It has become clear, since as early as 2010, that radical cuts to welfare spending would be the centre-piece of the Government’s deficit reduction plan. The aim of reducing the benefits bill by £18 billion per year by 2014-15, was supplemented in 2012 by the announcement that a further £10 billion would be shaved off with a new round of reforms from 2017.

But to achieve this scale of reduction, the Government has to implement dozens of individual policies, top-slicing every benefit and tax credit that currently makes up the welfare state. It is a complex and ambitious plan, the impact of which the government has assessed using dozens of ‘Impact Assessments’.

These handy documents explain how much each cut will save, the number of people affected, and roughly how much they might lose. Some also give a breakdown by gender and disability. It is through these documents that we know, for example, that from next month, 670,000 people will lose on average £14 per week in housing benefit due to the so-called ‘bedroom tax’.

But these documents are useless. Worse than useless, in fact. Because they give us – the media, policy analysts and anyone else caring to look at them – the impression that we know what the impact of the government’s welfare reform agenda will be. But we don’t. And the government doesn’t either. This is due to the fragmented nature of our welfare system, meaning that many people claim more than one benefit and tax credit at a time.

As a result, the impact of the Government’s plan to cut several benefits in several ways will – inevitably – affect some households repeatedly. The government’s Impact Assessments only consider each cut in isolation, and cannot quantify this cumulative effect. And so the government has identified dozens of individual groups who will experience a reduction in income, but has no idea if they are actually identifying the same group over and over again.

We are witnessing the most ambitious reform of the Welfare State since it was created – shouldn’t the Government have a way of assessing its impact which is fit for purpose? This is particularly important for groups most likely to be on the sharp end of multiple cuts. Disabled people, for example, rely on a variety of different benefits and services, few of which have escaped reform in the last 3 years.

When campaign groups asked the government to attempt cumulative impact assessments, to better understand what the combined impact of several cuts was on disabled people, the then Minister for Disabled People, Maria Miller MP, said:

‘The ability to undertake cumulative analysis is limited because of the complexity of the modelling required and the amount of detailed information on individuals and families that is required to estimate the interactions of a large number of different policy changes’.

In other words, it’s hard.

But is it impossible? Supported by the disability charity Scope, Demos attempted a series of cumulative impact assessments based on the combined effect of 15 disability-benefit related cuts.

We were able to work out how many disabled people would be affected by each, and how much they would lose in monetary terms. We found, overall, that 3.7 million disabled people would experience some reduction of income, and, over the period to 2017 – when the next set of reforms are likely to be announced – they would lose £28 billion in benefits as a group.

That’s a big number, adding together several individual cuts. But of course, they aren’t spread equally. What happens to the hundreds of thousands of disabled people who we found would be subject to up to six welfare cuts simultaneously?

At the ‘lucky’ end of the scale, 88,000 people currently claiming contributory ESA (WRAG) will see a double whammy of having their benefit capped by 1% through the Benefit Uprating Bill, and time limited to 12 months. At the other end of the scale – a group we might call ‘the hardest hit of the hardest hit’ – at least 1000 disabled people (up to 5000) will experience 6 separate cuts to their benefits income before the next election. By the time the next round of cuts are due, they will be £23,300 worse off per person – this represents the loss of all benefits recognising their disability (ESA and DLA), and a substantial reduction in housing benefit.

In between these two poles lies the 120,000 who will experience some form of triple cut, and 99,000 who will have a quadruple cut. At best, these represent a loss of £6309 per person by 2017. But for those unfortunate enough to lose their Disability Living Allowance early on, and who also claim contributory ESA (WRAG), the combined impact of these and the CPI and 1% uprating cap will be a £23,461 loss by 2017.

For anyone, these are substantial sums of money. But for disabled people struggling with spiralling costs of living, such financial losses are life-changing.

Yet they are also an underestimate. We didn’t include in our cumulative assessments many of the reforms we modelled individually – such as the freezing of child benefit (affecting 1 million disabled parents), nor the closure of the Independent Living Fund (21,000 disabled people), discretionary payments to the Social Fund (945,000 disabled people), the 10% cut to Council Tax Credit (1.38 million disabled people), or cutting of Local Housing Allowances for private tenants (827,000 disabled people).

We didn’t include these as we felt we were unable to quantify the exact combination of cuts using publicly available data – this is perhaps the ‘too hard’ bit the government referred to. But the fact we were able to construct seven distinct cumulative combinations covering the primary disability benefits (DLA and ESA) and Housing Benefit, factoring in uprating, time limitations and implementation periods, using public data, suggests that a more comprehensive and ambitious analysis would not be beyond the capacity of the statisticians at DWP.

And it is critical that it is attempted. Individual Impact Assessments are all well and good when making a single policy change here and there, but when dozens of changes are underway simultaneously – 18 Impact Assessments were issued for the Welfare Reform Bill alone – this piecemeal approach is both inadequate and misleading.

Each Impact Assessment identifies a relatively small amount of money shared across a large group. On reading them, one might conclude that the cuts are being widely and fairly spread. But if we were to pile three, four, or more losses onto a single person - would we say the same? And yet this is the case for hundreds of thousands of people across the country. How can we judge the fairness of such a comprehensive package of cuts if we have no real overview over who will be affected, and to what extent?


View Table 1 – the headline figures from our analysis

View Table 2 – how the changes are combining to produce a cumulative impact

View Table 3 – for more detail on how we calculated the total figures


Sue Livett

Thank you Demos & Scope for this work, the need for a cumulative impact study on the changes is urgently needed, your figures and the other research the Campaign for a Fair Society has undertaken illustrate the extent of the cuts & who is at the receiving end. This comes on the back of the Learning Disabilities Observatory highlighting health risks to people who are no longer eligible for social care support.

Barb Cohen

Thank you, Demos and Scope for this work and article. I don't know if you are aware of the WOWpetition which is hosted on the government e-petitions site and demands a Cumulative Impact Assessment (along with an immediate end to the WCA and an independent, committee based inquiry into Welfare Reform. You can see it (and sign it, and share it, please) here:

Richie Villa

A very good and thorough, though very worrying, analysis of the situation facing many disabled people. Whilst I think that most people would acknowledge that no area can be 100% immune to cuts, it is glaringly obvious that a cumulative impact assessment is required from the government if they have any interest in creating any semblance of fairness in their policies.

Their continual refusal to do such an assessment can only lead me to the conclusion that they simply do not care about those people suffering such huge losses to their vital support. Labour also need to up their game significantly, and at every opportunity they should be demanding that a cumulative impact assessment is done immediately.

Rosemarie Harris

We need to get organised all the differant groups need to support other groups and be very loud about it. Protest outside these M.P's homes etc. Lets take it to them. If you can't physically can't do it write letters to M.P's ,letters to Newspapers etc. Take a look at the various websites. We can't live like this paying one bill at the expense of other bills it's all debt. When this rich government can live like the way we have to...Then they can say how we have to live.

michelle maher

Thank you so much for attempting the very complicated cumulative impact assessment, changes to support for sick, disabled and their carer's. We have created a petition backed by Francesca Martinez calling for the same thing. It is imperative that it is carried out to ascertain the impact of the changes on the most vulnerable. The government have a duty of care to those people which is being happily over looked. The multiple changes to support are shocking an it is essential that their impact is assessed fully.

Mo Stewart

The Hidden Agenda is a new report just published by the Centre for Disability Studies at Leeds University and affords a great deal more info as to the realities behind the UK welfare reforms:

alison salmon

How are we going to change things? The only people who read these articles are the ones that care and we seem to be a minority. The people these cus affect most feel so let down and afraid they cannot do anything. Major change takes major action but do we have the support in numbers never mind the courage.

Chris Housden

Thank you for this article and a very valuable piece of work. You have identified a group of people who are about to experience the multiple effects of government policy and cumulative assessment is the only valid approach to understanding the true impact. This applies ( though often less obviously) to many different groups affected by central and local government policy changes, and hopefully your example can contribute to the revision of approach to impact assessment required to influence a wide range of public service decisions.

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