“I cannot survive on disability benefits. I have no money for food.  My home is freezing and sitting in shopping centres makes me anxious.  I do not know how I will survive this winter.” Disabled woman aged 25-29

Disability Action NI is the largest pan-disability organisation in the UK and Ireland. We are a disabled person’s led organisation (DPO) and an umbrella organisation advocating for the rights of d/Deaf and disabled people.  We provide services that are developed for and by d/Deaf and disabled people. 

1. To what extent are current levels of social security benefit rates effective in achieving the aim of alleviating poverty?

The following evidence outlined by Disability Action demonstrates that the current levels of social security benefit rates are ineffective in achieving the aim of alleviating poverty.  Research conducted by Disability Action has demonstrated that 8 out of 10 disabled people do not have enough money to have a decent life[1]. Disabled people face a higher risk of poverty and have done so more than two decades[2].   Energy for powering essential equipment such as hoists, beds, breathing equipment, powered chairs and monitors was already expensive, with the extra costs of disability estimated at £600 per month pre crisis[3].  Disabled people are trapped in a vicious and ever-increasing cycle of poverty.  Disabled people are 50% more likely to live in poverty and disadvantage than non-disabled people[4]. Households with one or more d/Deaf and disabled members faced large and disproportionately negative impacts from tax and benefit changes made between 2010 and 2018[5].  Disabled people are far more likely to be poor than the rest of the population[6].

  • One-in-three (33 per cent) adults in the lowest household income decile have a disability, compared to fewer than one-in-ten (9 per cent) of adults in the highest household income decile[7].
  • Around two-fifths of people with a disability (41 per cent) said they couldn’t afford to keep their homes warm, compared to under one-fifth (23 per cent) of the non-disabled population[8].
  • Almost one-in-three (31 per cent) people with a disability say they have had to reduce their expenditures on food, compared to 18 per cent of the non-disabled population[9].
  • A quarter of disabled people missed a meal because they couldn’t afford it.
  • Over a quarter are unable to keep their home warm;
  • A third of disabled people report have £50 or less per week, after housing and bill costs, to spend on food and other essentials. While 7% report having less than £10 a week
  • 55% of disabled people said they felt anxious, depressed, or hopeless about financial worries and problems[10].

There is considerable evidence which demonstrates the adverse impact of welfare reform on the right of d/Deaf and disabled people to live independently and to an adequate standard of living and social security[11]:

  • families, where someone has a disability, have lost an average of £2,000 per year as a result of changes to disability related benefits[12];
  • households with at least one d/Deaf and disabled adult and/or a d/Deaf and disabled child will lose over £6,500 a year (over 13% of their net income)[13];
  • those d/Deaf and disabled people claiming Employment Support Allowance and Universal Credit assessed as being in the work-related activity group in receipt of both benefits through the work capability assessment have had their income reduced by £30 per week losing their disability premiums within both benefits[14];
  • there is also some evidence to suggest that d/Deaf and disabled people have not only fallen further into poverty but also lost their lives as a result of welfare reform changes[15];

The evidence outlined above demonstrates that disabled people and families do not receive enough from social security to meet their needs and have instead to rely on food banks, miss meals and face considerable challenges in running life saving equipment.  Disability Action case work includes cases in which disabled people have referenced rationing access to life saving machinery due to increasing energy costs.

2. How should we decide on an adequate level of social security entitlement? (Distinct from the uprating process)

The Commission on Social Security[16] - led by experts by experience - argues that the current working-age benefits system should be replaced by a system that is no longer “guided by stereotypes and myths about Disabled people and people in poverty”.  The Plan for a Decent Social Security System calls for the following transformational changes:

  • Everyone would be treated with dignity and respect
  • Nobody would ever have less than half the minimum wage currently £163.50 a week - to live on, because of the Guaranteed Decent Income (GDI)
  • The Joseph Rowntree Foundation Minimum Income Standards for what amount of money is needed for an acceptable standard of living would be ensured
  • Child benefit of £50 per child each week
  • The importance of other factors in providing social security – good jobs, housing, childcare and so on – would be recognised and acted on

3. Benefits uprating

Benefits and tax credits were increased today by 3.1% in the annual uprating. This increase was based on last September’s inflation figure. However, since then inflation has surged, in large part due to the hikes in energy bills.  Inflation is at a 30 year high. Therefore, in real terms benefits have been cut.  This follows the £20 a week drop in Universal Credit last October; itself the most dramatic single cut in welfare provision for a generation. In the face of the cost-of-living crisis, these cuts could not have come at a worse time.

4. Alternative approaches

See comments above under section 2.  The Commission on Social Security[17] recommends a guaranteed decent income.  The Commission’s proposed GDI would:

  • replace Universal Credit and all other legacy benefits.
  • have no sanctions, no benefit cap, no five week wait and no two child limit
  • meet the Joseph Rowntree Foundation Minimum Income Standards for what amount of money is needed for an acceptable standard of living
  • include a Disability Supplement that would be separate to a new disability benefit to replace PIP
  • Introduce a new disability benefit to replace PIP, the Commission proposes a new non-means-tested benefit to cover the extra costs that Disabled people based on the social model of disability.

For further information contact Nuala Toman, Head of Policy, Disability Action at [email protected]


[1] Toman, N. et al (2022): Progress towards the implementation of the UNCRPD in Northern Ireland, page 11 (Disability Action for ECNI).

[2] Joseph Rowntree Foundation (2022): UK Poverty 2022 - The essential guide to understanding poverty in the UK, page 57

[3] See: https://www.scope.org.uk/campaigns/extra-costs/

[4] UKIM (2018): Progress on disability rights in the United Kingdom. p.21 (accessed 10 October 2021).

[5] EHRC (2020): The cumulative impact of tax and welfare reforms, p.15 (accessed 3 November 2021).

[6] https://www.resolutionfoundation.org/publications/costly-differences/

[7] https://www.resolutionfoundation.org/publications/costly-differences/

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10] See: https://comresglobal.com/polls/leonard-cheshire-disabled-adults-polling/

[11] UKIM (2018): Progress on disability rights in the United Kingdom, p.21 (accessed 10 October 2021).

[12] Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (November 2019): Cumulative Impact Assessment (CIA) of the Impact by Reforms to the Tax and Social Security System in Northern Ireland, see Section Heading 4.2 Impact by Disability Status of Adults and Children in the Household, pages 53-59 (accessed 5 November 2021).

[13] Ibid, p.88.

[14] UK Parliament (2019): Ten Years of the Work Capability Assessment (accessed 18 December 2021).

[15] The Guardian (2020): Errol Graham is the latest victim of a cruel system – we need a culture shift (accessed 18 December 2021).

[16] https://www.commissiononsocialsecurity.org/

[17] https://www.commissiononsocialsecurity.org/