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Disability and social insecurity: Exploring the impact of benefit changes on the lives of disabled people

The link between poverty and disability is stark: half of those living in poverty either have a disability or live with someone who does (Tinson et al, 2016). Disabled people often face additional costs incurred by purchasing specialist equipment or with additional costs for transport needs. Disabled people are also less likely to be in employment, with an employment rate of 52 per cent for this group versus 75 per cent for the rest of the UK population (House of Commons Library, 2019).

Changes to social security over the past decade have – in the vast majority of cases – reduced the financial security of disabled people, leaving many in poverty and isolation. New research by Tom Porter at the University of East Anglia, Charlotte Pearson and Nick Watson at the University of Glasgow, examines the lived experience of these changes for disabled people in the UK. The research team conducted 50 in-depth interviews with disabled people in receipt of Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Employment Support Allowance (ESA) or Universal Credit (UC). As well as highlighting the worsening of their financial security, findings point to an emerging hostile environment in the social security system, which has had a profound impact on individual health and well-being.

We summarise here some of the key findings.

The impact of new assessment procedures

A key part of the changes to the UK benefits system (pre-dating the new system in Scotland from 2018), was the introduction of rigorous new assessment procedures for those transferring from Incapacity Benefit to ESA or Disability Allowance to PIP, or for those claiming these benefits for the first time or making an application for UC. Under the new system, someone with a stable impairment or health condition will be routinely reassessed for their support. Our research found these processes to be highly stressful, with respondents feeling that they were not trusted and were constantly challenged. Respondents all talked about the fear associated with assessment and the associated risks of…

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