Incapacity benefit rates are pushing people into poverty, warns charity

Low rates of incapacity benefit are driving disabled people into
poverty, a Labour party conference fringe meeting was told last

The poverty rate among disabled people was a “staggering” 61 per
cent, said John Knight, head of policy at disability charity
Leonard Cheshire.

He said incapacity benefit equated to less than half the amount
earned by someone on the minimum wage in a full-time job.

And he called on work and pensions secretary David Blunkett to
substantially increase the basic rate of incapacity benefit.

Knight said: “Incapacity benefit is a benefit to replace earnings
when a person cannot work because of disability. As it stands it
does no such thing. The average incapacity benefit payment is
around £84 a week.

“If you imagine that payment as the equivalent of a nine to five
job, this works out at about £2.40 an hour – well under the
minimum wage. How many people feel they could live comfortably with
a job that paid less than £5,000 year?”

The minimum wage increased this week from £4.85 to £5.05
an hour.

Blunkett said at the meeting that it was “totally confusing” that
people on the higher rate of incapacity benefit were not entitled
to various add-on benefits and said the government would try
resolve this issue.

People on the higher rate due to the length of time they have been
receiving incapacity benefit, rather than because they have a
higher level of need, are not entitled to disability living

Under reforms to incapacity benefit proposed by ministers, people
with the most severe health conditions or disabilities will qualify
for more money than they do now.

Unlike the current system, the proposed benefits – rehabilitation
support allowance and disability sickness allowance – will
differentiate between people with severe conditions and those with
more manageable ones.

Knight said the media were “already licking their lips at the
prospect of backbench rebellionÉ and maybe even government
defeats” over the plans, but it need not happen if a good package
was offered by the government.

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