DWP claimants will be given a three-month deadline to move to Universal Credit once they’re handed a ‘migration notice’ – or their benefits will be cut off. Paul Farmer from the charity Mind says this could leave people behind
A mental health leader today voiced “huge” fears about plans to move 1.7million benefit claimants onto Universal Credit.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of the charity Mind, warned vulnerable, hard-to-reach people could be left out when the ‘managed migration’ process resumes – with “devastating” consequences.
Claimants of six old ‘legacy’ benefits will be issued a ‘migration notice’ with a three-month deadline to make a claim for Universal Credit, otherwise their benefits will be cut off.
The transfer of existing claimants to UC was put on hold due to Covid – but ministers plan to restart it this Spring, and complete it in 2024.
Officials will start with Brits on Tax Credits, before lifting a 10,000-claimant cap and moving onto more complex cases – including sick and disabled people.
But Mr Farmer wrote for the Mirror: “During this cost-of-living crisis, it is unacceptable for the UK Government to put the incomes of thousands of people with mental health problems at risk.”
The charity said around 700,000 of the people set to be moved over have mental health problems, dementia or a learning disability – making them harder to reach.
The Mirror reported in 2020 how one man with mental health difficulties, Errol Graham, was found starved to death weighing only five stone after his disability benefit was stopped.
An inquest heard the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) sent reminders to the 57-year-old from Nottingham, but received no reply so shut off his ESA.
Mr Farmer warned vulnerable people face “potentially losing their support altogether” if they miss the three-month deadline.
He wrote: “Mind is hugely concerned about the current plans for ‘managed migration’ which would see people given just three months to move over from disability legacy benefits to Universal Credit, potentially losing their support altogether if they can’t do this within the deadline.”
He added: “We are calling on the DWP to make sure no-one’s benefits are cut off as a result of being too unwell to engage with a new process.
“The DWP must set out a plan to protect people’s money and offer them support, otherwise the consequences could be devastating.”
The government’s Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) has already warned the change “creates a significant risk” for benefit claimants, many of whom have “complex lives”.
The watchdog is carrying out further scrutiny before a cap of 10,000 people can be lifted. DWP officials have insisted they will go “slowly” with managed migration to ensure it works.
A DWP spokesperson said: “Universal Credit is a modern dynamic benefit offering vital support to millions of people in and out of work.
“We have always been clear about our ambition to move people over from the legacy systems, which are complex, inefficient and based on aging, inflexible IT.
“Our ambition remains to see the rollout of Universal Credit delivered safely and on time by the end of 2024, carefully considering those most vulnerable and with complex needs.”
‘Benefits have been cut again – and we worry about what’s next’
By PAUL FARMER, EXECUTIVE CHIEF OF MIND
This week the Chancellor Rishi Sunak effectively cut benefits for the second time in under six months, by only announcing an increase to Universal Credit and other benefits of a measly 3.1 per cent. This falls far below the current rate of cost of living increases of around 7.7 per cent, and means that, against a backdrop of soaring household costs, hundreds of thousands of people will be worse off and have to make impossible decisions to make ends meet. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimates the Chancellor’s decision will pull 600,000 people into poverty.
The pandemic has taken a huge toll on the mental health of the nation, with the number of children and young people with a diagnosable mental health problem increasing from one in nine to one in six, and the prevalence of depression doubling, according to the ONS . Many people need support from disability benefits because their mental health makes it impossible to earn enough to financially support themselves. The Chancellor, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and the rest of the UK Government need to deliver a welfare system that is flexible and provides enough support to allow people to live independently without having to make gut-wrenching choices between heating their homes or putting food on the table.
We recognize that the £20 uplift to Universal Credit brought in during the pandemic to help support people who had seen a change to their finances or employment status was helpful to some, but this measure was removed by the Chancellor in October 2021, and was never extended to the many people on legacy benefits like Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), who never received any additional support. This latest announcement is yet another blow. We believe at the very least, the Chancellor should increase benefits in line with the cost of living hike.
In addition, Mind is hugely concerned about the current plans for ‘managed migration’ which would see people given just three months to move over from disability legacy benefits to Universal Credit, potentially losing their support altogether if they can’t do this within the deadline . 700,000 of those subjected to this process are people with mental health problems, dementia or a learning disability who currently receive ESA and are likely to struggle to engage with this process. During this cost-of-living crisis, it is unacceptable for the UK Government to put the incomes of thousands of people with mental health problems at risk. We are calling on the DWP to make sure no-one’s benefits are cut off as a result of being too unwell to engage with a new process. The DWP must set out a plan to protect people’s money and offer them support, otherwise the consequences could be devastating.
With people with mental health problems, those who are disabled and those already experiencing poverty among those worst affected by the pandemic, if the Chancellor and the rest of the UK Government is serious about ‘levelling up’ living standards, they must start by addressing these inequalities and increasing the support provided to those who need it most.