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Disabled people and cancer patients facing ‘exacerbated’ costs due to Covid-19

Disabled people and cancer patients are struggling to cope with additional costs as a consequence of Covid-19, charity leaders have warned.

Speaking at the Work and Pensions Committee virtual meeting on Wednesday, Geoff Fimister, co-chairman of the Disability Benefits Consortium, said disabled people faced additional costs incurred from limited shopping opportunities, transport and fuel during the lockdown.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Government introduced a series of measures to ease and speed up access to certain benefits, including increasing the amount people can claim.

While claimants can receive another £20 a week on universal credit, Mr Fimister argued this should be added to so-called legacy benefits, which were in place before the introduction of universal credit.

This was echoed by Eve Byrne, head of campaigns and public affairs at cancer charity Macmillan, as she described how patients were seeing costs “exacerbated” as a consequence of Covid-19.

She told the committee: “Patients are now needing to travel to hospitals perhaps further afield to access the clean cancer hubs that have been established in response to Covid-19.

“Similarly, because of their vulnerability, they are not able to use public transport and we have been supporting people who are having to incur costs with taxis.”

She said there were also additional costs for those who were self-isolating, such as with heating and food deliveries.

She added that it brought into question the adequacy of benefits during the pandemic and also called for the extra £20 to be added to legacy benefits.

The committee heard there was a significant increase in people using third sector services as more families apply for benefits during the pandemic.

Minish Patel, principal policy manager at Citizens Advice, said the charity’s website was viewed eight million times between mid-March and the end of April, and advisers are dealing with 32,000 cases related to Covid-19, of which half involve universal credit.

Poverty charity Turn2us reported a 438% increase in people using its online benefits calculator to check their entitlement, welfare and benefit specialist Anna Stevenson said.

Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, said there was an 81% increase of people visiting food banks in the last two weeks of March compared with last year, and a 122% increase in the number of children receiving food parcels.

While the charity leaders welcomed the Government’s efforts in helping people on benefits, some have raised concerns over the reluctance of some people to apply for the advanced universal credit payments.

It is a new measure which allows claimants in financial hardship to receive an advance payment before their first proper payout, which normally comes with a five-week wait. The amount is later deducted from future payments.

Ms Revie said: “People are anxious about payments and going into debt.”

To help relieve stress for families, Ms Revie suggested the Government suspends deductions for three months.

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