Mike Hurdiss argues that disabled people already face tight
controls on claims, so why one more?
Disabled people’s anxieties about the prospect of “MOT”-style
testing of incapacity benefit entitlement have still not been laid
to rest. While it seems that what the government has in mind is a
programme of repeat, work-focused interviews rather than fixed-term
awards, it is clear that more frequent reviews of claimants’
circumstances may still be on the cards.
It is difficult to see how fixed-term awards or more frequent
retesting will provide any greater help to disabled people than is
Sick and disabled people cannot fail to understand the
government’s desire to keep them in touch with work, when
confronted with the prospect of routine compulsory work-focused
interviews. Even before the latest announcement for
across-the-board repeat interviews, departmental policy already
envisaged that claimants would be called to work-focused interviews
following the routine review of a person’s continued incapacity.
Even the government has now been forced to concede that claimants
do have their entitlement routinely reviewed.
The hidden message in these announcements is that incapacity
benefit remains a “soft touch”. Government briefers repeatedly
refer to the growth in numbers claiming and the huge cost to the
The truth, which has been overlooked, is that while those
claiming incapacity benefit may number 2.3 million, only 1.5
million people are actually receiving it, down 330,000 on the level
when the benefit was introduced in 1995. Expenditure in 2000-1 was
also £250 million lower than originally forecast.
The test of incapacity is widely acknowledged to be rigorous and
often harshly applied. Subjecting claimants to more testing is
unnecessary and will do nothing to improve claimants’ chances of
work. On the contrary, it will serve only to make financial support
for genuinely sick and disabled people less secure.
Despite assurances given by ministers in recent weeks, Darling
still needs to clarify precisely what the government’s proposals
entail. If additional testing is envisaged, he will need to explain
why such an approach is necessary at all. The position, to which
most reasonable people would happily subscribe, is that awards
should be appropriate in their duration, and that decision makers
should take account of informed medical advice and the
circumstances of particular cases.
Moreover, if sick and disabled people are to be subject to a
much more active regime of compulsory interviews, the government
will need to deliver on its pledge to provide better support to
those attending them. This will involve a focus on work and on
ensuring that people are receiving the financial support to which
they are entitled.
Mike Hurdiss is national benefits adviser and policy
officer at Scope.