- 2019 National Delegate Conference
- 25 February 2019
Conference notes that eligibility and assessment processes for welfare benefits and public services are rapidly moving to online platforms. For example, applications for Council Tax Support, Housing Benefit, Access to Work, and Universal Credit almost invariably need to be made online. Conversely, Personal Independence Payments (PIP) can only be applied for using a paper form, with no online option available.
Some disabled people use assistive technology to access and complete everyday tasks. This can include screen and text readers, speech input software and alternatives to standard keyboards.
For many, the online process has simplified the task of filling in a paper application form, but for those who rely on assistive technology they can find that their local software is incompatible with the online form.
However, disabled people who do not rely on assistive technology can also find the forms daunting, and the questions intrusive.
Conference further notes that Black disabled people are often particularly impacted by digital exclusion. Low paid Black disabled workers and those on zero hours contracts or doing manual or shift work may not have the financial resources to invest in digital technology at home and may not have access at work either. With libraries facing cuts, often the only option is a costly internet cafe which may be unaffordable.
Although government has claimed there has been assistance available to complete Universal Credit online applications through the ‘Universal Support’ contracts it has entered into with local authorities, housing associations, citizens advice and some local charities, in reality this can amount to little more than explaining to applicants that they need to complete an online form and assisting them to do so, when maintaining a Universal Credit claim is dependent on a constant set of online interactions through their Universal Credit ‘journal’. Conference notes that the government has now awarded the contract for ‘Universal Support’ to Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland, which do not have a presence in every local authority area and that the strategic role of local authorities in ensuring that advice is available locally and the valuable skills, knowledge and experience of specialist local voluntary sector organisations has been ignored.
Moreover, it is not yet clear whether this change is simply cosmetic.
Conference calls on the National Executive Council to:
1)Lobby the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to invest in further ongoing and comprehensive support, in addition to the arrangements with Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland, including recognition and support for of the strategic role that local authorities have and funding for voluntary and community organisations who assist disabled people in making and maintaining Universal Credit online claims;
2)Lobby the DWP to provide paper forms and other methods of managing Universal Credit claims as a reasonable adjustment;
3)Campaign for all benefit application forms to be accessible, and available both online and as hard copy documents, and for British Sign Language interpretations of forms to be available.