Conservative conference: Concern over tougher benefits penalties


A leading disabled people’s organisation has raised concerns over a minister’s pledge to introduce “clearer, simpler and tougher penalties” for benefits claimants who refuse government help to find work.

Chris Grayling the employment minister told the Conservative conference in Birmingham that those who refuse to cooperate with its new Work Programme – through the so-called “conditionality” regime – would “lose their benefits”.

He boasted that it would be “one of the biggest employment and back to work programmes the world has ever seen” and would “create a whole new world for benefit claimants” with “no more sitting at home on benefits doing nothing”.

Grayling also said the programme to reassess up to 10,000 people on old-style incapacity benefit (IB) every week from next spring would be “one of the biggest programmes of its kind ever carried out”.

He said: “I am simply not prepared to let a situation continue where we leave millions of our fellow citizens to live out their lives on benefits without ever asking if there’s a better alternative.

“Those with the potential to work will be expected to do so. Those who could work with extra support will receive it. Those who cannot work will continue – and rightly so – to receive unconditional support.”

But he added: “The minority who are playing the system will lose their benefits straight away.”

Grayling told the conference that he believed about half of the people on IB “have the capacity to get back into work”.

It was a message echoed later in the week by David Cameron, the prime minister, who said: “If you really can’t work and you refuse to work, we will not let you live off the hard work of others.”

Liz Sayce, chief executive of RADAR, said after Grayling’s speech that she could support “culture change” if it was about “raising people’s aspirations” by showing there would be ongoing support available.

But she added: “Where we need to be really careful is making sure the system is fair for people who are not going along with the conditionality regime for impairment-related reasons.”

She said she would want to know that the government would take account of those people – such as those with fluctuating, serious mental health conditions – who do not respond to elements of the Work Programme because of their impairment. And she said it was vital that the support provided through the programme was accessible.

She also raised concerns about disabled people claiming jobseeker’s allowance (JSA), who will have their housing benefit reduced by ten per cent after a year if they haven’t found a job.

Sayce said: “If the reason you are on JSA without a job is because employers haven’t given you a chance or because the adjustments that you need aren’t being made available or you have never heard of access to work…it seems completely unfair that you would be penalised by having your housing benefit reduced.

“I think the question is whether the system is going to be sensitive enough. I would like some assurances about that.”

7 October 2010