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DWP rejects own advisers’ call to up benefits to help two million through coronavirus pandemic

The Department for Work and Pensions (Credit: PA)

3 min read

Ministers have rejected a call from their own social security advisers to up the benefits of two million people to help them through the coronavirus pandemic.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) announced in March that Universal Credit and working tax credit claimants would receive an extra £1,000 this year to support them through the crisis.

But the offer was not extended to the 2.1m people still receiving legacy benefits, such as Employment Support Allowance (ESA), as ministers argued it would take too much time to implement.

In a letter to Secretary of State Thérèse Coffey, the Government's Social Security Advisory Commitee called for those claiming legacy benefits to be given the same cash boost. 

"While we understand the reasons for not including ESA and JSA in the original announcement, we are of the strong view that it is increasingly untenable for this group of claimants to be excluded and to continue to have a lower level of income than those in receipt of Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit," they wrote.

"We recommend that the Government finds a way to ensure that this group of claimants, that includes some of the least well off, are brought up to the same level as those in receipt of Universal Credit as soon as it is possible to do so. On grounds of equity, consideration should be given to backdating that uplift to 6 April 2020."

But Ms Coffey rejected the call, saying the Government had "no plans" to increase Employment and Support Allowance, Jobseeker’s Allowance or Income Support.

"It has always been the case that claimants on legacy benefits can make a claim for Universal Credit if they believe that they will be better off," she said in a written response. 

"There are special arrangements for those in receipt of the Severe Disability Premium, who will be able to make a new claim to Universal Credit from January 2021.

"Claimants should check their eligibility before applying to Universal Credit as legacy benefits will end when they submit their claim and they will not be able to return to them in the future."

The Cabinet minister said the department was unable to help individual claimants work out whether they would be better off moving to Universal Credit or remaining on legacy benefits and that they should use online benefit calculators themselves.

Labour branded the minister's comments "woefully inadequate" and urged the department to consider backdated payments to help people on legacy benefits.

Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Jonathan Reynolds told PoliticsHome: "Labour has consistently called on the Government to uprate legacy benefits to match the welcome increase in Universal Credit. It cannot be right that those on legacy benefits will be worse off at a time when family finances are stretched to the limit.  
"This response is woefully inadequate. Directing claimants to an online calculator rather than offering proper assistance is typical of a Government reluctant to take responsibility and slow to respond to this unprecedented crisis. 
"We urge the Secretary of State to think again and support the Social Security Advisory Committee’s calls to consider a backdate of payments to prevent more families failing into hardship."

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