How Universal Credit affects disabled people

Sharlene McGee

Last month we were invited to Parliament to speak to MPs about Universal Credit. We spoke about the barriers claimants face progressing in work and what help different claimants need. Our Policy Manager, Sharlene McGee tells us what happened when she presented evidence to the Work and Pensions select committee’s inquiry.

What stops disabled people from progressing in work?

Without the right understanding and access to resources, disabled people face a high level of job insecurity.

Our research found over seven in ten (73 percent) disabled adults in the UK said they have stopped working due to their health condition or disability. Of these, 26 percent say they spent six months or less in work after developing their health condition or disability.  

A lack of in-work support 

Workplace culture is crucial in determining whether a disabled person will be able to gain, remain and progress in work. Support structures need to be in place.

It is essential staff know what support they can expect from their employer. Particular tools may be needed to assert workplace rights and for a person to feel confident that this won’t put their job at risk.

Only 49 percent of disabled people are aware of protections in the workplace (ref 53). Approaching the conversation about requests for support can be very difficult. 

Access to Work

As well as support from an employer, people can turn to Access to Work. This offers provisions to support disabled people to gain, remain and progress in work by funding adjustments – eg. technology, travel and support - that go beyond what might be considered ‘reasonable’ for the employer to fund; and by providing direct advice and assessment.

This programme is vital given that, on average, disabled people earn 15 per cent less a year than non-disabled workers. This is equivalent to £1.50 less for every hour they work. (TUC, Disability employment and pay gaps)

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has also found that the likelihood disabled people will be in low paid jobs has increased. (Equality and Human Rights Commission, Is Britain Fairer? (2018)

Yet there are concerns that, in spite of the benefits of Access to Work, many who need it are not able to access it. In recent years, there has been no significant extension of the programme’s reach or funding.

(Reference: 33,860 people received a payment from Access to Work in 2017/18, while in 2010/11 payments were made to 32,810 people. – Department for Work and Pensions Access to Work statistics, April 2007 – March 2018)

Our research shows that only 23 percent of disabled adults in the UK who are currently or previously working say they have ever received Access to Work support.

Any delays in receiving Access to Work support needs to be urgently addressed as job offers may be jeopardised where delays in setting up support prevent the taking up of a new post. Continuous support for employers so that they have ongoing access to information is needed so they can confidently recruit disabled people and respond to the needs of staff who acquire disabilities or health conditions while in post. 

Sanctions and the work conditionality system

The Committee was interested to know if there is any role for sanctions and the effect on disabled employees.

EHRC research shows benefit sanctions are applied inconsistently. This  disproportionately impact certain groups including disabled people without moving them closer to paid work. Instead, sanctions often exacerbate many disabled people’s existing illnesses and conditions, particularly when it comes to mental health conditions. (Equality and Human Rights Commission, Is Britain Fairer? (2018)

Sanctions do little to change claimant motivation. Instead of helping people’s entry into work or progression in labour market, they feed hostility towards support services and worsen relationships with job centre staff.

There is also concerning evidence suggesting financial sanctions force individuals to take up jobs that are lower paid, more insecure and of poorer quality. This feeds a cycle of low attainment, embedding poverty and low economic activity in the long term.

In his recent report on poverty in the UK, the UN Rapporteur Philip Alston called out the UK Government. He referred to the impact of austerity and welfare reforms on disabled people. The Government must listen and take action on Alston’s recommendations. 

Disabled people have been the hardest hit by welfare reforms. There is alarming evidence that they are being disproportionately affected by welfare sanctions. A full review of the work conditionality system is needed. It is clear independent dispute resolution mechanisms must be available and fully accessible.

We’re really pleased the Work and Pensions Select Committee invited us to provide evidence on these issues, along with others representing Gingerbread, Working Families and Timewise. 

As a sector, we understand what works best to support people into work as well as progress in the workplace. We will be closely following the next stage of the government’s “managed migration” of people onto Universal Credit later this year. We hope our evidence will help the government to address the financial insecurity many disabled people face.

Our evidence

Watch our Policy Manager, Sharlene McGee present evidence to the Work and Pensions select committee’s inquiry.

Watch now