Disability benefits and support after coronavirus

The report 'Time to think again' has been produced in collaboration with the Social Market Foundation.

Through a combination of:

  • quantitative analysis
  • focus groups
  • semi-structured interviews

The report shows that the welfare system is failing disabled people, their families and communities.

Despite decades of reforms from successive governments, nearly half of all people in poverty in the UK are either disabled or live with someone who is.

The UK economy is missing out on all that disabled people have to offer. And reforms have come at an extraordinary cost to the taxpayer.

Report findings

  • More than 4 in 10 people (42%) living in families that rely on disability benefits are in poverty.
  • 92% of the public think the welfare system should ensure disabled people who are unable to work are not in poverty.
  • There are 1.8 million more people in poverty who live in a family that includes a disabled person than 15 years ago.
  • The number of people on a range of disability benefits is broadly the same or higher (depending on the benefit) than it was 2 decades ago.
  • The disability employment gap remains above 40 percentage points for many disabled people, including those whose primary condition is a mental health condition or learning difficulty.
  • The real-terms costs of disability benefits rose by £16 billion (48%) between 2000 to 2001 and 2018 to 2019. These costs are forecasted to rise by another £4 billion up to 2024 to 2025.
  • Reforms could boost the UK the Gross Value Added output by £50 billion a year and lead to Exchequer benefits of around £17 billion a year.


The Government should use its forthcoming Welfare Green Paper and cross-departmental National Disability Strategy to design a welfare system which:

  • lifts disabled people out of poverty, and
  • delivers support in a dignified, fair and respectful manner

The Green Paper should focus on 2 aspects:

  • short-term changes that can be implemented easily and quickly to improve the system now, and
  • acknowledging the broader problems of the current benefits system as it applies to disabled people, setting out a bolder vision of what the future system could achieve and committing to a process of more significant reform to get there

As we begin to adjust to life after coronavirus, tackling these issues is essential. We have already seen that disabled people have been hit hard by the pandemic.

Now is the time to think again.

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