including those with MS, must stop being ignored and given the financial support they desperately need?"
"MS can be relentless, painful and disabling, and around a third living with the condition have to rely on ESA because they are simply unable to work. Disabled people are being punished for something that is beyond their control, and it shouldn't take another survey, or the Government being taken to court, to acknowledge this."
Ellen Clifford, on behalf of the DPAC, said:
"It's beyond time that the Government rectified their discriminatory approach to the £20 benefit uplift applied to Universal Credit during the pandemic. The failure to do this ignores the fact that it's disabled people's unavoidable essential spending that went up the most as a direct result of the pandemic."
"In the sixth richest country in the world no one should be left too poor to bathe, too poor to do their laundry, too poor to eat and to heat. This at the same time as disabled people have been in desperate fear for their lives with a minimum 60% of Covid-related deaths being those of disabled people and many of those on legacy benefits isolated and shielding for well over a year. This is one injustice that could be put right so easily and at relatively little expense to the Treasury. It's abhorrent that the government refuses still."
Ella Abraham, Z2K's Policy and Campaigns Manager and Campaigns Co-chair of the DBC, said:
"It's been 18 months of discriminatory Government excuses which have continued to leave 2.5 million people without the vital income they need to support them throughout the pandemic and beyond."
"The Government must end this two-tier welfare state to ensure disabled people and those with health conditions aren't pushed any further into poverty and destitution."
(1) Disability Benefits Consortium survey of 1,838 disabled people on legacy benefits, conducted through Survey Gizmo, 3-20 August 2021
The Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) is a network of over 100 organisations with an interest in disability and social security. Using our combined knowledge, experience and direct contact with millions of disabled individuals, people with long-term health conditions and carers, they seek to ensure that Government policy reflects and meets the needs of all disabled people. For a full list of members, see https://disabilitybenefitsconsortium.com/dbc-members/
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Cite This Page (APA): Disability Benefits Consortium. (2021, September 1). Pandemic Leaves UK Disabled Behind on Bill Payments and Skipping Meals. Disabled World. Retrieved September 19, 2021 from www.disabled-world.com/news/uk/esa.php