Lib Dems slam MOT tests for claimants

A
new scheme to check up on disabled benefit claimants was the centre of a
political row today.

Liberal
Democrat Steve Webb told the party’s annual conference in Bournemouth that the
government was introducing the controversial new system "through the back
door” and said it would lead to people who were unfit for work losing out.

The
new system – dubbed as "MOT Tests” for claimants – will be piloted at
Jobcentres in 17 areas of the UK next month.

It
will require new Incapacity Benefit claimants to attend for work focussed
interviews at job centres before receiving payments.

They
will then have to undergo regular medical tests and repeat interviews every
three years.

LibDem
Work and Pensions spokesman Professor Webb said at a meeting with the
Disability Rights Commission: "It caused outrage when the government
announced these controversial changes without telling Parliament. Now we find
the changes will be introduced by the back door without any Parliamentary
scrutiny.

"The
government is threatening to withhold benefit from disabled people who are
unfit for work unless they come in to talk about job prospects. Given the many
barriers to work already faced by disabled people and the discrimination that
many suffer, forcing them to discuss jobs on pain of benefit is cruel and
unnecessary.

"Disabled
people who are able to work should be supported and not threatened. The benefit
system itself is a barrier to disabled people taking part time work. IT relies
too much on an "all-or-nothing” notion of disability.

"The
benefit system needs to be changed to allow people to combine part benefit with
part-time work. This would do more good for disabled people than  threats by the government.”

But
Work and Pensions Secretary Alistair Darling has rejected the allegations:
"I announced the proposals in July, so they are not being introduced
through the back door. I have just laid the regulations to allow a full
Parliamentary debate about this next month.”

He
said the move was about helping new claimants – not existing ones – into work.
A spokesman for his department added:" We will not force people to come to
Jobcentres who are not able to. They can be excused or we can visit them in
their homes.

"Many
disabled people will be happier and better off if we can find them work rather
than write them off on benefit. Already many Incapacity Benefit claimants have
to undergo regular medical checks. "

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