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BBC News – Incapacity benefit claimants reassessed

October 11, 2010

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Incapacity benefit claimants in north-east Scotland and Burnley in Lancashire are to be the first to be reassessed ahead of UK-wide welfare reform.

Those deemed fit enough to work, using a points-based system, will be moved to the jobseeker’s allowance.

The reassessment was designed to end the one-size-fits-all approach to those with illness and disabilities.

More than 2.5m people claim the benefit or its successor, employment support allowance, costing £12.5bn yearly.

Eventually everyone claiming incapacity benefit will have to undergo a medical examination to assess their physical and mental abilities.

It will work on a point-based system. For example, a person who cannot sit comfortably for more than 30 minutes will score seven points.

Anyone who scores below 15 points in total will be deemed fit for work and placed on jobseeker’s allowance, which in some cases could result in a reduction in benefit of about £25 a week.

‘Scandal’

Those judged capable of limited work will be supported back into part-time employment.

The government has said that the high number of people on long-term sickness benefit showed the system was not working.

Employment Minister Chris Grayling, who will launch the scheme in Burnley on Monday, said: “It’s nothing short of a scandal that so many people were simply cast aside to a lifetime on benefits, wasting their talents and potential and costing the taxpayer almost £135bn [since 2000].

“While some of these people will be genuinely too sick to work, there will be others who through no fault of their own were told by the state that they were better off on the sick and then left behind – this stops now.”

Terminally ill people and the most disabled will not be expected to look for work.

Test concerns

The pilot scheme will also affect claimants in Aberdeen, Banff, Peterhead and Fraserburgh.

In Aberdeen more than 8,000 residents claim incapacity benefit – some 60% for five years or more.

Mental health charity Mind has already questioned the effectiveness of the test, claiming that it does not “distinguish accurately which people can work and which people can’t.”

Sophie Corlett, Mind’s director of external relations, said: “Over half of all benefit claimants have a mental health problem, so it should go without saying that any fitness-to-work test should thoroughly assess mental health and whether it presents a barrier to work and coping in the workplace.

“However, many people with mental health issues have found that the impact of their condition on their ability to work is barely recognised.”

The charity called for “vocational and health-related support to get them ready for a job again”.

The full extent of the welfare cuts will be announced in the comprehensive spending review later this month.

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