On Wednesday 17 February Margaret Ferrier, MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West, heard how a decision to deny some disabled people £20 per week to help to survive the COVID-19 crisis has left growing numbers unable to pay for rent, food and heating1.
Margaret heard how for ten months the Government has refused to give emergency funding to over 2.2 million people on legacy benefits – including those on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Jobseeker’s Allowance. This is despite the fact that Universal Credit claimants in the same circumstances are receiving a financial lifeline of an extra £20 per week.
The launch of the report ‘Pandemic Poverty: Stark choices facing disabled people on legacy benefits’, was hosted by the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) – a network of over 100 organisations including the MS Society, Z2K, Disability Rights UK, MND Association, and Inclusion London, which has been campaigning on this issue for ten months.
To date, the Government has given a number of excuses for not extending the £20 uplift to those on legacy benefits, but they are at best feeble and at worst actively insulting to the people involved. Excuses have ranged from blaming the computer system for making it hard to process an uplift, to saying that people have had an uplift of 35 pence per week already and implying that should be sufficient.
David Allen, 62, was diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1996 and lives alone in Luton. He has been receiving legacy benefits for over 10 years. David was bed-bound with COVID-19 in March and, as he is clinically vulnerable, has no choice but to have food delivered.
Sharing his experience at the launch, he said: “My shopping bill usually comes to £20 to £35 per week, but as I don’t feel safe going to the supermarket I’m having to rely on deliveries. The minimum order is £25, but if your order is less than £40 you get hit with by a delivery charge. On top of this, a tremor caused by my MS means it’s dangerous for me to use a knife or carry pans with hot water in, so I have to buy ready meals and prepared vegetables that I can put in the microwave. These all come at a premium.
“I’m constantly worrying about other costs – I find myself sitting in the dark more than I should so as not to turn the lights on for too long, as well as only switching the TV on when I’m watching a programme. I worry that my cats are even going without. I live on my own so it’s hard not to think your world is closing in around you. The harsh reality is that the pandemic has meant disabled people’s bills are going up quicker than our income, and there’s just nowhere to go to make up for that. It’s meant we feel abandoned and left to sink.”
Margaret Ferrier, MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West, said: “It is increasingly clear that the UK Government’s inexplicable decision to exclude legacy benefits from the £20 uplift introduced to Universal Credit last year has been catastrophic to people with disabilities and many others who rely on legacy benefits for their income. The UK Government must immediately commit to introducing this necessary uplift in the upcoming Spring Budget and ending the absurd discrimination it has levied at recipients of legacy benefits.”
MPs from across the major political parties spoke at the event. Vicky Foxcroft MP, Shadow Disability Minister, David Linden MP, SNP Work and Pensions Spokesperson, Peter Aldous MP and Wera Hobhouse MP, Liberal Democrat Women and Equalities Spokesperson, also spoke about why they are in support of the uplift being introduced.
Anastasia Berry, Policy Manager at the MS Society and Policy Co-Chair of the DBC, says: “Support from MPs, like Margaret Ferrier, is invaluable if we are going to get the Chancellor to give disabled people the uplift they desperately need in the Budget in just under two weeks. As the DBC report shows, people on legacy benefits are facing significant extra costs because of the pandemic, yet they’ve not been given the same emergency financial support afforded to those on Universal Credit. We remain hopeful that as awareness grows of the fundamental unfairness of the current situation, the Government will have no choice but to end this discrimination and stop leaving disabled people behind.”
Ella Abraham, Z2K’s Policy and Campaigns Officer and Campaigns Co-Chair of the DBC, says: “Seeing such strong cross-party support to increase legacy benefits at the DBC’s report launch was encouraging. This issue must go beyond party politics. Government must ensure that people can do more than simply survive.
2.2 million people on legacy benefits, the majority of whom are disabled, have now been excluded from the £20 per week financial lifeline those on Universal Credit have seen for 10 months. As a result many are being pushed further into poverty. Moving onto Universal Credit is not the solution for many of these people, who would lose out financially or face harm as a result of the currently inadequate system. We need a social security system that ensures people are able to live a stable and dignified life. The Government must increase legacy benefits now.”
1. The Disability Benefits Consortium survey of 1384 people – 258 on Universal Credit and 1126 on legacy benefits – was conducted through the British Psychological Society, 4-18 January 2021.