ESA was the principle sickness benefit paid to disabled people who are unable to work as a result of their health conditions. It is one of the six benefits that was replaced by Universal Credit but moving people from ESA to UC is a gradual process and there are still over 2 million sick and disabled people who receive it.
At the start of the pandemic, the government announced a £20 a week uplift to UC (which includes disabled and non-disabled claimants and people in and out of work) to help them with the additional costs incurred as a result of the pandemic such as increased utility bills and more expensive shopping trips. However, people receiving ESA did not have their benefits increased despite the eligibility conditions being virtually identical to people receiving UC.
Initially the government put this down to IT issues with the Work & Pensions Secretary, Theresé Coffey saying in the House of Commons that “Our older systems, the legacy benefits system [would take] quite some time, and I’m talking about several months, to get this to change.” However, over 18 months since the introduction of the uplift, the government has shifted its stance telling the High Court that “it would be contrary to the specific fiscal and social policy goals”.
Two claimants, represented by William Ford of Camden Law firm, Osbornes have brought test cases alleging that the failure to increase ESA in line with UC disproportionately affects disabled people and that the government failed to consider the impact of its actions upon them.
Matthew Hall, our Legal Advocate at the LIC commented that “it is understandable that given the government’s initial reasoning and subsequent changes in its position, people feel that they are using this issue as a means of moving more people from ESA onto UC. There are a number of reasons why people are better off on ESA such as the absence of the benefit cap and being able to continue receiving the Severe Disability Premium. This would appear to be a win/win situation for the government as they either avoid paying some of the most vulnerable members of society what they ought to receive, or they success in migrating people onto their flagship benefit.”
Photo credit: Twitter @benclaimant