Headlines: October 7th, 2004

The government is warned today against believing that easy savings could be made by cracking down on incapacity benefit claimants. A study from the TUC shows that most of the 1.5 million receiving the benefit are either too ill to work or are people who want to work but who face prejudice from employers when they try to find a job.The report, ‘Defending Incapacity Benefit’, has been sent to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Alan Johnson, who is currently looking at welfare reform. It sets out to challenge what it calls ‘the myth’ that Incapacity Benefit is supporting millions of people who have chosen not to work.

The document says that there are fewer than half the number of people receiving Incapacity Benefit than some recent press reports have suggested. The 1.5 million disabled and ill people getting the benefit receive an average of 85 pounds per week. That, the report says, means the benefit has fallen in value to less than a fifth of average earnings. It also points out that the number of claimants has been falling for the past decade and estimates indicate that fewer than one in a hundred claims are fraudulent.

The TUC says the government’s own research shows Incapacity Benefit claimants are out of the job market either because they cannot work without making their conditions worse or cannot get work because they are discriminated against. It says it would prefer to build on Pathways To Work pilot projects that help, rather than force, claimants back into work. The report says those schemes have doubled the number of job placements and that if the programme was rolled out nationally it would fill 110,000 jobs a year, saving more than a hundred million pounds annually.

Key findings in ‘Defending Incapacity Benefit’ show that there were 2.7 million Incapacity Benefit claimants in May 2004 but just under a million and a half of them actually received payments. That number has fallen by nearly 400,000 since 1995. Forty per cent of Incapacity Benefit claimants said they wanted a job but were prevented from working by the practical considerations associated with their disability or employer discrimination. Incapacity Benefit fraud is so low as to be almost impossible to measure accurately but estimates put overpayment at less than 0.3 per cent of total Incapacity Benefit payments.