Cutting benefits to sickest may backfire

The UK government’s Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill will hit even seriously ill people and their families, specialists have pointed out. The controversial measure involves limiting increases in most working-age benefits to one per cent a year for three years from 2013-14 – a drop in real terms, since the cost of living is rising considerably faster.

While Disability Living Allowance will rise at a higher rate, many who are not in paid work receive Employment and Support Allowance, which is affected by the cap. Some are in a Work Related Activity Group, which means that assessors believe they might be able to undertake paid work in future, though such assessments are frequently wrong. Others are in a Support Group, which means that their likelihood of getting a job is very low or non-existent.

Those in the Work Related Activity Group will receive just a one per cent rise each year, well below inflation, Disability Rights UK has pointed out, while even those in the Support Group will find that their income falls in real terms. Part of their ESA – the Support Group component – will not be covered by the one per cent cap.

But, to quote Disability Rights UK, “the Support Group component of ESA payments is worth just £34.05 in this financial year. The majority of the payment that disabled people in the Support Group receive is the Basic Allowance component of £71.00 which will be up-rated at one per cent under Government proposals. This penalises disabled people even in the Support Group with a 1.4 per cent up-rating overall”.

Since welfare benefits do not cover all the extra costs of disability, they and their families already face poverty. Further cuts will leave some destitute.

For instance, someone with schizophrenia who has experienced frightening delusions and hallucinations for many years, dampened down by strong medication which makes her sleepy much of the time, will be hit. So will a person in the final stages of cancer who has just a few months to live, along with his partner and children.

However much they have contributed or still contribute to society, they will be let down when they need help to pay for basics such as food and electricity. This is harsh, unjust and will have a heavy human cost. It may also end up costing more to the public purse, as people’s ability to live independently in communities is undermined.

So some patients will almost certainly land up in hospital unnecessarily, at considerable expense, or their families will need extra help from social services because they are left struggling at their most vulnerable moments.

As awareness increases of the impact of cuts to people in their hour of need, the government may find such measures politically expensive.

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(c) Savitri Hensman is a long-standing Christian commentator on religion and politics, Anglican affairs, theology and LGBT issues. She is an Ekklesia associate.

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