The effects of welfare reforms on people with learning disabilities

The welfare benefits system is about to see widespread reforms that will affect the lives and experiences of all welfare claimants. These experiences will vary according to claimant group, with the potential for worrying changes to hit disadvantaged groups within society the hardest. This post explores the potential difficulties that people with a learning disability and their carers will face with the onset of welfare reforms and the transition to Universal Credit.

The principle aim of Universal Credit is to create a simplified benefits system that consolidates a number of means-tested benefits into a single monthly payment. Many sections of society will see this as a big improvement as they will have to deal with a single system to work out their entitlements. However, Universal Credit will not include Disability Living Allowance (DLA), Personal Independence Payments (PIP) or Carer’s Allowance within its consolidated system. This means that disabled people will continue to have to navigate multiple benefits and assessment systems to ensure they get the support they are entitled to.

The big changes that come with the introduction of Universal Credit and the benefits that it does not cover, coupled with the complications arising from the roll out of PIP, means that the next year could be very complicated for disabled people. This is further complicated by the lack of suitable information available on the changes in accessible formats. Easy-read guides often only cover certain parts of the reforms, and are often not correctly formatted, meaning that people with a learning disability may still struggle to understand them. Sentence structures are too complicated at times and photo-symbols are rarely used effectively. Deviation from standard easy-read formatting means that people with a learning disability may struggle to understand the changes being introduced.

The incoming welfare reforms will have varying effects across the spectrum of learning disability, but both high need and low to medium need individuals will face important changes to the support they are given.

The allocation and simplification of disability support within the Universal Credit system means that some may see significant cuts to the financial support that they receive. The loss of the Severe Disability Premium under Universal Credit will cost people with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities (PMLD) who do not have a paid carer over £58 a week, leaving them around £3000 a year worse off. [Mencap: ‘Benefit changes: the Welfare Reform Act 2012’]

People with a learning disability with lower care needs face increased difficulty in qualifying for PIP and other disability related benefits, decreasing potential income whilst continuing to face the difficulties of finding suitable employment with a decent pay rate. Changing policies within disability benefits assessments mean that some people with a learning disability could lose support altogether, meaning they have to rely solely on Universal Credit which may not cater to their specific needs.

The bedroom tax poses significant problems for people with a learning disability, particularly for those with low-mid care needs. Many people with a learning disability make use of their spare bedroom to facilitate informal overnight care arrangements. Some people with a learning disability may not require overnight care every night, and therefore paying for formal overnight care arrangements may not suit their needs. The bedroom tax will in many cases force people with learning disabilities to downsize and lose their spare rooms, making informal care systems harder to facilitate and potentially worsening their condition.

The introduction of Universal Credit is part of a wider plan to reform the welfare benefits system, and the move towards dealing with households as opposed to individuals could be quite worrying for families of people with learning disabilities. The current household definitions that will be used for the distribution of Universal Credit means that families with an adult with learning disabilities will see their household cut in half by the new system, as single adults will be considered as an individual household regardless of personal needs. This means that the families of an adult child with a learning disability could lose their entitlement to the carer component of Universal Credit. This will decrease much needed financial support for families that have to continue to support their children into adulthood due to their condition. [Mencap: ‘Benefit changes: the Welfare Reform Act 2012’]

The benefit system is undergoing massive changes that will affect the lives of all claimants. These changes will be especially difficult for people with a learning disability to navigate. A lack of accessible information regarding the changes may mean that many people will struggle to understand how the changes will affect them. There are also issues with how people with learning disabilities are ‘defined’ within a number of these reforms.

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