Briefing 225

February 2018

Universal Credit: Implications for Families with a Disabled Member


Universal Credit is being rolled out and is planned to be in place across the country by the end of 2018. As each area is geared up for Universal Credit claimants will either be transferred from the previous range of benefits or, if new claimants, will automatically be offered Universal Credit from 2019.

The impact on families in or near poverty will be significant in that in most cases they will be worse off than under the old benefits system. Families with a disabled member (child or adult) will, in most cases, be significantly worse off.

This Policy Briefing is aimed at professionals working with children in areas where Universal Credit is being rolled out. Based on work done by the Children’s Society and Child Poverty Action group the aim is to draw attention to some of the likely implications for families with a disabled member in order that this awareness may assist in assessing or planning services for such families.

Universal Credit – what it is and what it was intended to do

Universal Credit is a new benefit for people of working age and is designed to replace a range of benefits: housing benefit, jobseekers allowance, employment and support allowance, income support and child and working tax credits. It cannot be claimed if someone has more than £16,000 in savings or if they are excluded because of their immigration status.

Young people under 18 cannot usually claim Universal Credit unless they have a child or caring responsibilities, are disabled or cannot live with their parents.

The original intention behind Universal Credit was to lift some 350,000 children and 600,000 adults out of poverty by increasing their entitlements, smooth transitions in and out of work, increase incentives to work and to help avoid both the unemployment trap (where people do not become better-off if they move into work) and the poverty trap (where it is hard to increase income by earning more, because benefit withdrawals offset increased wages).

These laudable aims have been severely compromised by cuts in benefits. It should also be noted that application for Universal Credit can only be made online - this may be a significant barrier for families with a disabled member.

The Impact of Universal Credit on Families with a Disabled Child

It is becoming ever clearer that Universal Credit as it is currently being implemented is having very serious consequences for families with a disabled child.

As a benefit Universal Credit is intended to be paid monthly in arrears leaving claimants with a standard 5 weeks without a payment before Universal Credit payment starts. It will be paid into one account in the household, not necessarily that of the main carer. Universal Credit will not be uprated in the next four years and will thus be worth less as time passes.

Families with a disabled child that are currently in receipt of some form of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) may be entitled to additional support under Universal Credit as ‘disability addition’. However, this ‘disability addition’ will be approximately half the previous DLA except in the case of a child being blind or having received the high rate care component of DLA. This is highly significant because families with a disabled child typically have a range of additional costs compared with families where the children have no identified special needs. These costs can include specialist aids and adaptations, additional clothing costs, increased travel costs, adapting a car, finding work compatible with caring responsibilities and/or the cost of child care being significantly higher for disabled children if parent(s) are able to find work.

The impact will be particularly severe for lone parents of disabled children who face additional barriers to work as means of increasing their income. Children in lone parent families already face almost twice the risk of poverty of those in couple families, with a poverty rate of 47 per cent (after housing costs) compared with 24 per cent for children in couple families. This is projected to rise to 63 per cent under current policies, undoing all progress since 1997.

Lone parents, and those with limited capability for work, under the age of 25 will no longer be entitled to receive the higher rate of personal allowance. Instead, they will receive the same rate of allowance as an under 25 year old without any children. This will reduce their entitlement even further.

Currently all families in receipt of Universal Credit are entitled to claim free school meals. As Universal Credit becomes more universal this is likely to change, making many families worse off and, potentially, blocking access to other support such as help with school clothing, trips or music lessons, or discounted access to leisure facilities.

As well as having even less money the implications for families may well be an increase in stress and anxiety, increases in health problems (particularly mental health) and, potentially, increased risks of violence and abuse toward the child in the family. In some cases families may feel they are unable to continue caring for their children.

The Impact of Universal Credit on Young Carers

Around 25,000 disabled lone parents are currently in receipt of the Severe Disability Premium. For these families with young carers, children (especially those over 10 years of age) were already taking on a very significant caring role. The majority were also receiving no support from local authorities or other outside agencies. The concern is that reducing the household budget of families further will mean that children will have to do even more caring, putting them at risk of even greater social exclusion.

Further Information

For further information regarding the impact and potential impact of Universal Credit see:

The Austerity Generation: The Impact of a Decade of Cuts on Family Incomes and Child Poverty, Child Poverty Action Group

Universal Credit, Children and Families, Backbench Business Debate Briefing from The Children’s Society

Holes in the Safety Net: The impact of Universal Credit on Disabled People and their Families

Government Consultation on Eligibility for Free School Meals and the Early Years Pupil Premium under Universal Credit, The Children’s Society Response


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