Tougher assessments for incapacity claimants

In October, after relentless pressure to toughen up Incapacity Benefit, the Government introduced a new ‘Employment and Support Allowance’. Over the last year applicants have been undergoing the new medical assessments, and the DWP yesterday released the results.

Nearly two thirds of applicants have so far failed in their claim, and only one in 20 have been found to be totally unable to work. The new assessment of ‘capability to work’ is tougher than that for IB (not that that, many will say, takes much), and it has concluded so far that 36 per cent of applicants are completely capable of work. Include those that are capable of at least some work, and as the Guardian reported yesterday, the implications for Britain’s 2.6 million IB claimants could be considerable; up to £11 billion is potentially being paid to 1.9 million people who should have been looking for work.

This will of course come as no surprise to the many people who thought IB was just an invitation to the lazy to game the system.  Much more seriously though, it suggests that IB has been a gross waste of taxpayers’ money. Billions have been spent on those who did not merit the support. Its particularly galling considering how the very few in real need often encounter a  brick wall; if the undeserving were not monopolising the budget, more could have gone to those the benefit was meant for.

One might wonder why it took so long for them to replace the IB and with the Employment and Support Allowance system. Cynics might suggest Government has known that IB’s assessment criteria were too weak for years – someone on IB is after all, someone not being counted in unemployment figures – but its just as likely that  individuals were just allowed to receive incapacity benefits without undergoing sufficient tests. But the situation has changed now. Government is desperately trying to re-find the fiscal prudence it threw away a decade ago. With record levels of debt, the Government needs to find savings, and benefits seems to be the target.

Ministers have been stoic about the new statistics, stating that the new ESA prevents thousands of people from getting trapped on sickness benefits (Daily Telegraph). This is certainly beneficial. Allowing people who are capable of working, however little, to get trapped on benefits is clearly not the best use of taxpayers’ money. But not only should the Government ensure that the current system remains rigorous in its assessment of those who receive benefits, but it should embrace its new found hawkishness, and work hard to prevent individuals from finding ways to take advantage of the new system.

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