A COURT has heard that the Government’s decision not to extend the £20 uplift to universal credit (UC) to those on “legacy” benefits was a “radical and unprecedented departure” from decades of policy.

Claimants on UC received the uplift, but not those on older benefits such as Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA), which campaigners say disproportionately affected disabled people.

If the High Court in London rules it was unfair to exclude these claimants from receiving extra pandemic support, more than two million of them could each be due £1500 in back payments.

The case involves four disabled people, including independence campaigner Martin Keatings (below), from Fife, who is a disabled carer for his mother, and Lynn Pinfield, from West Lothian, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and cannot work.

The National:

Keatings told The National: “The decision by the DWP not to extend the Covid uplift to legacy benefits was merely a cynical attempt to try and screw over two million people.

“In order to ensure income protection, legacy claimants must be transitioned by the DWP. A new application for universal credit initiated by a claimant would see no protection during the transfer, the likelihood of benefits being slashed and a six-week waiting period during a pandemic, where they would have no income and face uncertainty about what they would actually receive.

“Of course, they could not then go back to the legacy benefit if the DWP took the opportunity to cut them off at the knees.”

“The fundamental fact of this case is that the living expenses proportion of ESA, Income Support and JSA, is equivalent to that of Universal Credit.

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“Therefore the same test should have been applied to ESA, Income Support and JSA as was done with Universal Credit. The same uplift should have been applied to both groups of claimants. For my part, I am an income support claimant, an award I have because I am a full-time carer on carers’ allowance.

“I don’t ask for special treatment, only fair treatment for myself and my two million brothers and sisters in the same situation.

“It’s first and foremost about fairness.”

In a statement before the hearing, Pinfield said it was blatant discrimination against disabled people.

“Everyone on benefits should be treated equally,” she said. “They have made me feel like disabled people don’t matter.”

Jamie Burton QC argued that the difference in the claimants’ treatment was incompatible with their human rights, saying a written submission: “This radical and unprecedented departure from many decades of policy intent, achieved with almost no democratic scrutiny and limited analysis of the consequences, has meant hundreds of thousands of seriously disabled people, already disproportionately affected by poverty, have had to get by on historically low rates of subsistence payments during a pandemic that has caused a significant rise in the cost of living for low-income families and disabled people in particular.”

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He said deprivation induced by the pandemic had disproportionately affected disabled people and that those on means-tested benefits are “significantly more likely” to be on legacy benefits rather than UC.

Edward Brown, for the DWP, said the UC uplift was “an appropriate and effective response to the emergency facing society in the period since March 2020”.

Several campaign groups have supported those involved in the case, including Mind, whose policy and campaigns manager Paul Spencer, said: “People in receipt of benefits told us they do not feel hopeful about their future. This is unacceptable.”

The case, which is being heard by Mr Justice Swift, is due to end today.