The Simon Heng column

Our benefits system is there to ensure that people who can’t earn enough money on which to live, such as most disabled people and those who care for elderly or disabled ­relatives, can survive. It’s the duty of any wealthy ­society to protect its most vulnerable citizens and the UK is certainly one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

But as any informal carer, or person with a disability will tell you, because benefits are set at or below subsistence level most disabled people’s families live at or below the poverty line. And with the system structured as it is, individuals and families are trapped by their benefits: any attempt by the person to improve their financial situation jeopardises those benefits, because most of them – apart from the disability living allowance – are means-tested, as is the care provided by the local authority.

Most people with a moderate or severe disability do not have the capacity to work full-time, and neither do many informal carers. It’s unlikely that they have the skills to make enough working part-time to make it worth losing income support, let alone risk losing entitlement to care provision.

Why should this be so?

The benefits system is based on the idea that those who can pay their way should pay for themselves – that benefit levels should be set lower than the amount people could earn, as an incentive to work.

This is fine when everyone has the capacity and the opportunities to earn a living wage, but it automatically disadvantages disabled people, who are among the most discriminated against in the job market and the workplace.

What if disability and carers benefits weren’t means-tested? What if disabled people were allowed to earn as much as they could, when and if they could, to supplement their income – and pay taxes on their earnings – without the risk of criminality, and adding to the economic activity of the country? The benefits system would be no worse off, and many individuals – as well as the country itself – might be able to raise themselves out of poverty.

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