Incapacity benefit reforms will hit claimants

The government reforms to incapacity benefit will result in severe hardship for hundreds of thousands of households living outside the south of England, according to research published by Sheffield Hallam University in Incapacity Benefit Reform.

The report by Christina Beatty and Steve Fothergill of the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research finds:

  • By 2014 the reforms to the incapacity benefit system – a tougher medical test, the re-testing of existing claimants and the time-limiting of entitlement to non-means tested benefit – will cut incapacity claimant numbers by nearly one million, of which more than 800,000 will be existing incapacity claimants who will lose their entitlement. These figures are based on experience in the areas where the reforms have been piloted and on the Department of Work and Pensions’ own assumptions about the impact of the reforms.
  • Nearly 600,000 incapacity claimants will be pushed out of the benefits system entirely, either because they will fall foul of the time limit on non-means tested entitlement or because they fail to qualify for other means-tested benefits.
  • The reform will increase the numbers on Jobseeker’s Allowance by almost 300,000 claimants. Combined with the new requirement on many incapacity claimants to engage in ‘work-related activity’, the increase in compulsory labour market engagement will be around 900,000.
  • The highly skewed distribution of incapacity claimants across the country means that the older industrial areas of the North, Scotland and Wales will be most affected. The reforms will barely impact on the most prosperous parts of southern England. The reforms will have the greatest impact in areas that have been struggling for years to cope with job loss and where the prospects of former claimants finding work are weakest. Merthyr Tydfil, Easington in County Durham, Liverpool and Glasgow are likely to be hit 10 times harder than Kingston upon Thames in London or Wokingham in Berkshire.

One of the co-authors, Steve Fothergill, said: ‘The estimates show that the coalition government is presiding over a national welfare reform that will impact principally on individuals and communities outside its own political heartlands.

‘In terms of the numbers affected and the scale and severity of the impact, the reforms to incapacity benefits that are underway are probably the most far-reaching changes to the benefits system for at least a generation. They will impoverish vast numbers of households and cause untold distress in countless more. The incapacity benefit numbers need to be brought down, but this is not the way.’

The full report is available at the Sheffield Hallam University website.

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‘Blind spot’ at Prospect Magazine (subscribers only).