Protest at Government’s decision...

Poster: When asked what difference an extra £20 per week would make, a respondent said: I wouldn't have to choose between heating or food. #MillionsMissingOut Disability Benefits Consortium.

Today disabled people and allies gathered outside the High Court to protest the Government’s decision to deny millions of disabled people financial help to survive the COVID-19 crisis.

‘They made me feel like disabled people don’t matter’: High Court hears of DWP discrimination against disabled people during COVID-19

Starting today, the High Court is hearing a case brought by two disabled people claiming Employment Support Allowance (ESA). The case states the Government acted unlawfully by denying nearly two million disabled people the same emergency increase of £20 per week that was given to those on Universal Credit to help them survive the pandemic.

At the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, claimants of Universal Credit received the vital increase of £20 per week to help deal with the extra costs imposed by the pandemic. However, this vital lifeline was not extended to those on ‘legacy’ benefits such as ESA and Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), the majority of whom are disabled. This resulted in an increasing number of disabled people struggling to afford food, rent and medication.

Members of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) – a network of over 100 organisations including Z2K, the MS Society, MND Association, and Leonard Cheshire – rallied outside the High Court this morning to demand justice for those who were denied extra support.

Lynn Pinfield, 51, from West Lothian was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2018 and is unable to work as a result of her condition. She claims ESA, so was denied the £20 lifeline given to UC claimants. Lynn says:

“I absolutely think this is a case of discrimination against disabled people, and the High Court should find it unlawful. Everyone on benefits should be treated equally. They have made me feel like disabled people don’t matter.

“During the pandemic, prices were steadily increasing but benefits remained the same, which was a struggle. With everyone at home all the time, our bills soared – our electricity bill doubled – and I’ve had to pay it all myself with no extra support. I had to buy a laptop for my daughter to do her online learning, so could have saved that £20 a week to pay for it instead of getting in to debt to buy it.”

Anastasia Berry, Policy Co-Chair of the DBC and Policy Manager at the MS Society says:

“MS is relentless, painful and disabling, and many with the condition rely on benefits such as ESA as they are unable to work. It is utterly disgraceful that at the height of the pandemic, when disabled people needed help the most, the Government turned their backs. 78% of disabled claimants told us their financial situation worsened during the pandemic, with some forced to skip meals, fall behind on rent, or miss vital medical appointments as they could not afford to travel.

“Not only was this decision cruel, but it is clear that denying one group of people extra financial support is discriminatory and creates a two tier social security system. That’s why we are demanding justice for those who were discriminated against, and are calling for people on legacy benefits to receive a backdated payment of the equivalent amount given to those on Universal Credit.”

Ella Abraham, Z2K’s Policy and Campaigns Officer and Campaigns Co-Chair of the DBC, says:

“For the last 18 months millions of disabled people, single parents and others on legacy benefits have been discriminated against and struggled to put food on the table without the £20 a week increase those on Universal Credit received. We’re here at High Court today to call on this Government to put an end to this discriminatory two-tier social security system. We want to see backdated payments for all those on legacy benefits who struggled to pay for essentials during the pandemic. We also want Government to recognise that benefit levels are woefully low – Social Security income needs to be increased urgently so that everyone is supported to live a stable and dignified life.”

Ellen Clifford, on behalf of the DPAC, said:

“The Government’s failure to apply the £20 uplift to disabled people on legacy benefits was nothing short of discrimination. In so doing they chose to disregard the fact that disabled people’s unavoidable expenditure went up the most as a direct consequence of the pandemic.

“In the sixth richest country in the world no one should be left too poor to bathe, too poor to do their laundry, too poor to eat and to heat. This at the same time as disabled people have been in desperate fear for their lives with a minimum 60% of Covid-related deaths being those of disabled people and many of those on legacy benefits isolated and shielding for well over a year. This is one injustice that could be put right so easily and at relatively little expense to the Treasury by providing a back payment to those who lost out. It’s a terrible indictment that the attainment of justice once again rests on the backs of a few individual disabled people courageous enough to challenge the Government in the High Court.”

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