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New report shows disabled people on legacy benefits struggling to pay bills

A new report from the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) shows people on legacy benefits have been struggling to pay for rent, food and heating, and medication since the start of the pandemic.

At the beginning of the pandemic, people on Universal Credit were given an emergency increase of £20. But disabled people on legacy benefits, including many with MS, were left behind.

Legacy benefits include Employment and Support Allowance and Income Support and will eventually be replaced by Universal Credit.

Pandemic poverty

We're a member of the DBC, a consortium of more than 100 charities who work with disabled people. Together we published the findings of a recent survey of 1,126 people on legacy benefits in the report ‘Pandemic Poverty: Stark choices facing disabled people on legacy benefits’. These are the headlines:

  • Most people (82%) said they'd spent more than they normally would because of bigger food and utility bills since the COVID-19 crisis began. And having to pay for taxis to get to essential appointments.
  • Two thirds (66%) said they had to go without essentials like food, heating or medication because of increased costs since the pandemic started.
  • Nearly half (44%) said they'd fallen behind on financial commitments like rent, mortgage payments, or household bills.

This comes ten months after 2.2 million people on legacy benefits were originally refused a £20 per week lifeline to support them through the pandemic. This is something people on Universal Credit have been getting since March.

Disabled people are being left behind 

Over 120,000 people signed the ‘Don’t Leave Disabled People Behind’ petition, and 98% of MPs in the UK have heard from their constituents about the issue.

We're asking the Chancellor to remember disabled people in the upcoming Budget and extend the emergency £20 uplift to people on legacy benefits.

Our England Council member, David Allen was diagnosed with primary progressive MS in 1996 and lives alone in Luton. He's been receiving legacy benefits for more than 10 years. David was unable to leave his bed with COVID-19 in March. And as he's clinically vulnerable he has no choice but to have food delivered.

"I don’t feel safe going to the supermarket"

He says: “My shopping bill usually comes to £20-35 per week, but as I don’t feel safe going to the supermarket I’m having to rely on deliveries. The minimum order is £25, but if your order is less than £40 you get hit with a delivery charge of £7.

"On top of this, a tremor caused by my MS means it’s dangerous for me to use a knife or carry pans with hot water in. I have to buy ready meals and prepared vegetables that I can put in the microwave. These all come at a premium.

“I find myself sitting in the dark more than I should so as not to turn the lights on for too long, as well as only switching the TV on when I’m watching a programme.

"It's hard not to think your world is closing in around you."

"I live on my own so it’s hard not to think your world is closing in around you. The harsh reality is that the pandemic has meant our bills are going up quicker than our income, and there’s just nowhere to go to make up for that. It’s meant we feel abandoned and left to sink.”

Time for UK governments to act

Anastasia Berry, our Policy Manager and the Policy Co-Chair of the DBC, says: “An unforgiveable number of disabled people, including people with MS, have been put in danger of falling into poverty because of the extra costs of the pandemic. And UK governments continue to ignore them. Many have been forced to make awful choices to help them survive – from choosing between heating and eating to racking up debt to pay for rent.

"The UK government’s disregard of the facts could result in people being even worse off financially"

“We've heard every excuse, but the latest – that they can ‘move to Universal Credit’ – is the most misleading yet. The UK government's disregard of the facts could result in people being even worse off financially.

"The upcoming budget is a chance for the Chancellor to finally show the forgotten disabled people they matter.”

Help make welfare make sense

This isn’t the only area of benefits that needs to change for people with MS.

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