Welfare Benefits News Round-up by Ella Smith

October 11, 2021

Welcome to the first in what we hope will be a regular feature concerning welfare benefits. We know that benefits are a lifeline to many in the community, and we want to keep you informed about any changes.  

We have been recently discussing welfare benefits on social media and have a new website survey on the subject. Your feedback will help us ensure that the literature we produce is relevant to people with ME/CFS, helps you to make an informed application and to understand the various processes that are involved. 

There are significant changes to benefits that you might have seen reported in the news and we summarise some of them below: 

Universal Credit: End of the £20 boost explained 

The impact of the £20 uplift ending is illustrated starkly by figures compiled by the Resolution Foundation, who have calculated that for some claimants their income will reduce overnight by 25%. The idea that claimants can work a few extra hours to offset the impact of the cut in income has been floated by several government ministers including Thérèse Coffey, the secretary of state for Work and Pensions. The way that Universal Credit is calculated means that someone on minimum wage would actually have to work for an extra 9 hours to recover the £20 drop in income, with many claimants unable to do this due to already working full time, having care responsibilities or unable to work due to ill health. 

The Tory ‘emergency fund’ is an admission that universal credit shouldn’t be cut 

The government has announced a one-off £500 million fund, administrated by local councils, to help people on low incomes with essential costs such as food, clothing, and heating bills. In contrast, keeping the £20 a week uplift to Universal Credit would have cost £6 billion a year. There has been a lot of criticism over the refusal to scrap the cut to UC and this fund is seen by many as an admission by the government that people will not have enough money to live on once the reduction to UC comes in. 

Millions of vulnerable benefit claimants told decision on £1,500 back pay is delayed 

On a related note, this temporary increase to support was not made to everyone on benefits. People who claim so called ‘legacy benefits’ did not get any increase in benefits to help through the pandemic. Most of these legacy benefit claimants are disabled, sick or carers. Two recipients of ESA have challenged this difference in treatment by making an application for a judicial review. They argue that is it discriminatory and unjustified. The High Court has agreed it is arguably unlawful and were set to decide on this case this month. However, no judge can be found to hear the case and it has now been postponed until November. 

Rashford calls for Universal Credit cut to be axed 

The biggest benefit news story around at the moment is the imminent cut of £20 a week to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit claimants. The government increased the basic amount of these benefits at the start of the pandemic as a “temporary uplift” to help people with the increased costs of living. There have been several attempts to get this increase to benefit amounts to be made permanent but the government has insisted that after September 2021 the uplift will be withdrawn as planned. 

7 out of 10-win benefits challenges at tribunal 

70% of cases that are taken to court are now successfully challenged by benefit claimants. The statistics consistently show that the DWP continue to make incorrect decisions on benefits such as ESA, Universal Credit and PIP which affect disabled people. A majority of successful appeals are due to “further medical evidence” being brought to the attention of the case manager at the DWP. A lot of this further medical evidence is existing evidence from GPs, consultants and other health professionals which was not looked at by the health assessor or the case manager originally. Other decisions which are overturned have been due to the rules not being applied correctly in the original assessment, such as benefit claimants being unable to perform activities “reliably” and therefore being given fewer points than they should have.  

Watchdog says government has made zero progress on social security and rights 

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has given a damning conclusion of the government’s performance on improving the human rights of women, disabled people, ethnic minority people and lone parents. Government policies have hit disabled people particularly hard and despite the publication of a new National Disability Strategy, there is limited or zero improvement in 26 out of 36 markers used by the EHRC to track progress in human rights. 

DWP and contractor admit delays with mail handling 

Earlier on this year there were such significant backlogs of post that the DWP put automatic 3-month extensions on the time frame for people to return forms and evidence. Even when post is delivered on time, it then has to sit and wait until it is scanned onto the DWP systems and so the case managers in charge of making decisions for benefits are not aware that papers have been sent in. We are still hearing of delays and problems with post being received in time. We advise you to send any post to the DWP by signed for or recorded delivery so that you have proof it was posted on time and received by them. It is also worth ringing the helpline (if you can manage it) to advise them that you have posted something. 

Department of Work and Pensions: Have Your Say 

The government has published a green paper making several proposals to change the way it looks at health and disability related issues, including benefit assessments. This consultation is open to the public but closes on 11th October 2021. We will be looking more in depth at some of the proposals in this green paper in another blog. 

Ella Smith, Welfare Benefits Adviser, ME Association 

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