Triple alarm bells ringing over welfare reform


Campaigners have warned of a “triple-jeopardy” facing disabled people, after the government launched its plans for welfare reform.

Iain Duncan Smith, the Conservative work and pensions secretary, pledged to fight poverty, simplify the benefits system and improve incentives to work.

Announcing his determination to “build a fairer society” and stressing his “personal commitment to equal opportunities for all”, he confirmed that the government would press ahead with plans to put all those currently claiming old-style incapacity benefit (IB) through the much-criticised work capability assessment (WCA) in order to test their “readiness for work”.

Duncan Smith said those people found “immediately capable of work” would be moved on to jobseeker’s allowance, which is paid at a lower rate than IB.

He also confirmed that the government would move towards a single welfare-to-work programme, scrapping Labour’s jobs programmes such as Pathways to Work, which aims to find work for disabled people.

He will also chair a new committee on social justice, which will include fellow Cabinet ministers across government.

But Disability Alliance, the disability poverty charity, said the government’s plans had “sparked widespread fear” among disabled people and their organisations.

It said the WCA – introduced for new claimants of out-of-work disability benefits in 2008 – had proved to be “seriously flawed”, with an “incredibly high” number of appeals against decisions, and nearly two-fifths of appeals successful.

This week, Citizens Advice Scotland released a report that concluded that the WCA was “seriously flawed” and was “heaping unnecessary misery” on thousands of disabled people. It called for a major overhaul of the system.

DA also said it was unclear how a single work programme would meet disabled people’s needs and that a “‘one size fits all” approach does not always work for disabled people and may mean “additional barriers to work”.

It was also concerned that government plans to cut access to tax credits could contribute to higher poverty for disabled people in work, while a planned review of employment and workplace laws could lead to “a watering down” of employers’ obligations to level the playing field at work for disabled people.

Vanessa Stanislas, DA’s chief executive, said: “The commitment to improving the living standards of people living in unacceptable poverty is welcome, but much of the impact of the new government’s welfare proposals will be hardest felt by disabled people who already face multiple disadvantage.

“Disabled people now face the triple-jeopardy of inappropriate and inaccurate assessments of work ability; cuts to programmes to help find work; and reduced support in work, which may leave many more families at risk of poverty.”

The mental health charity Mind also raised serious concerns about the government’s reforms.

Paul Farmer, Mind’s chief executive, said the WCA was “not up to the job of measuring whether people with mental health problems are fit for work”.

He said: “We urge our new government to review the benefit assessment before rolling it out to millions more claimants, so that people aren’t deprived of their benefit and forced to look for work they can’t do.”

He also questioned government plans to sanction those on out-of-work benefits who turn down “reasonable” job offers.

He said that people “should not be forced to accept work that risks damaging their mental health, putting them back on benefits and back at square one”.

Farmer added: “Until we tackle stigma and discrimination in our workplaces, people with mental health problems will struggle to find work, whatever stick the welfare system beats them with.”

27 May 2010

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