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Disabled People: Support for Shielding

Volume 688: debated on Monday 25 January 2021

What steps her Department has taken to provide financial support to disabled people required to shield during the covid-19 lockdown announced in January 2021. (911259)

What steps her Department has taken to provide financial support to disabled people who are required to shield during the national lockdown. (911262)

What steps her Department has taken to provide financial support to disabled people who are required to shield during the national lockdown. (911284)

People who are advised to shield and are unable to work from home may be furloughed. Those who are not furloughed may be eligible for a range of other financial support, including statutory sick pay and new-style employment and support allowance, both of which remain payable from day one of a claim. Where eligible, a claim may also be made to universal credit.

Many disabled people are on legacy benefits, which of course means they have not had the £20 a week universal credit uplift that has been made available. As the Government did not vote against our motion last week to retain that payment, I presume that they understand the value of retaining it, so will they now do the right thing and ensure that all disabled people have access to that extra cash?

We have shown as a Government the support we are providing, including over £9 billion of extra welfare support. Those on legacy benefits will have benefited from the annual uprating. Depending on individual circumstances, if a claimant would be better on universal credit, they can look to transfer over.

There are 2.2 million people who are having to shield. Many disabled people cannot work from home and do not qualify for furlough, and sick pay is only £95.85, which does not even come close to the definition of doing what it takes to look after people, which the Prime Minister tried to use on Thursday. May I push the Minister not to give the same tired answer about what he has done for other people but to answer the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) has just asked? When are the Government going to give support to disabled people so that they can be protected and stay at home?

The level of statutory sick pay is just part of the safety net; people may also be eligible for new-style ESA or universal credit, and for those disabled people who are looking to work from home, we have extended the support that is available through Access to Work, allowing for people to have additional support for their needs or equipment. That is something that we will keep in place beyond covid.

I thank the Minister for his response, but it was not very satisfactory, so I will give him another opportunity to give a more concrete answer. When will he end the discrimination against disabled people and offer the same uplift that universal credit claimants have been given to legacy claimants on employment and support allowance and jobseeker’s allowance, which disproportionately support the disabled?

Further to the principle that if a claimant could be better off on UC than on legacy benefits they have the ability to apply to go on to UC, as a Government we have increased support for people with disabilities through the main disability benefits by an extra £3 billion in real terms since 2010. We are proud of our record.

But people claiming severe disability premium cannot switch to universal credit; they are not allowed to. The costs facing many in that group have increased by more than average during the pandemic. Why is that particular group denied the £20 a week increase?

The SDP gateway comes to an end in a couple of days, so those claimants will also be able to see whether they would be better off under universal credit. However, as I said, it is part of the wider support available, and those with disabilities in particular will have benefited from the annual uprating increases in disability living allowance, personal independence payment and attendance allowance. That is how we have delivered the additional £3 billion-worth of support in real terms for those with disabilities and health conditions.

May I just say how utterly disappointing it is still to have no uplift to legacy benefits 10 months into this crisis? Since the start of the pandemic, shielding people have been an afterthought. The increased costs they are facing are doing untold damage to their lives, and the Government’s solution of claiming statutory sick pay is woefully inadequate. Will the Government finally do the right thing and ensure that shielding people and people having to isolate are furloughed? Guaranteed furlough from day one would help people stay home and support businesses up and down the country.

I would hope the shadow Minister welcomes the continued and extensive support the Government have provided through schemes such as furlough, the additional £9 billion in welfare support, and, specifically for those who are clinically extremely vulnerable, the second £32 million additional support provided through local authorities to help those following the shielding guidance. In these critical times, certainty is vital. Perhaps the shadow team should reflect on that with their random decision to try to cancel universal credit, which has stood up so well to support those people in the most need during these unprecedented times.