Caring for children is one of the most fulfilling experiences an adult can have, and, of course, it wouldn’t be so rewarding if it wasn’t for the hurdles, the massive challenges that parents and carers encounter along the way. Let’s face it, being a carer is tough. Add to that the responsibilities associated with providing a happy, safe, stimulating and supportive family environment for a child or children challenged with physical disabilities, or SEND, behavioural or development difficulties. There’s no less love, no less joy, but in many cases there’s a lot more complexity to navigate, including challenges with communication, comprehension, vision, hearing and/or physical functioning.
A recent report highlighted that, on average, families with disabled children face extra costs of £581 a month, and for a quarter of families this rises to over £1,000. In many cases welfare benefits geared specifically to helping with the extra demands and special care needs of children are available, however these benefits are massively underclaimed. One such benefit is Disabled Living Allowance (DLA) for Children. Unlike DLA for adults which is being phased out and replaced by Personal Independence Payment (PIP), and Attendance Allowance for adults over pensionable age, the DLA benefit for children currently remains intact.
So why are families not getting access to DLA?
Sometimes not applying for DLA is just a decision that families make. That might be because of a reluctance to be seen ‘to be paid’ to look after their child or children – understandable, but the benefit is there to support with the extra costs of looking after a child under 16 who has difficulties walking, or who needs much more looking after than a child of the same age who does not have a disability, so that extra income can really help.
Families can understandably feel quite daunted with the prospect of the 38 page application for DLA for children for which existing guidance is complicated and limited, resulting in a decision not to apply. Those who do apply and fail, often because they haven’t had the support they need to express their circumstances in line with the DWP guidelines, will understandably then give up. However, an appeals process does exist and applicants should be encouraged to try again, with the right support, so we need to make sure they know where to turn for help.
First and foremost, does the family actually know that DLA is available to help them? Many unfortunately don’t. Our mission at Society Matters is to put that right, by building the knowledge of the support systems of the potential of DLA – and other welfare benefits – and to help raise awareness of how to successfully apply for the benefit, to reduce this problem.
We also know that some families assume that they won’t be entitled to the benefit as they think their current income, savings or capital would preclude them from doing so. In fact DLA for Children is not a means-tested benefit so these factors aren’t taken into account, providing a level playing field for all families when applying for the benefit.
Some parents and carers also believe that the benefit won’t apply to them as their child doesn’t have a physical disability, but in fact DLA also supports children with learning or SEND, behavioural or development difficulties. The key factor for meeting the DWP criteria for DLA for children is an ability to demonstrate that the child needs substantially more care, attention or supervision than other children of the same age who don’t have a disability or health condition.
Families also sometimes believe they need to wait until they have a final diagnosis to make an application, particularly with younger children who will struggle to express their needs and frustrations and how they are feeling. Although a diagnosis will help with evidencing the condition, some conditions can take extended periods to diagnose fully, so a claim can still be made in advance of this.
Often in the case of younger children awards can be at a lower level for the care and mobility elements that make up DLA, as more investigation is needed on their conditions by the professionals that are involved in the child’s development. When further evidence is available, supporting a claim that the child may be entitled to a higher rate, there can be a reticence from families to pursue an increased level of benefit in case this results in loss of the initial award altogether. Again this is understandable, but with the right support available to the family this risk is significantly lowered.
So why does the system need to support families to access DLA for children?
As well as the obvious financial benefits that come with benefit awards to meet the extra support needs of children, a successful DLA for children application can actually open doors to other benefits and vital support for families such as blue badges, carers allowance, a Motability car and exemption from the benefit cap. This needs to be understood by families before they make a choice not to make a claim.
The hard fact in a report published by Public Health England 2012 is that children and young people with a disability are more likely to live in poverty than those without a disability. Disabled children have, for a long time, had poor experiences using the welfare system. Difficulty in accessing benefits and delays in payments have often left disabled children financially insecure. So help is critical. A successful DLA for children application can make a huge difference for the family and the child, making sure their needs are met not just at this time but as they progress into adulthood.
You can make your mark
If you’re a professional that may be in a position to support families to understand their potential entitlement for DLA, and would love to be able to make your mark by helping them to make a successful application, we can help. Society Matters cic has designed a half day training workshop, ‘Get to Grips with DLA for children’. Find out more about the course here
In light of the ending of the eviction ban which was put in place to protect tenants from eviction during the pandemic, people need more support now than ever to stay in their homes, so Society Matters cic has designed another social welfare training course in response – ‘Housing Matters’.
The effect of Covid-19 is still very real for millions of people, with their financial position being more fragile than ever before. Many people who, before last March, were just about coping are now facing poverty, and those already suffering are being hit even harder. Society Matters wants to share the knowledge its parent charity has of housing matters, to maximise the support available to people at the earliest possible opportunity, rather than when they face crisis and, worst case scenario, eviction.
Jayne Graham MBE, Executive Director of Society Matters cic, explains
“The direct link between housing matters and physical and mental health makes housing a critical factor in achieving a life well lived. A safe, secure roof over their heads is the linchpin families need to be able to thrive but, for many, significant instability comes from housing challenges, some of which can be avoided with access to the right information at the right time. We’re proud to be launching our half day Housing Matters workshop training, priced at only £35 + vat hopefully we’ll be able to get plenty of people trained to support people who need help, at the time they need it most.”
To find out more about the Housing Matters workshop training click here.
If you find yourself in urgent need of housing advice and information please contact Citizens Advice national Adviceline on 0800 144 8848
How did we get here?
Last April, in an early attempt to respond to the impact of Covid-19, the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, introduced a temporary uplift for Universal Credit claimants of £20 a week. That might not sound like much in the scheme of things, you’d think? Wrong. it’s had such an impact on the families that have received it, that the potential of having it taken away would now be too much to bear. £20 a week means money in utility metres, food on the table, activities for families stuck at home. It’s a life-changing amount of money for families who are only just coping, or already experiencing daily deprivation in their lives.
The temporary extension
To the relief of many charities, campaigners and, of course, UC benefit claimants, the Chancellor announced in his Budget speech last week that the £20 a week uplift introduced last April was to be extended a further 6 months. To help mitigate the impact of coronavirus on household finances the uplift, which was due to end on 31 March, will now remain in place until September. The Chancellor also confirmed working tax credit claimants would receive equivalent support over the next six months through a one-off payment of £500.
But with the UC uplift extension have we just kicked the can further down the street and will the uplift need to be extended or indeed made permanent beyond September?
Surging unemployment has led to a massive increase in UC claimants
The number of people claiming Universal Credit in the UK has doubled since the start of the pandemic, surging from 3 million in March 2020 to 6 million at the start of this year. Around 446 people were still making new claims every hour in the first week of January 2021, and a total of 4.5 million people have made a claim for the benefit since the start of the public health crisis. The statistics reflect the scale of the hardship caused by Covid-19. This has been laid bare with new figures showing that more than a third of claims since Universal Credit was introduced in April 2013 have been made during the COVID19 pandemic.
Moreover, the number of people on company payrolls has fallen by 726,000 during the same period according to the Office for National Statistics, and the unemployment rate reached a five-year high in December. There is no doubt the £20 uplift has provided a safety net for people that have been made redundant or the self employed who have seen their profits drop due to lockdowns and social distancing measures. This is a very bad state of affairs indeed, that we predict will get worse before it gets better.
Why the £20 uplift proves so vital?
Over 620,000 families with children have started claiming Universal Credit since the start of the pandemic, marking a 51 per cent increase. Two thirds of the families now receiving Universal Credit are single parent families, and around 90 per cent of single parents are women. Analysis by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) last year concluded that withdrawing the temporary increase in March risked sweeping 700,000 more people, including 300,000 more children, into poverty.
With the current uplift lifeline in place, Citizens Advice estimated that lockdown debts have already reached £1.6 billion, 2 million households are behind on their energy bills and half a million tenants are behind an average of £730 on their rent. Citizens Advice research showed that the £20 a week uplift equates is the equivalent of 3 days food shopping and almost 7 days of energy costs for many households. With the announcement by Ofgem that energy bills are to rise by £96 to £1,138 a year in April for households on standard or default tariffs combined with the fact we already have higher energy costs due to being confined to our homes and the children having being at home due to schools being shut. Many have already found themselves in a perfect storm of fuel and food poverty due to these factors and the recent cold weather snap.
The loss of the uplift at the end of March would have proved devastating not just for families on Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits, but to the economy as a whole; it was estimated that the uplift alone is pumping £500 million a month into local economies at a time when they find themselves on life support due to many high street shops being closed.
What next for the £20 lifeline?
At this time, it is unclear whether the £20 uplift will be extended beyond September. With the vaccine roll out proving successful so far and infection rates dropping it is hard to gauge what will happen when lockdown ends and how quickly people can get back to work. It is difficult to predict how swiftly the economy can bounce back and if we will see a rise in redundancies again as the furlough or job retention scheme winds down similarly to what we witnessed last year as the rates the government paid to businesses were gradually reduced.
The chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on poverty, Kevin Hollinrake, recently recommended that “There is a compelling case for making the uplift permanent.” The Trussell Trust found that before the pandemic struck 70% of Universal Credit claimants had experienced debt during the 5 weeks wait for the initial payment of the benefit. They also found out from their survey that only 8% of respondents said their full Universal Credit payment covered their cost of living and only 5% of people who said they were disabled or had ill-health said their full Universal Credit payment covered their cost of living.
The Government has expressed on multiple occasions that the uplift is ‘temporary’ and impossible to sustain. We say families livelihoods will be impossible to sustain without it.
Let’s hope social responsibility takes hold before the Autumn.
As a proud non-exec Director of social enterprise Society Matters cic I’m on a mission to make a difference. Alongside my talented co-Directors, our wonderful staff team and our parent charity Citizens Advice Gateshead, we have a vision of a fair society for all, with lives well lived.
So what does that mean? To me, that means we are determined to help people in need to achieve their potential in life, to help families living in poverty, with disadvantage and deprivation, to become more self-reliant, resilient and move towards a lifestyle that is stable and secure.
You might say – “well good luck with that” – and yes, it is a huge job.
And it is one that is becoming more challenging daily while Covid takes its toll and employment – life itself – is ever more precarious. Even people who are in employment are struggling to make ends meet and dealing with insecure jobs.
So, to achieve our ambition we have looked really closely at the part Society Matters cic can play – how our small but perfectly formed team can help to support people on a journey that leads to them ultimately supporting themselves.
Mobilising lived experience and specialist knowledge into the system
Proper support for people in need is crucial to enable them to emerge from poverty and avoid the traps that come along with it that often have long term impacts. Debt, health problems, fuel poverty, housing and the knock-on impacts on education and social isolation are only a few examples of issues that that put people in crisis situations that are difficult to get out of.
The Social Welfare system is there to provide such support but its complexities mean that people do not always get their entitlement and in many cases do not even realise they are eligible for benefits. Accessing support can be difficult and not for the faint-hearted. Not the best situation when you’re worried where the next meal is coming from or where you can get the bus fare to work.
So to help people access the support they need our approach is to mobilise the knowledge that resides in the advisers who deal with the complications of the system on a daily basis. The value of those experts, whose knowledge is second to none, and who have made a tangible difference to people’s lives, can’t be over-estimated. So those advisers have invested their lived experience and specialist knowledge into the design, development and delivery of cutting edge training which is now delivered in a virtual classroom by Society Matters cic.
This is not training you can get from a book or a website. It’s coming at social welfare problems from the people perspective – not just relaying policy and practice. If you are one of the hundreds of people who have received this training, you’ll have the tools in your toolkit to really help people to navigate the social welfare and benefits system, and to get the best possible outcome for them and their families through your work.
We need more people to be able to help more people
Like I said, this is a big job. So we’re on a mission to spread this acute, front-end knowledge far and wide.
On the ground, that means more people accessing the benefits they so desperately need, more people avoiding crisis points, more people moving out of poverty, more people taking the step from benefits to employment – more people reaching their potential. More people living their lives as well as they can. Isn’t that what we, as a society, should expect for everyone?
And of course, through the pandemic the public have grown a heightened awareness of the close connection between society and the economy. Through engendering more people with spending power the local economy gains, so we all gain. Did you know that in Gateshead alone in 2019-2020 the advice and information given to people by our parent charity Citizens Advice Gateshead gained £7.8m additional income, most of which will have been spent locally – mind blowing!
Just think what could be done across our region with a bit more know-how.
Knowledge is power – Society Matters is mobilising knowledge through its training so the Social Welfare system provides the means to progress for people who need and want to battle successfully against poverty. And it’s already working. Front line staff we’ve trained are picking up on potential problems with their users at early stages and averting crises like eviction and arrears, and people are being able to work through their disabilities because they have the right support to do so, because they’ve been helped in the right way to get what they needed. Critically, through mobilising knowledge the trained support staff feel confident and empowered in their work, and the service users relieved – what’s not to like in such a great result.
This is real social value.