Right to incapacity benefit under threat

Mental health sufferers, disabled people and the sick could lose
their right to incapacity benefit forcing them into work if
Government plans announced last week go ahead, charities have
warned, writes Amy Taylor.

The plans scrap a clause in existing law which states that if a
person fails the Personal Capability Assessment (PCA) – a test
designed to show if a person is incapable of work – they are still
seen as unable to work if it is thought “there would be a
substantial risk” to their mental or physical health if they did

Martin Inch, a rights officer at the Disability Alliance, called
the Government’s proposals “sneaky”. He said that some people, such
as those with mental health problems, could fail a PCA but still be
unable to work because a secondary factor, such as stress, triggers
their condition.

While the government anticipate that the number of people who
loose benefit as a result of the proposed change “will be small”,
Alison Cobb, policy officer for mental health charity Mind, said
that this is not an argument for its removal.

“If it is a small number then that is equally a reason for
maintaining the protection,” she said.

She added that the clause is currently required to protect
people because of a lack of confidence in the PCA. Mind believes
doctors require more training and there needs to be greater
involvement of mental health service users.

“If after the PCA there are still going to be people whose
health will be damaged by them being seen as capable for work there
needs to be a safety net to identify them,” she said.

It is the second time the government has attempted to do away
with the clause. It was initially removed from legislation in 1997,
a move ruled unlawful last November after a person who had
previously been entitled to incapacity benefit took the government
to court.

Meanwhile, a draft of Europe’s first comprehensive disability
rights law was launched by Richard Howitt MEP, President of the
European Parliament’s Disability Rights Group of MEPs, last week.
The new law would extend Britain’s existing Disability
Discrimination Act to make discrimination illegal in social
security and in the design of manufactured goods.

The PCA is open to consultation until 7 April.

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