onsdag 6 februari 2008

Incapacity befit reform - again

The government is to make yet another attempt to cut down the number of people out of work and being paid Incapacity Benefit.

Governments have tried about four times to get people on Incapacity Benefit back to work, but the numbers of people on benefit have remained resolutely high. The people on Incapacity Benefit have changed, apparently. Typically they used to be manual workers in their fifties, with back trouble or heart conditions which made them unable to do the jobs they had done when they were younger. The kind of jobs that they might have done, such as surface jobs in coal mines, had disappeared, so that, whilst they were theoretically capable of doing some kind of work, nothing suitable was available.

In the early 1990s people who were unemployed were encouraged to go on what was then called Invalidity Benefit as it kept the unemployment statistics looking good. But the cost kept rising and the government decided to try to do something about it. The reform that was brought in under the Conservatives in the mid-1990s introduced the "All Work" test. This was based on a questionnaire listing a variety of activities which the claimant was asked to state whether or not they were capable of. If they scored more than a certain number of points, they were deemed capable of work. The questions were set out on a form with boxes which had to be ticked. Of course in reality matters are never so clear cut and claimants were reluctant to get themselves deprived of their benefit, especially when there was no real prospect of obtaining employment.

More recently, typical claimants are much younger and suffering from some kind of psychological condition such as stress. This is to be expected, given the way that so many employers subject their workers to high levels of stress, for example in call centres and in IT- and sales-related occupations.

Until the nature of employment is changed, the situation will continue.

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