A Terrifying Impact
A change that will have a 'terrifying' impact on 1million vulnerable people
by Erica Young, Social Justice Policy Officer.
This column was first published in the Herald on20 May 2023.
Our benefits system recognises the need to provide for people who are too sick to work, while separately supporting those with long term conditions to manage their elevated living costs.
Two benefits are available. One is means tested income support for those who are “off sick”. The other is a payment to mitigate the extra costs of living with an impairment or health condition (Adult Disability Payment or Personal Independence Payment). Reflecting their distinct purposes, in the UK 0.8 million people receive disability support only, and 1.0 million receive means tested support only.
It is that 1 million who could be about to face a terrifying dip in their income amid collapsing living standards. This is because the UK Government is proposing to scrap the Work Capability Assessment (WCA). The infamous assessment determines whether a claimant is entitled to receive a top-up of their benefit, worth £390 per month. The proposal will remove this top-up. Instead, a health top-up will be available to those in receipt of disability support.
Those whose health prevents them from working, but who do not claim benefits based on ‘disability’, will receive no additional support. These will be claimants experiencing health shocks, mental health difficulties and fluctuating conditions who do not qualify for disability benefit, or who do not consider themselves ‘disabled’. There will be two exemptions, pregnancy risk and ongoing cancer treatment. Crucially, transitional protection will limit cliff-edge scenarios, but the unavoidable conclusion is a dramatic loss of support for many, who will be left with the daunting prospect of managing on less than half of what is currently considered enough. A typical single claimant will see their income restricted to £368 monthly.
The Government’s stated aim is to incentivise work. A commitment has been made to introduce a personalised approach to the agreement that claimants have with the Job Centre about the steps that they will take to find work, or to increase earnings.
However, just 4% of claimants who have undergone the WCA feel that they could return to work immediately if the right job were available. Research conducted by the Institute for Fiscal Studies demonstrates that losing disability benefit income causes persistent increases in relative poverty, even as employment rates go up. Job Centre work coaches dealing with specific local challenges and without occupational health expertise will be expected to deliver more.
Logically, to access the new health top-up, people who hadn’t considered it will seek to claim disability benefit. Demand and need for ADP will increase. Many will not meet the criteria and will lose out.
It’s not a coincidence that the size of the group impacted is equivalent to the number of people expected to be new disability related benefit claimants by 2026. Our concern is whether scrapping the WCA is simply a route to further entrenching the inequality associated with the growth in those living with a health condition.
Denying adequate support to those with restricted ability to work will essentially force people to look for work before they are ready. Trapping people in unsuitable and poor-quality work does not lead to a healthier, wealthier nation. Stripping back the safety net is not the solution to the problems with the WCA.
These proposals will not be introduced before 2026. We urge the Government to use this time to re-think