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									Breaking the link between poverty and disability


BRIEFING B18
What’s happening to Incapacity Benefit?
The Government published a consultation paper (called a Green Paper1) on 24 January
in which they set out their plans to reform incapacity benefit (IB). The Green Paper
also outlines changes to Statutory Sick Pay and other benefits which people get if they
are unable to work due to disability or ill-health. In addition there are chapters on lone
parents, people over 50 and Housing Benefit.

There is a three month consultation period which ends on 21 April during which
individuals and organisations can send in their views about the proposed changes. At
the end of the consultation period the Government will review the responses and then
will either publish a White Paper setting out their plans or set out draft legislation in a
Bill to go before Parliament. It takes some time for a Bill to go through all its
parliamentary stages and there are opportunities for MPs to amend the legislation
before it becomes law. The estimation is that any major changes to benefits will not
start until April 2008.

The Government’s aims
Over a 10 year period the Government aims to reduce the number of IB claimants by 1
million. They will do this by:
    reducing the number of people moving onto benefits partly by helping them to
      remain in work but also by changing the ‘gateway’ onto benefit; and
    increasing the number of people leaving benefit quickly through additional
      work –focused support, backed by compulsion
In addition the Government says it aims to be better at meeting the needs of those on
benefit, especially the most seriously disabled people (who will get higher payments
of benefit).

The Government’s proposals

People currently getting incapacity benefit


1
  A new deal for welfare: empowering people to work is available from the Welfare Reform Team , Level 2,
The Adelphi, 1-11 John Adam Street, London WC2N 6HT tel 0207 712 2521 (text phone 020 7712 2492) or
email:welfarereform@dwp.gsi.gov.uk Copies in alternative formats are also available. You can access the
report and a template for responding at www.dwp.gov.uk/aboutus/welfarereform



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Breaking the link between poverty and disability

The Green Paper says that existing claimants will remain on their current benefits but
will be encouraged to volunteer for the various programmes available through
Pathways to Work (see below). Existing claimants will experience a more proactive
and intense approach by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) with work-
focused interviews (some compulsory), more frequent Personal Capability re-
assessments and more regular checking of entitlement generally.

Disability Alliance comments: we believe it is unfair to make existing claimants face
further scrutiny and compulsion while not providing automatic additional support or
higher levels of benefit.

Healthy workplaces
The Green Paper stresses the need for employers to work with their staff and with
health professionals to improve people’s chances of staying in work if they become
sick or disabled. The Government will be appointing a National Director for
Occupational Health and will be piloting a new service ‘Workplace Health Connect’.
This scheme will offer advice on occupational health, safety and return to work. The
first pilots will start in February with a national helpline and website for all
employees, and small and medium sized firms, together with a regional problem
solving service.

Disability Alliance comments: we support Government initiatives to make workplaces
healthier and to assist people to remain in, or return to, work. We will be suggesting
that the Government consider introducing rehabilitation leave.

Sickness absence from work
The Green Paper sets out the work the Government has been doing with employer
organisations and the insurance industry on healthier workplaces and more effective
support to help people return to work. There is separate consultation underway which
examines what incentives (reduced premiums for example) the insurance industry
needs to put in place to encourage good practice amongst employers.

The Health Service
The Government believes that work is a route to health and is concerned that GPs do
not do enough to encourage their patients to return to work. The Green Paper sets out a
number of initiatives to change the culture of GPs to make them more aware of the
link between health and being in work. These include training programmes for student
GPs and an occupational health advice line. In addition the Green Paper proposes a
number of initiatives to link healthcare and employment including placing



Disability Alliance is a company limited by guarantee without share capital.
Registered office: as above. Company number: 2056801. Registered charity number: 1063115
Breaking the link between poverty and disability

employment advisers in GP practices. These support services could then be accessed
by people in work who were off sick, as well as by those on benefit.

Disability Alliance comments: we support more emphasis and support for
occupational health initiatives.

Pathways to Work programme
Currently running in a number of locations across Britain this relatively successful
programme is to be expanded across the country by 2008. New claimants in Pathways
areas have to undergo a series of compulsory work-focused interviews but get access
to more help, to condition management programmes (run in partnership between the
DWP and the NHS) and financial incentives to take up paid work. It is expected that
much of the work in the new Pathways areas will be done by the private and voluntary
sectors, rather than by Jobcentre Plus staff.

Disability Alliance comments: We are very pleased that the Pathways to Work
programme is being expanded but worried about where the funding to do this is to
come from and how it can be delivered in the context of massive job cuts in the DWP.
We have concerns about the proposals to contract out large parts of the programme to
the voluntary and private sectors. We believe such providers can add value and
provide choice for disabled people, especially those aimed at people with specific
impairments. However, we would be opposed to the idea of contracting out the
‘policing’ of the compulsory parts of the new regime and fear that this would
undermine the independence of voluntary organisations. We also have a concern
about private companies being able to tell disabled people they have to apply for a job
or lose their benefit, particularly if the private company has an incentive to do this.

New claimants
At the moment people who are not in work because of ill-health or disability can get
Incapacity Benefit if they’ve recently been in work, have paid national insurance
contributions and pass the medical test (the Personal Capability Assessment). People
who have not recently worked –perhaps because they’ve been unemployed or caring
for children – still have to go through the medical test but get means-tested Income
Support (IS) instead. They become eligible for a disability premium once they have
been unable to work for a year. The Green Paper proposes that in future incapacity
benefit, and income support for people who are sick or disabled, will be abolished (for




Disability Alliance is a company limited by guarantee without share capital.
Registered office: as above. Company number: 2056801. Registered charity number: 1063115
Breaking the link between poverty and disability

new claimants) and be replaced by a benefit to be called Employment and Support
Allowance2.

The new benefit
Part of the new regime will be an increased emphasis on getting ready to move back
into work (or into work for the first time) and better support for doing so. The benefit
itself will consist of three parts:
 an initial benefit, paid at about the same as jobseekers allowance, for a limited
    period while an assessment (personal capability assessment – see below) is carried
    out;
 a benefit for people trying to get into work, paid at a higher rate than the initial
    benefit; but liable to be reduced for those who are deemed not to be co-operating
    with their work-focused interviews or work-related action plans; and
 a higher benefit for people considered too seriously disabled or ill to be required to
    take part in work-related programmes

It would appear that part of the benefit will be contributory (ie conditional on having
paid national insurance contributions but not means-tested). It is not clear what
happens with young disabled people – the group who currently are able to move onto
IB without the need for a contributory record. The element that is means-tested will
have some additional top-ups (like premiums) for more severely disabled people.
The Green Paper is clear that the amount of benefit someone gets will not increase
over time. The Government sees the current arrangement with IB – where a higher
amount is paid to people who have been on benefit over 12 months – as an incentive to
stay on benefit, rather than try and return to work.

The Personal Capability Assessment (PCA)
The Green Paper refers to this as ‘one of the toughest [tests] in the world’. It then sets
out proposals to change it so that the assessment identifies those people who are able
to take part in work-related activity (and what support they would need) and those
who are ‘so limited by their illness or disability that it would be unreasonable to
require them to undertake any form of work related activity in the near future.’ This
group will not be the same as those currently ‘exempt’ within IB. For example, blind
people are currently exempt but will not be automatically categorised as in the more
severely disabled group. There is a promise to work with disability groups on ensuring
that the new assessment process is ‘fair and equitable in application and operation’.


2
 The Government is suggesting Employment and Support Allowance but seems keen to encourage alternative
suggestions for the new name.



Disability Alliance is a company limited by guarantee without share capital.
Registered office: as above. Company number: 2056801. Registered charity number: 1063115
Breaking the link between poverty and disability

Disability Alliance comments:
    we are concerned that people waiting for their personal capability assessment
      will be on a lower level of benefit than Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) – this will mean
      that people who have been ill and getting SSP will find their income drops after
      6 months;
    we also do not believe it will be possible to distinguish in a fair way between
      people for whom ‘work-related activity’ is appropriate and those for whom it
      would be an unreasonable requirement. Many people with severe impairments
      want to work and could do so and we would not want to see them ‘parked’ on
      benefit and ignored. Other people, with what are often considered less severe
      conditions, like mental ill-health or ME, or those undergoing exhausting
      treatment (like chemotherapy), may well not be in a position to get involved in
      work-related activities. We are very worried that this group could find
      themselves facing sanctions for not co-operating;
    we believe disabled people are the best judges of whether work-related
      activities are appropriate for themselves or not;
    we are also worried about what counts as ‘work-related activity’, and fear that
      if job search is included as one of the activities this may lead to personal
      advisers pressurising people into applying for jobs;
    no evidence has been put forward to support the Government’s view that having
      a higher level of benefit paid after 12 months acts as an incentive to stay on
      benefit. We know that people who have to live on benefits quickly exhaust their
      savings and face financial hardship. Providing a slightly higher level of benefit
      after a period of time recognises this.
People with mental health problems
Given the high proportion of people on benefit because of mental ill- health the Green
Paper proposes to convene ‘a group of experts in this field to undertake a
comprehensive review’ of the mental health component of the medical assessment.

Disability Alliance comments: we will be seeking a commitment from government that
people with mental health problems and the organisations representing them will be
included in the ‘group of experts’.

Working while on benefit
The Green Paper does recognise that being able to combine a small amount of paid
work with benefit is helpful for people and that the current arrangements are poorly
publicised and don’t work very well. The Paper asks people for their ideas on how
best to improve on this. In addition the Paper mentions the need to protect the benefit



Disability Alliance is a company limited by guarantee without share capital.
Registered office: as above. Company number: 2056801. Registered charity number: 1063115
Breaking the link between poverty and disability

levels of people who move into work but then have to go back to benefit – though this
will be less important if there is no long-term rate to the new benefit.

Disability Alliance comments: we would like to see the amount people on benefit can
earn increased from the current £20pw to around £40pw and tied to a multiple of the
minimum wage. We also want to see changes in the rules around Working Tax Credit
to allow people whose health deteriorates, or who become disabled while in work, to
get the extra help available for disabled workers – only having to work 16 hours a
week and a higher payment.

What to do if you are unhappy about the proposals
There are a number of ways you can influence what happens.
   You can respond to the Green Paper and comment on what is being proposed
      and also anything you believe is missing. The Green Paper has a number of set
      questions which the Government is seeking responses to. However, you don’t
      have to stick to these and you don’t have to answer them all. Just comment on
      what seems important to you and remember it is always useful to include
      examples drawn from your own experience. It is also important to add
      suggestions about things that you feel would be of help to sick and disabled
      people.

     You can send a copy of your response to your MP or you can just write to them
      with your views. You can find out who your MP is by phoning the House of
      Commons Information Office on 020 7219 4272. They will be able to use your
      postcode to find the name of your MP. If you have internet access all you need
      to do is visit http://www.locata.co.uk/commons/ and type in your postcode.
      In addition, most MPs hold regular surgeries for constituents to discuss issues of
      interest. These are usually held in local offices or community venues. If you
      want to visit your MP you should be able to find out when their surgeries are
      held by asking in your local library or checking your MP’s website.

     We would also like to hear from you. We will be submitting a response and if
      you write to us we can take account of your comments when we draw up our
      response. You can send them to:
      Lorna Reith, Chief Executive,
      Disability Alliance
      Universal House
      88-94 Wentworth Street
      London E1 7SA



Disability Alliance is a company limited by guarantee without share capital.
Registered office: as above. Company number: 2056801. Registered charity number: 1063115
Breaking the link between poverty and disability

        Or email: office.da@dial.pipex.com




Disability Alliance is a company limited by guarantee without share capital.
Registered office: as above. Company number: 2056801. Registered charity number: 1063115

								
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