Disability groups have expressed concerns that Conservative plans to reform the welfare system will lead to greater hardship for many claimants.
Under plans unveiled today at the party’s annual conference, the Tories would replace Labour’s existing employment support schemes by a single “work programme” for all people claiming out-of-work benefits.
Work support providers would then be contracted to help people to gain and stay in work, with payment based on results and different levels of funding for different types of client, depending on how difficult it is for them to find work.
However, the Tories said the £600m extra cost of their proposals on current Labour welfare-to-work spending would be met by money released from transferring about 500,000 existing incapacity benefit claimants on to jobseeker’s allowance, cutting their benefit by up to £25 a week.
Under Labour policy, all existing IB claimants will be assessed under a new work capability assessment, and transferred to JSA if they are deeemed fully able to work or to the new employment and support allowance, if they are deemed partially able or unable to work.
Early results of the pilots suggest many will be transferred on to JSA, however Labour has not budgeted for the ensuing reductions in benefits.
Neil Coyle, director of policy at the Disability Alliance, warned that there were already concerns about the work capability assessment and the situation could get worse under the Tory plans.
He said: “It’s a very live issue as we are starting to see people questioning how they have been assessed and whether they have been assessed accurately.”
Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said: “There is a real danger that pushing people towards employment when they are not ready will be counter-productive, as the present government has discovered. The obvious risk is that you cause immense distress to hundreds of thousands of people without getting anyone closer to a job.
“We need to ensure that all staff working with benefits claimants are properly trained in mental health issues, aware of the risks of pushing people with mental health problems into unsuitable work and support people to move towards work at their own speed. The Conservatives’ proposals do not appear to address these fundamental issues.”