Welfare Rights: Disabled children face slide into poverty

The proposed introduction of universal credit, replacing income support, tax credits and housing benefit, from 2013 could massively affect social work practice, writes Gary Vaux

One particular change will cost some families with a disabled child up to £1,400 a year – and these families are already more likely to be in poverty and using social services support.

The Welfare Reform Bill is now going through parliament so these proposals could change but this seems unlikely, despite furious lobbying from disabled children’s charities and parents.

At present, children who receive any rate of disability living allowance (DLA) are also entitled to up to two additional sums of money from child tax credits (CTC).

Under universal credit, however, families will be entitled to only one additional sum of money. For the most severely disabled children this will still equate to a similar amount. Those with severe visual impairments may even gain significantly.

But those who do not receive disability living allowance care at the highest rate will have their current payments frozen for years until universal credit catches up with the benefits they now receive.

Worse still, families with a disabled child entering the benefit system after universal credit is introduced will find themselves up to £1,400 a year worse off than current claimants. Over the course of a childhood that could total £22,000 for each disabled child.

The charity Family Action estimates that about 100,000 families could lose support as a result of this change.

Having a disabled child puts a family at much greater risk of being in poverty and many families in that position rightly make use of social services support to relieve the emotional and practical strains they face. If the income of such families is frozen, as a result of transitional arrangements – or reduced – those pressures will be greater than ever.

It is therefore imperative that we encourage as many families with disabled children as we can to submit their DLA and CTC claims as soon as possible.

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Gary Vaux is head of money advice at Hertfordshire Council. Please send any questions for him to judy.cooper@rbi.co.uk

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