Rishi Sunak just made perhaps the most damning admission of the 2021 Budget. His comment was about the £20 a week Universal Credit uplift. And it actually exposed why he and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) haven’t done the same for legacy benefits. In short, workers are worthy of extra money. Sick and disabled people are not.
The £20 DWP Universal Credit uplift
Campaigner and financial journalist Martin Lewis interviewed Sunak on the Thursday 4 March edition of Lewis’s ITV Money Show. The host was putting the public’s questions to Sunak. And during the show, the question of the DWP £20 Universal Credit uplift came up.
The Canary reported that in his Budget, the chancellor said the uplift was staying until September. But as we noted:
Some people still claim so-called ‘legacy benefits’. These include Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). And the government has not increased their social security payments in line with the Universal Credit/Working Tax Credits uplift.
The Oldham Times reported there are 2.2 million legacy benefit claimants, and that “three quarters of these are disabled people”.
On the Money Show Lewis read out a question on this. And Sunak’s answer was damning.
Up the workers
Lewis said that Clare asked:
I’m [a] shielding adult; disabled son for nearly a year; huge extra expenses due to Covid. Why have people who are on legacy disability benefits… not been included in the extra £20 a week [uplift]
Sunak made it very clear why he and the DWP had not uplifted legacy benefits. He said:
The original rationale for doing the temporary uplift in Universal Credit [UC] was to help… people in work but on lower incomes, whose incomes were going to be affected by the crisis. And it’s UC and Working Tax Credit that are the benefits that capture the vast, vast, vast majority if not all of those people.
What he said is not true. First, under ESA people can do permitted work. This is where they can work up to 16 hours a week and earn up to £140. Also, some people aren’t on legacy benefits, but they still claim social security.
Destitute and disabled? Move to “UC”
Back to the Money Show. Sunak then repeated his line on workers:
The intervention for UC was to help those in work
In other words, the Tories think sick and disabled people don’t need extra money due to the pandemic. But campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) said this is not true. For example, sick and disabled people have needed things like extra PPE and help with the costs of food deliveries. So, as DPAC said:
disabled people’s unavoidable expenditure has sharply risen as a direct result of the pandemic
So, what if you’re sick and disabled, on DWP legacy benefits and are destitute? Sunak’s answer was:
it is also possible for those that can… [to] transition to UC
But as Jules Pick tweeted:
#MartinLewis #RishiSunak wants disabled people on legacy benefits to move to UC to receive the uplift. But they will eventually lose their severe disability premiums, will end up significantly worse off on UC, £80 a week.There's been zero extra help for those on legacy benefits.
— Jules Pick (@Julespick72) March 4, 2021
A two-tier welfare state
Here’s the thing. Sunak said before that the £20 uplift was for “low-income households”. So, his admission that the extra money was actually for “workers” is revealing. Because it makes clear that the Tories still think sick and disabled people are “second class citizens”. As Rosina Cantaldo tweeted:
It’s blindingly obvious this government don’t give two shits about the economically unactive severe disabled. The decision to NOT uplift legacy benefits along with UC is clear evidence. Sunak even looked like he was relishing the refusal#Sunak #MartinLewis #MartinAndRishi
— Rosina Cantaldo (@mcladytame) March 4, 2021
But this is not new.
Entrenching a “human catastrophe”
In 2016, the UN accused successive UK, Tory-led governments and the DWP of “grave” and “systematic” violations of sick and disabled people’s human rights. The chair of the investigating committee went further. She accused them of creating a “human catastrophe” for sick and disabled people. She also said the situation in the UK had become “life threatening” for many.
Nothing has changed. In fact, Tory contempt for sick and disabled people is now entrenched. It was already violating their most basic human rights. And now, during a global crisis, it has made the “human catastrophe” even worse. Sunak implying workers are more worthy of financial support than sick and disabled people is the thin end of the wedge. Over a decade of human rights abuses has led to this point.
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