With the biggest cuts to UK public services since before the Second World War gathering pace, the UK government is eying the money paid to those deemed unfit to work.
A pilot scheme began on Monday forcing people to be re-assessed for their capacity to work – and their claim to the state handout known as Incapacity Benefit, which can yield claimants £90 a week.
Recently published figures showed almost £135bn had been spent over the past 10 years keeping two million people on incapacity benefit. The government hopes to save £2bn a year in payouts.
The pilot is taking in place in Aberdeen, and the northern city of Burnley where one in eight people claim Incapacity Benefit.
“Around 900,000 people have spent a decade […] away from the labour market with no help or support,” said Iain Duncan Smith, Work and Pensions Secretary, in an article in the Times on October 11th.
“We estimate we will find around 23 per cent of people fit for work immediately, with more needing just a bit of extra support to get to a position where they can look for a job.”
Central to the new scheme is a physical evaluation system.
The assessment is a points-based system that asks questions such as whether the subject can pick up a coin from the floor, squat, walk 100 yards, or make a cup of tea.
If a person cannot walk 200 yards, he or she is given 6 points.
A final score below 15 and the person is deemed fit for work and will go onto Job Seeker’s Allowance with a drop of between £60 and £90.
Over the next three years everyone on these benefits will be tested.
The new scheme has met with criticism from many representatives of the disabled, who rely on the handout.
Scope, a charity for children and adults with cerebral palsy, said that taking people’s benefits away will not get people into work.
“It is almost certain that [disabled people] will end up stuck on less money with no chance of sustainable employment,” said a statement on the charities website.
“This is self-defeating – the public purse will end up shouldering an additional long-term financial burden and disabled people will find themselves going nowhere very fast.”
Chris Grayling, Minister of State (Employment), Work and Pensions, rejects this arguement, saying that under Labour, before the recession, there were “millions and millions” of jobs created but there was no real drop in the people on benefit.
Speaking to the BBC, he said that 280,000 jobs had been created in the last quarter and he did not want to be making the same mistakes in the next decade which had been made in the past. “As jobs are created we should be moving people off benefits and into work,” he said.
“We have to end that situation where employment opportunities are appearing and we’re not managing to help those people who are on longterm benefits take care of those opportunities,” he said
“What we are launching in the Spring to coincide with rollout of this, is the biggest national work support programme, the Work Programme, that this country has ever seen and probably the biggest the world has ever known: Much better support to get people back into work, tailored support to help individuals, doing that through private and voluntary sector, employment specialist organizations. We will pay more for the most difficult cases to help people who are on longterm benefits,” he said.
Mr Duncan Smith said in his article, “Disabled people and organisations representing them have repeatedly told us that they want to work, and today we are taking the first steps towards supporting those aspirations.”
He rounded off his article with an appeal to Ed Miliband, the Labour Party leader, to stick to his conference pledge “of not being in opposition for opposition’s sake and to do the right thing and support us in reforming this broken system.”