Incapacity benefit claimants face reduced welfare payments

Large numbers of incapacity benefit claimants could receive £25 a week less in welfare payments after the government announced today they would be reassessed under a tougher eligibility system from October onwards.

The announcement means IB will be scrapped and fully replaced by the employment and support allowance (ESA), which is designed to identify and support disabled people and those with health conditions with the potential to work to move closer to the employment.

Since October 2008, all new sickness benefit claimants have been assessed for ESA, and today’s announcement implements the government’s longstanding intention to move all existing claimants off IB, a policy also backed by the Conservatives.

However, the move will cause concern as campaigners have repeatedly warned that the work capability assessment (WCA) for ESA was wrongly defining disabled people as fit to work, which means they are moved on to jobseeker’s allowance, which pays £25 less a week on average then IB or ESA.

Government figures have shown that a higher proportion of people have been found fit to work under the work capability assessment than under the assessment system used for the IB. Today the Department for Work and Pensions confirmed that it expected more people to be found fit to work under the reform, which it said would help deliver £1.5bn in savings from the welfare budget over the next four years.

Over 10,000 long-term IB claimants will be reassessed each week. However, the DWP also announced changes to the WCA today designed to make it more sensitive to the needs of people with fluctuating conditions, such as ME or multiple sclerosis, whom campaigners had warned were particularly at risk of being wrongly assessed.

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