Today marks the UN International Day of Disabled People. Although the Government tends to pay lip-service to the day itself, the promotion of the rights of disabled people has reached a grinding halt in this country.
In October, the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that one in five disabled Britons have their rights violated. Twenty-six years on from the first UN day, disabled people in Britain are still unequal in almost every part of life; whether its access to transport, education, employment or vital social security support. And with the roll out of Universal Credit, things are about to get a lot worse.
Approximately 1.3million people have moved onto Universal Credit, of whom a significant portion are disabled. This system is the clearest embodiment of the Government’s austerity programme and is another vehicle for cuts to disabled people. In the words of the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty last month, the Government’s flagship scheme is “fast falling into Universal Discredit”.
The recent case of Emily Lydon shows the shocking reality facing disabled people under Universal Credit: a severely disabled woman, whose mother contracted the human form of mad cow disease, is facing homelessness because her social security has been more than halved under Universal Credit, despite being unable to walk or talk.
This is one in a long line of tragic examples where disabled people have been denied the social security they need under Universal Credit. In June this year, the Government was forced to back down on two billion pounds worth of cuts to the Severe Disability Premium, after they were found to unlawfully discriminate against disabled people by the High Court.
The Government has pledged to get one million disabled people into work by 2027 but under Universal Credit if a disabled person attempts more than a few hours of work per week, they face a reduction in the amount of money they receive. Under the old social security system, disabled people were able to work 16 hours without facing their payments being cut. Far from ‘making work pay’, disabled adults in work could stand to lose up to £300 per month compared to the previous system of tax credits. Many are unable to access any in work financial support, such as the Work Allowance, because of the innate flaws in the system.
Over the next few years, 750,000 disabled people will have no choice but to move from the old social security system to Universal Credit, under the Government’s managed migration plans. This could see many disabled people lose their income overnight. People will receive a letter telling them that their payments will be stopped on a particular day and they need to make a new claim. Disabled people are simply told to ‘sink or swim’ – make a claim before the deadline or face hardship. Not receiving a letter in the right format, or not understanding how to use the complex online claim system, could cost them their livelihoods.
The newly appointed work and pensions secretary, Amber Rudd, has dismissed the devastation caused by Universal Credit as little more than “teething problems”. But we know that almost one million disabled people will be made significantly worse off as a result of Universal Credit.
If we are to truly promote the rights of disabled people in this country, as the UN International Day of Disabled People intends, we must work towards a social security system that treats disabled people with dignity and provides the support that they need. In the interests of empowerment and equality, the Government must stop the roll out of Universal Credit before more disabled people are pushed into poverty.
Marsha de Cordova is the shadow minister for disabled people and Labour MP for Battersea