Social security (welfare benefits) – UK Government assessment
Several permanent welfare reforms introduced by the UK Government, including the two-child limit, have adversely affected the enjoyment of human rights, in particular for women, disabled people, ethnic minority people and lone parents. Assessment and decision-making processes about benefit entitlement have been found to disadvantage disabled people. However, the Government introduced several temporary positive measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that have played a critical role in limiting job and income losses to date.
- UK-wide reforms to social security introduced in the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016 – including the benefit cap, two-child limit and four-year freeze on certain welfare benefits – are having a disproportionately negative effect on the poorest in society, as well as women, disabled people, ethnic minority people and lone parents.
- A number of independent international authoritative bodies have expressed concerns about the impact of the Welfare Reform and Work Act on the enjoyment of human rights for certain groups. The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities found in 2016 that the Act contributed to grave and systemic violations of disability rights, including the right to an adequate standard of living and social protection.
- The two-child limit for the child-element of tax credits and Universal Credit has had a devastating impact on child poverty. It is estimated that, as a direct result of the policy, by 2023–24 300,000 children will be pushed into poverty, and more than half of households with three or more children will be living in poverty.
- The two-child limit disproportionately affects ethnic and religious groups – including Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller, Muslim and Orthodox Jewish groups – where larger families are more prevalent.
- The five-week wait for new Universal Credit claimants has led to financial hardship for some individuals and families. Evidence from the Trussell Trust shows that food banks see on average a 52% increase in demand when Universal Credit has been rolled out for a year in the local area.
- We share concerns that assessments and decision-making processes about benefit entitlement disproportionately disadvantage disabled people, with specific barriers for people with mental health conditions and fluctuating conditions. In 2019–20, 71% of the benefit decisions that were appealed at tribunal were overturned, an increase from 55% in 2015–16.
- Concerns have been raised about the methods used in the claiming and assessment of benefits, which it is argued have led to the deaths of a number of benefit claimants.
- In 2017, the High Court ruled that regulations introduced by the UK Government that restricted the eligibility of people with mental health conditions to the higher mobility component of Personal Independence Payments were unlawful.
- The UK Government introduced a number of temporary positive measures in response to the pandemic – including the furlough scheme, and the temporary uplift in Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit – which have had a crucial role in limiting employment and income losses to date. New Universal Credit claimants increased by 2.4 million between March and May 2020.
- However, there are concerns that the lack of a corresponding uplift for people on legacy benefits, the majority of whom are disabled, is discriminatory.
- Implementation of the changes to the state pension age continues to have a disproportionate impact on women, with the greatest impact on those born between October 1953 and 1954 and those on low incomes.
Read more about the UK Government’s actions on social security (welfare benefits).