Published on Saturday 21 April 2012 00:29
ALMOST 5,000 Scots claiming incapacity benefit have been reassessed as being “fit for work” as part of the UK Government’s controversial overhaul of the benefits system.
Figures released yesterday showed that in Scotland 4,930 people, who were once entitled to the benefit because illness or disability prevented them from working, have been re-classified as capable of having a job.
The Department of Work and Pensions’ drive to phase out incapacity benefit has so far seen a total of 15,740 claimants reassessed over the past year.
Analysis of the cases has revealed almost one third of them have been told they are healthy enough to work. To keep claiming benefits, those who have been designated as fit to work will have to claim JobSeekers’ Allowance and will be added to the claimant-count unemployment figures.
Claimant-count unemployment in Scotland stands at 143,800, but is likely to increase given that there are still many more people claiming incapacity benefit in Scotland yet to take part in the UK Government’s work capability assessment.
In Scotland there were 186,520 people classified as being eligible for incapacity benefit.
The proportion of Scottish claimants, who were later told they were healthy enough to get a job, was slightly less than that found across Britain.
In Britain as a whole, the proportion was slightly more than one third with 47,410 people declared fit for work out of the 129,190 who had been reassessed so far.
In total, around 1.5 million incapacity benefit claimants are being reassessed. Those who are still unfit to work are moved on to the new Employment Support Allowance.
The assessment process has been controversial, with critics claiming that, instead of weeding out malingerers, many people have been wrongly classed as fit to work.
Yesterday the Employment Minister Chris Grayling defended the changes it is making to the benefits system.
“These figures show how much of a waste of human life the current system has been. Too many people have been left languishing on benefits for too long,” Mr Grayling said.
“We are providing support to those who need it, but it is right that those who are able to work should do so. It’s much better to help people on the journey back to work than to leave them on benefits for the rest of their lives.”
But his opponents were more sceptical about yesterday’s figures, which were broken down to give an indication of the situation in Scotland for the first time.
The SNP’s Work and Pensions spokeswoman Eilidh Whiteford said: “We need to be certain that the withdrawal of incapacity benefit is based on impartial medical evidence and not some arbitrary target set by Ministers in Whitehall….It is difficult to believe that a third of those receiving incapacity benefit have all been wrongly assessed in their current entitlement, particularly when there are already serious questions over the assessment process with people undergoing chemotherapy, in some cases terminally ill people, being ordered to attend back-to-work interviews.”