Disability MOT will drive claimants to misery

    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
    currently available.

    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
    state.

    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.

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