The Department for Work and Pensions’ published report says some of the poorest claimants were forced to ‘limit or stop spending on their health’, as well as heating
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The Department for Work and Pensions has been forced to publish a report that found some disabled benefit claimants could not afford heating or food.
Tory ministers refused to reveal the 80-page report for more than a year – until a committee of MPs demanded it from NatCen, the research firm that carried it out.
The report found for claimants, benefits “offered a regular income which provided reassurance that some of their essential day-to-day living costs would be met.”
But some of the poorest “were often unable to meet essential day-to-day living needs, such as heating their house or buying food,” the damning report said.
The report highlighted some of the poorest claimants – in low-paid jobs, with unmanageable debt, or out-of-work households whose only income came from the welfare system.
These poorer benefit claimants with children were sometimes led to “limit or stop spending on their health”, the report said.
It added: “Those with children who had restricted financial resources usually described putting their own needs, including their health-related needs, after those of their children.
“This included single parent families and participants who had children with additional health needs.”
It went on: “Decisions about what to spend limited financial resources on were unique to each individual’s particular health and personal circumstances, with participants weighing up and prioritizing spending on different needs.
“As a result, some additional needs were not met, such as transport costs (for healthcare appointments), additional therapies, equipment and aids and in-home adaptations.
“In these circumstances participants either went without or saved up to afford these costs occasionally or rationing their usage.”
Some “borrowed from family and friends” or “used support services such as foodbanks”, the report added.
The report, Uses of Health and Disability Benefits, was based on “in-depth interviews” with 120 long-term sick or disabled people and sent to the government in September 2020.
The Commons Work and Pensions Committee, which finally obtained and published it on Thursday, said DWP Secretary Therese Coffey repeatedly refused to publish it.
Chairman Stephen Timms said: “The report gives a valuable insight into the experiences of people claiming health and disability benefits.
“While the system is working for some, we now know that others reported that they are still unable to meet essential living costs such as food and utility bills.”
Anastasia Berry of the MS Society said: “Despite the DWP’s relentless attempts to bury this research, we can finally see what they’ve been so desperate to hide.
“The report was commissioned to provide in-depth insights into how disabled people spend the financial support they receive, which is supposed to help with daily living and the extra costs they face because of their disability.
“But what it has uncovered is the inadequacy of these benefits for many disabled people. It shows some are struggling to pay for essential day-to-day expenses, such as food, heating and medications, let alone these extra costs.
“The DWP’s failed cover-up of this damning research is just the latest example of their disregard for disabled people, including those with MS.
“For years, disabled people have been subjected to a benefits system which is stressful, confusing, and fails to provide the basic support they need.
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“Now, with the cost of living crisis erupting, many are reaching breaking point.
“The Government can no longer continue to push disabled people aside, or hide key pieces of evidence.
“They must urgently increase benefits by 6% in April, in line with current inflation, and create a social security system that puts disabled people first.
“By persisting in its decision to hide away evidence of the struggles people are facing, the DWP will only have further harmed its reputation with disabled people at a time when – as its own officials have acknowledged – lack of trust is a major issue.
“In order to rebuild its relationship with disabled people, the DWP must stop trying to bury uncomfortable truths.”
A DWP spokesperson told The Guardian: “We’re providing extensive support to millions of disabled people and those with a health condition to help them live independent lives. As the research shows, health and disability benefits, alongside other income streams, helped to meet almost all identified areas of additional need.
“We are currently considering a range of policy options, drawing on wide evidence, research and analysis as part of the upcoming health and disability white paper.
“Protecting a private space for policy development is important and we had committed to publish this report as soon as this policy work concluded.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.