I recently watched a television documentary about people claiming
incapacity benefit. It had two main themes: first, that there has
been an explosion in the number of people claiming the benefit; and
second, that lots of them are on the fiddle – such as the
“incapacitated” man up a ladder cleaning windows. In fairness,
though, it did emphasise that not all those on incapacity benefit
were committing fraud.
As I watched, annoyance and a sense of deja vu washed over me.
Annoyance, because one of the programme’s implications – that the
past few years have seen a migration of the work-shy from
jobseekers allowance to the more generous incapacity benefit – is
not borne out by the figures.
True, there are more than 2.7 million people claiming incapacity
benefit, but this includes more than 900,000 who receive national
insurance credits, not cash, and more than 400,000 whose health is
so bad they are exempt from the “personal capacity” test. It also
includes those who in the past would have claimed severe
disablement allowance, which has been abolished for new claimants.
The 2.7 million does not show the steady drop in applications and
does not mention that long-term incapacity benefit has become
taxable, unlike its predecessor, invalidity benefit.
My deja vu came from many past stories which have tried to paint
all claimants as fraudsters; the ones that often appear before any
suspected rule change. I remember the stories of families having
huge rents paid by housing benefit in advance of restrictions in
the mid 1990s. I also recall the sudden references to older people
living the life of Riley in care homes they didn’t need to be in
just before legislation passed responsibility for this to
cash-limited local authorities.
Instead of blaming those who are not working, there should be more
emphasis on occupational rehabilitation. The experience of other
countries, including Australia, is that early positive intervention
and individual work-based support are the way to get people with
health problems back into the labour market. It would certainly be
more humane and productive.
Andrew Young works with Hertfordshire Council’s money