The Welfare State: A Hostile Environment for Black Disabled People

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2018 National Disabled Members' Conference
6 July 2018

Conference notes this government’s official policy of creating a ‘hostile environment’ for non-EU migrants who are predominantly Black. This attempt to make life unbearable for undocumented migrants manifests itself in a growing network of immigration controls across society, including immigration checks to access public services, welfare benefits, healthcare and housing. The Windrush scandal has demonstrated that the hostile environment extends to Black people who are entitled to live in the UK and to access public services. Black disabled people who are disproportionately reliant on the welfare state are particularly badly hit.

The welfare benefits system is already inaccessible for many Black disabled people. The Universal Credit (UC) application system is only available online and in English. Language barriers and higher levels of digital exclusion mean that a disproportionate number of Black disabled claimants find it harder to apply for UC and are more likely to be sanctioned for failure to meet claimant commitments. There are no adjustments in place for visually impaired people or for those with native languages that do not read from left to right.

Research by the Runnymede Trust and the Women’s Budget group has found that Black women are disproportionately affected by UC. Black families are also larger on average, and so are disproportionately impacted by restrictions to the Local Housing Allowance, the Benefits Cap, the two child limit and the freeze that has been applied to child benefit.

The roll-out of Personal Independence Payments (PIP) has seen many Black disabled people turned down for benefits that help them to live independently. Assessors are not always aware of the barriers faced by those with impairments that disproportionately affect Black disabled people, such as lupus, sickle cell disease and thalassaemia and the fluctuating nature of these conditions. In addition assessors do not always understand how people from Black communities express themselves, for example mental health problems may be downplayed due to community stigma.

Unnecessary residency checks are also being imposed on Black disabled claimants, leading to benefits being unfairly stopped.

Cuts to local government funding and to legal aid have significantly reduced the advice and advocacy services that are available. This, coupled with the hostile environment that engenders a fear of officialdom in Black disabled people, results in many either being unable to access advice and advocacy or feeling unable to approach advice and advocacy organisations for support and as a consequence they are less likely to succeed through mandatory reconsideration or the tribunal process.

Added to this, Black disabled people also face intimidatory questions when accessing other aspects of the welfare state, including the NHS and public housing.

Conference therefore calls on the National Disabled Members Committee to:

1. Campaign against the government’s hostile environment policy and its link to the provision of public services and the welfare state

2. Continue to campaign to stop the roll-out of UC and PIP and call for a fairly funded system that can be made to work for Black disabled people

3. Work with Labour Link and the Labour Party to seek a commitment to fair access to the welfare state under a future Labour government and an end to the hostile environment

4. Work with There for You to consider how UNISON can support members applying for PIP and UC and how we can signpost members to advocacy organisations where appropriate