Sick and disabled people are facing a “quadruple whammy” from the UK Government’s welfare reforms, a leading advice charity has said.
Disabled people in Scotland, and their families, could stand to lose over £1 billion in benefit payments, Citizens Advice Scotland said.
It is calling on the UK Government to examine the cumulative impact of its welfare cuts on disabled people.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Work and Pensions insisted that with about £50 billion in spending, the Government is “absolutely committed” to supporting people with disabilities.
Margaret Lynch, CAS chief executive, highlighted the four changes the charity regards as the “most damaging” for sick and disabled people: the move from sickness benefit to the employment and support allowance (ESA); the so-called bedroom tax; the replacement of disability living allowance with the personal independence payment (PIP); the introduction of the universal credit.
“This quadruple whammy is making life a misery for sick and disabled people in our communities. Many are affected by more than one and, indeed, some will be victims of all four,” she said.
Between 2011 and 2014 more than 170,000 people in Scotland who are claiming sickness benefit will be reassessed as part of the switch to ESA, with Citizens Advice estimating that 115,000 will lose money as a result.
It said 83,000 homes with a disabled person living in them will be affected by the cuts to housing benefit, dubbed the bedroom tax, losing an average of £11 a week.
Citizens Advice further fears that up to 100,000 people who receive disability benefits will be worse off as a result of the change to PIP, and that the move to the universal credit will also have an impact.
Ms Lynch said the UK Government has not yet “made an official assessment of exactly how many people are being affected by these changes and, in particular, how many are being hit by more than one of them”.
Raising the issue before a Westminster debate today, she said it is “therefore not clear that the Government understands the true impact of its policies”.
She said: “Today we are urging MPs to focus on this so that we can get a real picture of just how bad the crisis is.
“The people who have suffered most from the welfare reforms are those who were already the most vulnerable. This includes sick and disabled Scots and their families who have borne the brunt of these changes in wave after wave of cuts, reassessments and changes.”
Every week Citizens Advice Bureau staff “see disabled people who were already struggling on low incomes and who are now seeing their benefits cut even further, so that in many cases they are reduced to poverty and facing the nightmares of debt, arrears, eviction and food banks”.
She said: “We need the Government to understand just how serious the situation is for those affected.”
But the DWP insists that vulnerable families are being protected.
“There’s a lot of alarmist stories about our welfare reforms but the truth is this Government is absolutely committed to supporting disabled people and we will continue to spend around £50 billion on disabled people and their services,” the spokeswoman said.
“Our reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities and universal credit will make three million households better off. It’s only right we return fairness to the housing benefit system, and we’ve put personalised support in place and £10 million in extra funding has been provided for Scotland, so that families in vulnerable circumstances are protected.”