The rates of older benefits that are being slowly replaced by Universal Credit (UC) should be increased to support people hit hard by the financial fallout of the Coronavirus pandemic, the Work and Pensions Select Committee said today (Monday 22 June).
In a new report on the Government’s response to the pandemic the influencial cross-party group of MPs finds that “huge numbers of people [are] struggling to cover the costs of essentials, with some disabled people in particular hit hard by increased costs of care and rising food prices”.
In a survey of 224 disabled people in April, the Disability Benefits Consortium reported that 95% of people surveyed had experienced a rise in costs for food, utilities and managing their health.
And the Food Foundation found that more than three million people reported going hungry in the first three weeks of the lockdown.
While action has been taken to increase the value of UC by £20 a week for 12 months, as well as temporary suspending the controversial minimum income floor for self-employed workers, MPs say the government must not “simply ignore the needs” of those still in receipt of legacy benefits like Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA).
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) blames operational difficulties for the disparity, but the Committee argues that it is “unacceptable that people have been left facing hardship through no fault of their own, simply because of the outdated and complex way in which so-called legacy benefits are administered”.
MPs have called on the UK Government to increased the rates of legacy benefits like ESA and JSA by an equivalent amount to the rise in UC, backdated to April.
Their report also calls for the immediate suspension of the no recourse to public funds (NRPF) condition that has prevented thousands of people who live and work in the UK legally from claiming benefits and receiving access to financial support, because of their immigration status.
The Children’s Society estimates that at least 1 million people have been left out-of-pocket by the policy, including more than 100,000 children.
Stephen Timms MP (Labour), Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said: “DWP’s frontline staff have worked hard to get support to millions of people. Without their actions, the impact of the pandemic could have been much worse.
“But the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted weaknesses in a social security system which at times is too inflexible and slow to adapt to support people in times of crisis.
“The focus has mostly been on the unprecedented numbers of new claims for Universal Credit. But in the background, people on legacy benefits—including disabled people, carers and people with young families—have slipped down the list of priorities.
“It’s now time for the Government to redress that balance and increase legacy benefits too. It’s simply not right for people to miss out on support just because they happen, through no fault of their own, to be claiming the ‘wrong’ kind of benefit.
“At the same time, people whose immigration status leaves them with no recourse to public funds have been left with no support from the benefits system at all—and at risk of destitution and homelessness.
“Some have had to face the invidious choice between staying at home and facing financial ruin, for themselves and their children, or going to work and risking spreading the disease.
“The Government must suspend these rules for the duration of the pandemic.
“The labour market will be transformed by coronavirus. Young people, disabled people and people on low pay are among those likely to be worst hit. Large scale employment programmes take months to set up: DWP needs to get on top of this now.”