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Terminally Ill Man Fights Universal Credit In Court

February 28, 2018

Next month, a terminally ill man is set to take on the government – and with it, the disastrous universal credit (UC) policy. Known only as TP, a 52-year-old ex-City worker – who has non-Hodgkin lymphoma and the lymph node condition Castleman disease – is launching a landmark challenge at the high court after becoming financially worse off under the new benefit system.

This couldn’t come sooner. In October, I warned of the hidden cut within UC for disabled people: thanks to the abolition of both the severe disability premium (SDP) and enhanced disability premium (EDP). As a result, according to the disability charity Scope, the move to UC will see claimants lose as much as £395 a month. The outcome of the legal challenge could have widespread ramifications for 230,000 disabled people who it is estimated will be hit by the removal of disability premiums under UC.

The government says that disabled people will be protected by “top-up payments” as they transfer to UC but no such payments are planned until July 2019. The Department for Work and Pensions claims UC means support is focused on those “who need it most”, but a government removing SDP and EDP – benefits designed to help severely disabled people living without a carer – is pulling a safety net from citizens with the greatest needs. This includes disabled single parents who, without their benefits to pay for help to cook or wash, are likely to be forced to rely on their children as young carers. TP’s case shows this inhumanity in a nutshell. He discovered he was dying in 2016 and moved to London to receive treatment, but as it was an area where UC had already been rolled out in the capital, his benefits were cut by £178 a month.

It’s the political equivalent of kicking someone when they’re down. Disabled people are already hardest hit by austerity, especially when cash-strapped councils are increasingly charging them for their social care (a charge that can hit those receiving SDP even harder as they don’t have a family carer). Research from disability charity Scope this month finds disabled people have to pay on average an extra £570 a month for the costs of disability for anything from taxis to specialist food, with one in five paying more than £1,000 extra per month.

Since its rollout, UC has become synonymous with hardship, often heaped on the most disadvantaged families: from an increase in food bank use and rent arrears, to now one million children set to miss out on free school meals because of UC’s new earnings threshold. But the threat to disabled and chronically ill people has up until now gone largely under the radar. Yet severely disabled people will collectively lose £2bn in disability premium payments (a fraction of what the government is spending on UC’s delayed rollout). Or to put it another way, a mother with multiple sclerosis won’t be able to afford to put the heating on or pay for a carer to help her wash.

Launching a multibillion pound benefit system only to remove vital income from some of the poorest people in the country is a particularly warped use of public money – and a move that exemplifies just how low the Conservatives are willing to sink in their rush to gut Britain’s safety net. The campaign group, Disabled People against Cuts, is launching a national protest in responseon 1 March. As UC is hailed as the biggest reform to the welfare state since Beveridge, there’s a very real risk that its greatest achievement will be making more disabled people hungry and housebound. Led by one terminally ill man, the time has come to fight it.

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