Fifteen years on incapacity benefit, then told you are fit to work. It’s a very big moment

May 15, 2012

I’ve written in the Telegraph today about the Government’s plans to reform Disability Living Allowance (DLA).

And as it happens, some interesting new statistics are out today on a different benefit – Incapacity Benefit (IB).

As the chart above shows, while the numbers of people claiming DLA has been rising, the numbers claiming IB (and its new equivalent ESA) have been falling back. One reason for that is that people are now being put through an independent medical assessment to see if they still need it. Although that is only one reason, and the fall in IB claims started before those reforms.

That new medical test for IB/ESA was first brought in for new claimants, but the government is now also working its way back through all the existing claimants to re-assess their needs.

Today’s statistics tell us something new about how that re-assessment process is going.

More than half of new applicants for ESA are told they are fully fit to work when they are assessed. And a further two out of ten applicants are expected to be capable of doing some work with support. That means that just three out of ten of those who are tested are told they are not capable of working in the forseeable future.

But those who have been claiming IB for longer are less likely to be told they are fit to work. Today’s statistics give us a breakdown of how likely people are to be able to work, given how long they have been on IB.

The statistics are below. 43 per cent of those who have been on IB for less than five years or less are being found fully fit to work. But the thing that really strikes me is that even among those who have been on the benefit for more than 15 years, a quarter are are being found fully fit to work. (3,900 of 14,800 tested so far). A further 40 per cent of the same group are being told that they will be able to work at some point with help.

This will be a huge, life changing moment for these people, who will now be subject to the normal rules and expectations facing people on jobseekers allowance: signing on every fortnight, and looking for work. I think this process, initiated by the last Labour government, is a good one. There is nothing kind about parking people on benefits if they can work. People rust, and get depressed. Long term claimants get sicker and lose their sense of purpose.

But some of the people who are being reassessed may really struggle at first. As they start to arrive in jobcentres, they are going to be a huge shock to our welfare system. I hope advisors are ready to help them.

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