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Sickness benefit overhaul to achieve a more ‘personalised’ approach

Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith MP is planning a sickness benefit shake-up to get one million more people with a disability or illness into work.

Duncan Smith announced intentions during a speech yesterday (24 August) to overhaul the current system, which he has branded as too “binary” and “simplistic”.

He said: “It is a system that decides that you are either capable of work or you are not. Surely, this needs to change. In the world beyond ESA (Employment Support Allowance), things are rarely that simplistic.”

ESA, which was introduced by the Labour government in 2008, is paid to those with disabilities following a Work Capability Assessment (WCA) that identifies whether they are fit for work.

However Duncan Smith wrote the system off as overly simplistic, adding: “We need a system focused on what a claimant can do and the support they’ll need – and not just on what they can’t do.”

His proposed reforms will see claimants taking up any work they can, even it if is just a few hours.

The reforms would be implemented as part of universal credit roll-out, so assessments can reflect the needs of the workplace more accurately. The WCA would also become more flexible and personalised to maximise support for those who are sick.

Smith added: “Someone may be able to do some work for some hours, days or weeks, but not what they were doing previously. As ESA becomes part of Universal Credit, the two approaches seem at odds.

“The more personalised approach under Universal Credit sits alongside a Work Capability Assessment, which sets the wrong incentives.”

Labour bashed the work & pensions secretary’s move, with Kate Green MP, shadow minister for disabled people, calling the WCA “disastrous”.

She said: “In the last parliament the Tories overspent by £8.7bn on incapacity benefit, and their disastrous Work Capability Assessment has been plagued with problems with contractors, poor assessments, and costly appeals.

“Ministers need to focus on providing tailored support for disabled people who can work in order to help them do so. Cutting the benefits of those who aren’t able to work, such as those with Parkinson’s or cancer, is punishing sick and disabled people for the government’s own failures.”

Proposed benefit changes would also expand the new Fit for Work system under which GPs would help employers support workers to return to work after becoming ill.

Duncan Smith said: “Whether it’s through Fit for Work, universal credit or an improved assessment, the more people feel there’s someone with them, helping them get over the hurdles back to work and to stay in work, the more likely their lives will change for the better.”


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