The DWP just dropped a bomb on parliament then ran off for the weekend

The DWP logo in front of an explosion
Steve Topple

This article was updated on 13 January to include a statement from Debbie Abrahams

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) chose the afternoon of Friday 11 January to drop changes to Universal Credit law on parliament. But it’s of little wonder it then ran off for the weekend. As a Labour MP and campaigners are furious because the changes won’t be voted on in parliament.

The DWP: sneaking out laws

Minister of state for employment Alok Sharm issued a written statement. Among the details are confirmation of several changes to Universal Credit already announced this week.

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But Sharma also noted that among the new legislation:

The first is a negative Statutory Instrument to provide for the Severe Disability Premium Gateway. This prevents legacy claimants who are in receipt of the Severe Disability Premium from moving naturally to Universal Credit and allows them to continue to claim legacy benefits until they are moved over as part of the managed migration process.

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It’s this which has incensed people. Because a negative Statutory Instrument is a change to the law which ministers can push through without MPs debating or voting on it.

Labour MP Debbie Abrahams is one of the strongest voices in her party on welfare and disability issues. She was furious:

Abrahams told The Canary:

It is a disgrace that the Government sneaked this Written Ministerial Statement out on Friday morning at the same time Amber Rudd was making her speech on Universal Credit. 

The Statement appears to do a U-turn on the Government’s promise earlier in the week that the UC regulations would be debated and voted on by all the House of Commons and not by a few MPs in a Committee. But it looks like the regulations which relate to the Severe Disability Premiums will be determined by Committee on Wednesday 16th January.

Once again, I despair at how this Government is treating disabled people and will do all I can to stop this injustice

But looking back at the history of the Severe Disability Premium (SDP) it’s of little wonder people are angry.

An appalling track record

As The Canary previously reported, in June 2018 the DWP lost a court case about SDP. A judge ruled that it had discriminated against claimants who used to get SDP, but had to move onto Universal Credit due to a change of circumstance and therefore then lost the benefit; SDP doesn’t exist under Universal Credit.

Before the judgement, the DWP changed its policy. It put in place protections to ensure people previously getting SDP would not lose money under Universal Credit.

The DWP agreed to compensate the two claimants in the case. But it was not going to publicly release the details, until a judge forced it to. The DWP also promised to backdate payments for anyone else who was in a similar position to the two claimants. But as CommonSpace reported, by 10 January, it had still not done this.

Never trust a Tory

So, as I was a JSA claimant pointed out on Twitter, the Tories really can’t be trusted to push through changes to SDP:

Moreover, the DWP should have brought this legislation in by autumn 2018. So it’s already running very late.

So, what does this mean for current claimants? Essentially, if the DWP currently gives you SDP you’re staying where you are; even if you have a change of circumstance that would mean you should move onto Universal Credit. This situation will continue until so-called managed migration fully begins. Although when that will be is still unclear.

Cut, cut and cut again

But what none of this accounts for is that SDP doesn’t exist under Universal Credit. Therefore new claimants will still be worse off compared to those who applied under the old system.

As I previously wrote for The Canary:

What the government is doing with Universal Credit is essentially redefining disability. So, for example a 20-year-old tetraplegic who moved onto Universal Credit on 1 July 2019 from ESA… and SDP would get their full, previous benefit award ringfenced. But a tetraplegic who turned 18 on 1 July 2019 and started claiming Universal Credit would, according to the DWP, be less in need of support to the tune of £2,929.68 a year. In the nefarious world of the Conservative government, this may seem OK. But it must surely seem the cruellest of cuts to the rest of us.

It seems that despite piecemeal changes – like the one the DWP dropped on Friday – little has really changed.

Featured image via mikegi – pixabay and UK government – Wikimedia

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