Disability charities yesterday expressed concerns over Labour’s plans to introduce harsh work tests and force almost two million people off incapacity benefit.
In his Budget speech on Wednesday, chancellor Darling said: ‘Welfare reform makes work pay and encourages people off benefits.’
He added: ‘From April 2010 all long-term recipients of incapacity benefit will attend work capability assessments.
‘These reforms will continue to free up resources for investment.’
His announcement followed that of work and pensions secretary Purnell, who said the government plans to implement the Freud Report in full.
Purnell hired investment banker David Freud to recommend Welfare ‘reform’.
Freud suggested that less than a third of the 2.6 million incapacity benefit claimants were genuine.
In a recent interview he said: ‘When the whole rot started in the 1980s we had 700,000 (claimants). I suspect that’s much closer to the real figure than the one we’ve got now.’
Freud went on to attack GPs, saying: ‘It’s ludicrous that the disability tests are done by people’s own GPs, they’ve got a classic conflict of interest and they’re frightened of legal action.’
He recommended putting private companies in charge of finding jobs for the long-term unemployed, with cash incentives for the companies to drive claimants off benefit.
Freud said: ‘I worked out that it is economically rational to spend up to £62,000 on getting the average person on incapacity benefit into the world of work.’
Disability Alliance director of policy and services Paul Treloar, said yesterday: ‘Disability Alliance is concerned that government proposals to apply the new Work Capability Assessment to all incapacity benefit claimants from 2010 is an attempt to simply reduce the numbers claiming benefit through imposing a harder test of entitlement.’
He added: ‘Official figures for incapacity benefit fraud indicate that current levels are lower than 0.5 per cent.
‘We feel that it is dishonest of the government to look to reduce the numbers of incapacity benefit claimants in these circumstances.’
Treloar said that, in his experience, ‘it does cause concern when people think there are intentions simply to throw them off benefits’.
Director of services at Disability Action, Kevin Doherty insisted that the ‘overall ethos’ of the vast majority of those claiming incapacity benefit was the desire to work.
In his reaction to Wednesday’s Budget speech, GMB trade union general secretary Paul Kenny said: ‘The requirement that those on incapacity benefit must attend work capability assessments is based on the false notion that the high levels of claimants in some areas is due to the fact that these people do not want work.’
He added: ‘The Chancellor needs to face up to the fact that in today’s labour market able bodied and fully fit workers get jobs ahead of those who are disabled and those not fully fit.’