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 –
    income.

    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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