The number of new incapacity benefit claimants will be halved under a tougher medical assessment announced today by work and pensions secretary Peter Hain. It will come into force next year under the government’s shake-up of the benefit.
According to research commissioned by the Department of Work and Pensions the new test, along with a change in benefit rules, will mean around 20,000 people a year will be reclassified as job seekers. The move accompanies the replacement of incapacity benefit itself by the employment and support allowance, designed to ensure more people move into work.
Peter Hain said the work capability assessment, which will replace the current personal capability assessment, was more focused on people’s capabilities rather than their incapabilities, adding: “It will offer advice on the type of help and support a person may need so that they can find sustainable work.”
However, Guy Parckar, policy manager for Leonard Cheshire Disability, said: “Without appropriate support those people who rely solely on benefits could be left living in poverty, with no route out.”
Under the employment and support allowance more people with learning disabilities will be required to attend face-to-face interviews rather than submitting documentation. Parckar said: “The very high number of successful appeals against refusal of incapacity benefit suggests that there are problems with the quality of assessments. Doctors will need to be able to properly understand the full spectrum of learning disability. In a time of stretched budgets and fewer benefits staff there is a concern whether people will get the assessment they need.”
The DWP estimate that there are 2.64m people of working age who are claiming incapacity benefits at a cost last year of £12.5bn.