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Disabled people report being financially worse off since pandemic

New research published by the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) shows that thousands of disabled people on out of work benefits, such as Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Job seeker’s Allowance (JSA), are financially struggling because of the pandemic.

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In early 2020, the Government added an extra £20 per week to the Universal Credit payment, to help claimants cope with the additional costs due to the pandemic.  Those blind or partially sighted people on Universal Credit will have benefited from the rise, however, this extra money was not added to benefits such as ESA and JSA (often referred to as ‘legacy’ benefits), leaving many to cope with the additional costs alone.

The Government is currently facing criticism for its plans to remove this £20 uplift in October.

Latest research

The Disability Benefits Consortium is made up of over 100 organisations representing disabled people and their families.  As a member, we are very concerned to read its latest survey findings with over two-thirds of respondents reporting that their financial situation was ‘worse’ now compared to the start of the pandemic.

Key findings

  • Half (52%) are spending ‘significantly more’ on household bills and utilities than they were before the pandemic, with a third (37%) spending ‘somewhat more’.
  • Individuals’ weekly income meant they were unable or struggling to eat a balanced diet (67%), attend medical appointments due to public transport, petrol, and taxi costs (33%), and pay bills, including their water, gas, electric, rent and mortgage (67%).

The findings come from a survey undertaken by the DBC, which we shared with blind and partially sighted people, many of whom are on legacy benefits.  Over 1,800 disabled people completed the survey, sharing experiences of isolation, going without meals, or heating, and falling behind on critical bills, such as rent or electricity. 

Next steps

In less than a month, the High Court will hear whether the Government acted unlawfully by not giving nearly 2 million disabled people on legacy benefits the same emergency increase of £20 per week that was given to people on Universal Credit to help them survive the COVID-19 crisis.

RNIB’s legal rights service is dismayed but not surprised by the results of the survey. Many calls to RNIB’s advice line are from blind and partially sighted people struggling to navigate the benefits system and live within its means. 

We back the call for the Government to extend the £20 per week uplift to legacy benefits to help tackle the extra costs that disabled people have and continue to face and for the Universal Credit uplift to be maintained.

We will keep you updated on the outcome of the High Court hearing so watch this space.