Doctors set to gain from helping benefit claimants into employment

GPs will be rewarded for helping people to come off incapacity benefit and into work, under the government’s welfare reforms announced this week.

The welfare reform green paper contains plans for GPs to be “incentivised” through their contracts to help people stay in or return to work by offering “specific interventions that improve outcomes with a direct link to incapacity benefit”. Employment advisers will be placed at GP surgeries as part of the plans.

The government, which wants to cut the number of people claiming incapacity benefits by one million, will replace the benefit with an employment and support allowance.

Under this new benefit, those people with more manageable conditions will be required to undertake work-related interviews, agree an action plan, and engage in work-related activity.
Those with more severe conditions will receive more than the current long-term incapacity benefit rate of £74 a week.

But those who fail to meet the terms of the new benefit will have their benefits reduced in a series of slices, ultimately to the level of jobseekers allowance – about £55 a week.

The proposals echo the measures on incapacity benefit reform outlined in the Department for Work and Pensions’ five-year strategy, published in February 2005. They do not put a time limit on how long people can claim the new benefit, as was feared by campaigners.

The green paper says the government will roll out Pathways to Work pilots across the UK by 2008.

It also says that some lone parents on income support will be expected, under a pilot scheme, to carry out work-focused activities in order to qualify for a new higher rate of benefit.

Mental health charities were disappointed with the plans. Mind said the government’s “carrot and stick” approach might force people who were still unwell to sign up to work because they feared losing their benefits.

Rethink said the plans did not recognise the “high levels of employer discrimination” faced by people with severe mental illness, but it backed the extension of Pathways to Work.

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