Government report calls out insufficient benefit levels

A man and a woman counting money

Given the way that some politicians and commentators have talked about welfare in recent months, you could be forgiven for thinking that people who claim benefits can afford to live a life of luxury (so much so, we had to speak out about it). But, as last week’s report on benefit levels from the Work and Pensions Committee makes clear, this simply isn’t the case. Instead, benefits don’t cover the cost of the essentials – let alone the things it takes to make life meaningful.

People with complex disabilities tend to be worse off

Sense responded to the Committee’s initial call for evidence on benefit levels in the UK, arguing that benefit rates had long been too low.

The welfare system is a vital lifeline for many people with complex disabilities, who tend to be much worse off than non-disabled people.

Our research has found that people with complex disabilities are particularly likely to receive benefits.

Nearly a third of people with complex disabilities draw on Universal Credit, while another 27% receive Employment and Support Allowance, an older benefit which is being phased out.

Half of people with complex disabilities also receive Personal Independence Payment, which is designed to help disabled people afford costs related to their disability. This is available to disabled people whether they are in work or not.

Making sure benefits cover the cost of essentials

The benefits system should be there to make sure that everyone can afford the essentials. That should be true whether someone is in work or not.

But the Work and Pensions Committee Report found evidence that benefits are too low. That’s something our own research shows, with Sense polling carried out last year finding that 76% of people with complex disabilities on benefits were worried about how they would cope financially over the winter.

We’re pleased to see the Committee recognise this. We agree with their recommendation that benefits like Universal Credit should be a true reflection of living costs.

This should be obvious. But, as the report highlights, the Department for Work and Pensions has said that benefit levels are designed to incentivise work.

The Committee agreed with our point, however, that work is not the appropriate outcome for every disabled person. They’re right that every disabled person who receives benefits, whether they are in work or not, should get the financial support they need to afford their living costs.

Making sure PIP reflects extra costs

Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is intended to cover the extra costs disabled people face in their lives. We know that the application process can be very daunting, so our team have written a guide to help that includes some top tips.

Sense research shows that 46% of people with complex disabilities found it difficult to afford costs related to their condition or impairment. Given that PIP is designed to help disabled people cover these costs, it’s clear that PIP needs to be higher.

It is positive to see the Committee agree with us that PIP rates should reflect the extra costs disabled people face. Again, this should be obvious.

Making sure benefits go up in line with inflation  

Benefits should always cover the cost of essentials – whatever the rate of inflation.

But at the height of the cost of living crisis, disabled people saw their costs going up and up while their benefits stayed the same.

That’s because benefits only go up in line with inflation once a year. And even then, the inflation rate they use is six months’ old. As the cost of living crisis shows, this is particularly unfair at times when inflation is rising rapidly.

What’s more, while the Government has to put disability benefits up in line with inflation, there’s no rule they have to do the same for Universal Credit.

The Committee are right when they say this is unfair. We welcome their call for a guarantee that benefits will always go up in line with inflation, using a figure that is as up-to-date as possible.

What happens next

Now that the Committee have published their report, it’s down to the Government to put out a response. Sense is calling for the Government to listen to what the Committee has recommended.  

And as we head towards the inevitable election, we’ll be calling on all political parties to make sure benefits are always fair for people with complex disabilities.