Cultivating spaces for extraordinary artists

Artists & The Benefits Trap

The benefits trap and how it stops disabled artists developing their careers

The world of benefits is a murky misty place that once you enter it, it is hard to leave.
The system that was set up with the welfare state in 1945 related to a very different world to the one we live in now, especially for disabled people.

The expectations (and the reality) back in 1945 were that there were few opportunities for disabled people and ableism was the bottom line ‘pity and inspiration’
The concept of the benefit system as a way into supporting disabled into work with a safety net has never really existed in Britain. Our system is predominantly built on means testing which is one of the main issues trapping disabled people on benefits. There is no easy road between being on and off benefits.

The main benefits that disabled people receive are:

  • Personal independence payment PIP
  • Disability Living Allowance DLA was the predecessor of PIP and most people on DLA have been reassessed onto PIP or not!!!
  • PIP is not means tested so you can receive this benefit whether you work or not.
  • There are different levels of payment according to how disabled you are assessed as.
  • To receive PIP you have to fill in a massive form, be assessed.

Employment support allowance ESA
This benefit replaced other benefits like Incapacity benefit.
To receive ESA you have to go through a work capability assessment WCA.
You can do ‘permitted work’ while on ESA (more on this later)

Universal credit UC
The flagship benefit that the Tories love. It is not working out to be that great. If you don’t fit into a regular earning cycle so if you are self employed artist it can be very difficult to negotiate varied payments. UC is built around work. If you are unemployed there is a very strict schedule of job searching you have to fulfil with sanctions if you fail. The film I Daniel Blake was about the inflexibility of UC.

Since the Tories came to power in 2010 they have targeted the welfare budget and particularly disabled people to make cuts of £4 billion. What we have seen is a systemic system of targets to reduce the number of people receiving disability benefits. This hostile environment has caused great harm to disabled people with many suicides attributed to this.

The process of applying and being assessed for PIP has been heavily criticised by many bodies including the UN. The impact of the process is that many applicants are refused PIP on dubious grounds and on appeal 75% of applicants are successful, but many disabled people don’t appeal as they can’t take the stress of the process.
ESA has the work capability assessment and many disabled people fail this and end up on UC having to look for work when they are not able to do this.

ESA permitted work
ESA does have a permitted work scheme which allows a claimant to do up to 16 hours work/week earning no more than £152/week.

The problem with permitted work is if you are offered a grant or a commission if you are paid over the weekly amount your ESA will be stopped and it is impossible to get an ACE grant paid in instalments and many commissioners don’t want the extra admin of paying out weekly for months.

Permitted work can be assessed yearly but when claimants ask for this they are often refused and ‘don’t want to rock the boat’. This is clearly the answer for most opportunities for artists on ESA to have their income assessed yearly but it isn’t working out as the ‘magic bullet’.

The benefits trap has been a massive block for disabled artists for decades with no sign of improving.

Other countries like Sweden have much more flexible benefits systems that allow disabled people to come off benefits and work and go back on benefits, so life doesn’t have to be so punative for disabled people here:

Linking on from these benefits is

  • Access to Work A2W
  • A2W is a government scheme to provide access support for disabled people to work.

To be eligible as a self employed person you need a turnover of £6136/year

Please see full details at Disability Arts Online’s guide

So the catch 22 is how do you earn £6K if you can’t work or you can’t risk coming off benefits.It is also important to remember that other benefits like housing benefits are linked to being in receipt of disability or other benefits, so if you stop getting one you lose another, so the impact of taking paid work is a big one for disabled people

Mike Layward
August 2022