This is an unplanned post – written hurriedly while feeling cross and unwell – in response to Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s measures to address the rising cost of living in the UK.
The measures in today’s announcement include:
- All households will receive a £400 discount on energy bills.
- One-off payments of different amounts will also be given to the most vulnerable – the elderly, those with disabilities, and those with the lowest incomes
The one-off payments will be:
- A one-off payment of £650 for the lowest income families and people on benefits.
- A one-off payment of £300 for pensioners.
- A one-off payment of £150 for disabled people.
For people who are both disabled and on benefits, they will receive both the £650 and the £150.
Well, I’m disabled and I’m on benefits, so, that’s good, isn’t it? I’ll get £800, or £1200, including the £400 discount on my energy bill?
As it turns out, no.
With my experience as a disabled benefit claimant in Tory Britain, I know to go looking for the small print before I get too hopeful, and I was right to do so. Because, the £650 for people on benefits does not include disabled people who are on contributions-based Employment and Support Allowance (CB ESA).
What is ESA?
Employment and Support Allowance is for people who are unable to work, or have limited capability for work, due to their disability or health condition.
ESA is a legacy benefit, meaning, it’s an older benefit, that existed before the introduction of Universal Credit (UC). Those of us who became disabled before the the introduction of UC, and who haven’t yet been transferred to UC, are still on ESA.
There are two types of ESA, income-related (IR) and contributions-based (CB).
This is related to National Insurance (NI), a tax on earnings in the UK which acts as a form of social security, since payment of NI contributions establishes entitlement to certain state benefits.
People who are placed on IR ESA are people who don’t have enough National Insurance contributions. This would include people who have never been able to work due to their disability or health condition.
People who are placed on CB ESA are people who have enough National Insurance contributions. This would include people who were once able to work and paid enough National Insurance contributions prior to the onset of their disability or health condition.
IR ESA is means-tested, and CB ESA is not means-tested.
A means test is a determination of whether the individual is eligible for government assistance based upon the individual’s earnings, savings, assets etc.
I am on CB ESA.
Within CB ESA and IR ESA, there are two groups. The Work-Related Activity Group (WRAG) and the Support Group.
People who are able to undertake work related activity (attending a skills assessment, undertaking work placements, participating in training etc) are placed in the WRAG.
People with more severe illnesses or disabilities who are unable to undertake any work related activity are placed in the Support Group.
I am in the Support Group.
The plan is that almost everyone on ESA will eventually be transferred to UC, apart from those of us on CB ESA in the Support Group, we will remain on ESA. I don’t know why.
Anyway, there are a lot of us still on ESA, all of us disabled and/or chronically ill and unable to work.
Back to the £650.
Like I said, the £650 for people on benefits does not include disabled people who are on CB ESA. This however isn’t being made immediately clear, and I have spent a large portion of today trying to stop the spread of misinformation on Twitter, with many people confidently stating that everyone on ESA will be eligible for the £650, which is not the case. Only those on IR ESA will receive the £650.
It would be a mistake to assume that the government will help the most vulnerable first, despite them saying that they will help the most vulnerable first, but I can understand why it’s nice to think so. With this new information, you might be hoping that once people realise that people on CB ESA are being excluded, they’ll make a fuss and it will be corrected? Again, I can understand why it’s nice to think that will be the case.
Disabled people on ESA have been here before.
In 2020, during lockdown, the government awarded everyone on Universal Credit (UC) a temporary £20 per week uplift, worth £1500 in total. This however was not extended to people on legacy benefits. If I had gotten ME after the introduction of UC, I would be on UC and would have received the uplift, but because I had the misfortune of getting ME prior to the introduction of UC, I’m on ESA, and I did not get the uplift.
In June 2020 Action for ME shared that the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC), a network of over 100 organisations, were told the reason that people on all legacy benefits had not received the same £20 uplift as those claiming UC was because it was “too complicated” for the Government computer system.
However, four legacy benefit claimants took this to the High Court, and they were granted permission to challenge the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on their decision not to provide the same uplift that was given to people on Universal Credit, and the hearing was heard in November 2021.
They argued that the ongoing difference in treatment between those in receipt of UC and those in receipt of legacy benefits was discriminatory, and here is what the court decided:
The Court accepted that there were a greater proportion of disabled persons in receipt of legacy benefits, compared to disabled persons receiving UC and that disabled persons in receipt of legacy benefits were in an analogous position to disabled persons in receipt of UC.
Whilst the Court accepted that there was discrimination towards disabled people on legacy benefits, the Judge ruled that the difference in treatment was justified. Mr Justice Swift (giving judgment in this case) accepted the justification put forward by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (“SSWP”), that the increase to the standard allowance of UC was done with the intention of providing additional support to those people who lost their jobs as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and were forced to claim UC for the first time. Mr Justice Swift accepted that using the increase in UC to cushion the loss of employment or reduction in income was a legitimate objective.
Whilst the Court accepted that the regulations increasing the rate of UC in March 2020 (and those extending it March 2021) did not distinguish between new UC claimants and persons already in receipt of UC (with the effect being that all UC claimants received the uplift), Mr Justice Swift did not consider this affected the justification advanced by the SSWP.
At the hearing, the court had been presented with evidence that, those new to benefits tended to have higher rates of savings and were better able to meet the costs of the pandemic as a result. The judgment did acknowledge the very low level of income provided by legacy benefits and the hardship those in receipt of these benefits must have faced during the pandemic. However, Mr Justice Swift did not consider that this was legally relevant to the justification advanced by the SSWP.Osbornes Law, High Court decides on uplift to legacy benefits.
So, rather than blaming the computer system, they say it’s because the uplift was intended to help those who were newly out of work due to Covid19. But, if this was the case, why was the uplift awarded to everyone on UC, new claimants and existing claimants? The judge accepted that people on legacy benefits were discriminated against, but apparently that’s ok.
My point in bringing this up is because, if you’re optimistically thinking that the government will change their minds about the £650 for people on CB ESA, don’t. They didn’t change their mind about the £20 uplift, what makes you think they’ll change their mind about this?
When the (temporary) £20 uplift for UC claimants ended, there was uproar. Headline after headline about UC being cut by £20 per week. People in general (not all UC claimants) took to social media, furious about the government cutting UC rates. But where were the headlines about people on ESA not being awarded the uplift to begin with? Why were the only social media posts about those on ESA not being awarded the uplift made by people on legacy benefits?
As with the numerous displays of performative protestations when the UC £20 uplift came to an end, people forgot, or didn’t care enough to check about those on legacy benefits, and the same is happening now. People on Twitter saying that everyone on ESA is getting the £650, that the government is helping all disabled people on benefits, that they’re not leaving any vulnerable people behind, because Rishi Sunak said so on the telly. But a Tory cannot be trusted to tell the whole story. Of course Sunak is going to tell the most heart-warming version of the story when he’s on tv, that the most vulnerable households will be helped, he’s hardly going to add, “but not those disabled scroungers on CB ESA”.
So, please don’t be mistaken, this is not an unfortunate error, this is not an oversight, this is a deliberate decision made by the government, over and over again, to exclude disabled people from much needed assistance.
Disabled people on CB ESA are excluded from the £650 payment.
Legacy benefit claimants were excluded from the £20/week uplift
And I haven’t even mentioned that PIP claimants are no longer going to be eligible for the Warm Home Discount (WHD). I don’t have the energy to go into this in detail, but the eligibility criteria is changing and because I’m on PIP, I will no longer be eligible for the £150 credit into my energy account in the winter. You can read more about it here: Disabled claimants set to lose Warm Home Discounts.
I’d like to be clear, I’m grateful for the financial assistance that I will receive – the £400 discount on my energy bill, and the £150 for being disabled (even though it’s pretty much going to be cancelled out by the loss of the Warm Home Discount), but I am furious about the nonsensical exclusion of people on CB ESA for the £650 payment. I also believe that the £20 per week uplift should have been made permanent for people on UC, but it was discriminatory to not extend this to people on legacy benefits. I am not against anyone receiving what they are entitled to, but I do not appreciate the disparity, nor the constant reminder from the government that as a disabled adult, of working age, I am worth less.
Learn more about the cost of living measures here, in the government’s Cost of living support factsheet: 26 May 2022.
ME in the News