Charities warn Duncan Smith: 450,000 disabled people will lose out under Universal Credit

Work and Pensions Secretary promised that there would be "no losers" under the new programme.

"There will be no losers," Iain Duncan Smith said of his Universal Credit programme in November 2010. But a commission led by Paralympian Tanni Grey-Thompson (interviewed earlier this year by the NS) has found that there will, in fact, be 450,000 - all of them disabled.

Its report, based on surveys of 3,500 disabled people and their families, warns that 100,000 disabled children stand to lose up to £28 a week; 230,000 severely disabled people who do not have another adult to assist them are at risk of losing £28-£58 a week; and up to 116,000 disabled people who work could lose £40 a week. If true, and the government has denounced the study as "irresponsible scaremongering", Duncan Smith's vow to "make work pay" will ring hollow for thousands of people.

The report, Holes in the Safety Net: the impact of universal credit on disabled people and their families, is backed by The Children's Society, Citizens Advice and Disability Rights UK. Here's what Grey-Thompson, who shares the title of Britain's most successful Paralympian with cyclist Sarah Storey, had to say about it.

The findings of this report do not make easy reading. The clear message is that many households with disabled people are already struggling to keep their heads above water. Reducing support for families with disabled children, disabled people who are living alone, families with young carers and disabled people in work risk driving many over the edge in future.

Labour has responded by reaffirming its call for the government to delay the introduction of Universal Credit by a year and one wouldn't be surprised if Ed Miliband chooses to quiz David Cameron on this subject at today's PMQs. Shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne said: "This report is another nail in the coffin for David Cameron's claims we are all in this together. The PM tried to hide it in the Commons, but this report lays bare the truth that he is snatching up to £1,400 from 100,000 disabled children yet offering a huge tax cut to millionaires. Disabled people and their families are being forced to pick up the tab for the government's shambolic mismanagement of our economy."

For the record, the Department for Work and Pensions described the report as "highly selective" and accused the commission of "highly selective". A spokeswoman said: "The truth is we inherited a system of disability support which is a tangled mess of elements, premiums and add-ons which is highly prone to error and baffling for disabled people themselves.

"Our reforms will create a simpler and fairer system with aligned levels of support for adults and children. More importantly, there will be no cash losers in the rollout of Universal Credit.

"In fact, hundreds of thousands of disabled adults and children will actually receive more support than now, including paying a higher rate of support for all children who are registered blind."

Laudable words, but the government will need to do much more to convince charities that the disabled, rightly viewed as the most worthy recipients of welfare by the public, will not lose out.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith arrives for a Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

Debunking Boris Johnson's claim that energy bills will be lower if we leave the EU

Why the Brexiteers' energy policy is less power to the people and more electric shock.

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have promised that they will end VAT on domestic energy bills if the country votes to leave in the EU referendum. This would save Britain £2bn, or "over £60" per household, they claimed in The Sun this morning.

They are right that this is not something that could be done without leaving the Union. But is such a promise responsible? Might Brexit in fact cost us much more in increased energy bills than an end to VAT could ever hope to save? Quite probably.

Let’s do the maths...

In 2014, the latest year for which figures are available, the UK imported 46 per cent of our total energy supply. Over 20 other countries helped us keep our lights on, from Russian coal to Norwegian gas. And according to Energy Secretary Amber Rudd, this trend is only set to continue (regardless of the potential for domestic fracking), thanks to our declining reserves of North Sea gas and oil.


Click to enlarge.

The reliance on imports makes the UK highly vulnerable to fluctuations in the value of the pound: the lower its value, the more we have to pay for anything we import. This is a situation that could spell disaster in the case of a Brexit, with the Treasury estimating that a vote to leave could cause the pound to fall by 12 per cent.

So what does this mean for our energy bills? According to December’s figures from the Office of National Statistics, the average UK household spends £25.80 a week on gas, electricity and other fuels, which adds up to £35.7bn a year across the UK. And if roughly 45 per cent (£16.4bn) of that amount is based on imports, then a devaluation of the pound could cause their cost to rise 12 per cent – to £18.4bn.

This would represent a 5.6 per cent increase in our total spending on domestic energy, bringing the annual cost up to £37.7bn, and resulting in a £75 a year rise per average household. That’s £11 more than the Brexiteers have promised removing VAT would reduce bills by. 

This is a rough estimate – and adjustments would have to be made to account for the varying exchange rates of the countries we trade with, as well as the proportion of the energy imports that are allocated to domestic use – but it makes a start at holding Johnson and Gove’s latest figures to account.

Here are five other ways in which leaving the EU could risk soaring energy prices:

We would have less control over EU energy policy

A new report from Chatham House argues that the deeply integrated nature of the UK’s energy system means that we couldn’t simply switch-off the  relationship with the EU. “It would be neither possible nor desirable to ‘unplug’ the UK from Europe’s energy networks,” they argue. “A degree of continued adherence to EU market, environmental and governance rules would be inevitable.”

Exclusion from Europe’s Internal Energy Market could have a long-term negative impact

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Amber Rudd said that a Brexit was likely to produce an “electric shock” for UK energy customers – with costs spiralling upwards “by at least half a billion pounds a year”. This claim was based on Vivid Economic’s report for the National Grid, which warned that if Britain was excluded from the IEM, the potential impact “could be up to £500m per year by the early 2020s”.

Brexit could make our energy supply less secure

Rudd has also stressed  the risks to energy security that a vote to Leave could entail. In a speech made last Thursday, she pointed her finger particularly in the direction of Vladamir Putin and his ability to bloc gas supplies to the UK: “As a bloc of 500 million people we have the power to force Putin’s hand. We can coordinate our response to a crisis.”

It could also choke investment into British energy infrastructure

£45bn was invested in Britain’s energy system from elsewhere in the EU in 2014. But the German industrial conglomerate Siemens, who makes hundreds of the turbines used the UK’s offshore windfarms, has warned that Brexit “could make the UK a less attractive place to do business”.

Petrol costs would also rise

The AA has warned that leaving the EU could cause petrol prices to rise by as much 19p a litre. That’s an extra £10 every time you fill up the family car. More cautious estimates, such as that from the RAC, still see pump prices rising by £2 per tank.

The EU is an invaluable ally in the fight against Climate Change

At a speech at a solar farm in Lincolnshire last Friday, Jeremy Corbyn argued that the need for co-orinated energy policy is now greater than ever “Climate change is one of the greatest fights of our generation and, at a time when the Government has scrapped funding for green projects, it is vital that we remain in the EU so we can keep accessing valuable funding streams to protect our environment.”

Corbyn’s statement builds upon those made by Green Party MEP, Keith Taylor, whose consultations with research groups have stressed the importance of maintaining the EU’s energy efficiency directive: “Outside the EU, the government’s zeal for deregulation will put a kibosh on the progress made on energy efficiency in Britain.”

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.