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Universal credit could be ‘disastrous’ for disabled people, MPs warn in new report

Universal credit could spell “disastrous” consequences for disabled people as thousands are set to lose out on “vital additional support” under the flagship welfare reform, MPs have warned.

A report by the Work and Pensions Committee accuses the government of making a “serious error” in removing disability premiums – which are worth up to £64 per week for a single person – under universal credit.

The MPs said removing this support, which usually covers essential living and care costs, risked pushing disabled people into more isolated lives, relying on unpaid care – including from their own, dependent children – or being unable to complete certain basic daily tasks.

The report also warns that while some families with severely disabled children will receive more under universal credit, this increase would come at a “substantial price” for families with a “less disabled” child – leaving 100,000 households worse off once the reform is fully rolled out. 

Labour MP Frank Field, chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said the government’s plans would see “very” disabled people getting the extra help they need “at the cost of other disabled people”. 

He continued: “We have already seen the terrible cost of the department’s failure to find out what is happening to the most vulnerable claimants in the transition to universal credit. 

“People receiving the disability premiums are already, by definition, managing in some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable in our society, and this includes disabled children, and children forced to care for a disabled parent. 

“It would be a terrible betrayal of these people to allow another failure of planning in this mega reform to worsen their situations, even one bit.

“No one should ever be forced further into poverty, deprivation, miserable hardship by a policy reform. The government must assure disabled people across this country that will not happen to them, and plan and put the measures in place to make that promise good.”

The warnings come after Citizens Advice said the new benefit system was “penalising” single disabled people due to flaws in its design, leaving them worse off compared to the previous structure as they face a “significant drop” in financial support when they move onto the new system.

The High Court ruled in a landmark judgment in June that the universal credit roll-out was unlawfully discriminating against people with disabilities by taking “essential benefits” from disabled claimants.

Minesh Patel, policy manager at disability equality charity Scope, said the report was “yet another wake-up call that there are serious issues with universal credit”. 

She added: “The clock is ticking. If the universal credit ‘managed migration’ goes ahead without significant changes, many disabled people’s finances will fall off a cliff edge. 

“Whilst the government has said that claimants will be no worse off under universal credit, the move to the benefit will see lots of disabled people lose their disability premiums and be almost £200 worse off a month. It’s imperative an equivalent of these premiums is created.”

A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesperson said: “More than a million disabled people will be better off by £100 a month under universal credit and £3bn of funding will help protect families as they move over from the old system. 

“Universal credit does work for the vast majority, and the managed migration regulations are set to be debated in parliament in due course.”

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