IDS floats sickness benefit shake up

24 Aug 15

Iain Duncan Smith has said the government is considering reforms to disability benefits to end the current “binary” eligibility tests for claimants.

In a speech in London today, the work and pensions secretary said he would prioritise tackling the “sickness benefit culture” in the UK in the coming month as part of moves to encourage more people back to work.

The current system, through which Employment Support Allowance disability benefit is claimed following a Work Capability Assessment, was focused on determining what people cannot do, rather than on what they can, Duncan Smith said.

“It is a system that decides that you are either capable of work or you are not,” Duncan Smith said of the controversial WCAs.

“Surely, this needs to change. In the world beyond ESA, things are rarely that simplistic.”

Duncan Smith said the Department for Work and Pensions would look to implement reforms as part of Universal Credit rollout so assessments more accurately reflected the workplace.

WCA also needed to become more flexible to mirror the real time information system being used in Universal Credit, which will merge six existing benefits into a single payment, he added.

“Someone may be able to do some work for some hours, days or weeks, but not what they were doing previously. As ESA becomes part of Universal Credit, the two approaches seem at odds.

“The more personalised approach under Universal Credit sits alongside a Work Capability Assessment, which sets the wrong incentives. That’s why I want to look at changing the system so that it comes into line with the positive functioning of Universal Credit.”

Although he did not set out any specific changes, Duncan Smith said the government wanted to ensure the system is “better geared towards helping people prepare for work”. This would also include expanding the new Fit for Work system, under which GPs will help employers support staff members to return to work when they become ill.

He added: “Whether it’s through Fit for Work, Universal Credit or an improved assessment, the more that people feel there’s someone with them, helping them get over the hurdles back to work and to stay in work, the more likely their lives will change for the better.

“I want to place people at the heart of the system, and make the system work around them, rather than the other way round.”

Responding to the comments, Labour shadow minister for disabled people Kate Green said the focus should be on providing tailored support for disabled people who can work in order to help them do so.

“Cutting the benefits of those who aren’t able to work, such as those with Parkinson’s or cancer, is punishing sick and disabled people for the government’s own failures,” she added.

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