Who’s holding the stick?

The government’s proposals to change incapacity benefit have not
brought the uproar everyone expected. In fact, the plans have
received a cautious welcome from many observers.

But there are some areas of concern. The new regime will
distinguish between people with severe conditions and those with
more “manageable” problems. While those at the extreme end of the
spectrum will automatically receive more money, the remaining 80
per cent will be financially penalised if they do not co-operate
with return-to-work programmes.

The problem is that the arbiters of who is co-operating, and who
is not, will be JobCentre staff. Given that a third of incapacity
benefit claimants get it because of mental health problems,
benefits staff could easily label fearful, distressed or uncertain
clients as uncooperative. This ill-informed judgement could result
in someone losing up to a third of their -Êalready meagre –

There are better ways of reforming incapacity benefit. The
government acknowledges that fraud in disability benefits is
“extremely limited” and that at least one million recipients wish
to return to work. So what is needed is a genuinely appealing
carrot, without the clumsily wielded stick.

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