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The Works and Pensions Secretary, Alistair Darling
"You do have an obligation to work, if you can do so"
 real 28k

Deputy Director IPPR, Lisa Harker
"We have yet to see full employment across society"
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Liberal Democratic MP, Steve Webb
"I think it's predominately cost-cutting, dressed up"
 real 28k

Monday, 9 July, 2001, 07:39 GMT 08:39 UK
Should disability be continually put to the test?

MoT-style medical checks are set to be introduced for disabled people drawing incapacity benefit.

Campaigners are shocked and disappointed by plans to re-assess all but the most severely disabled claimants every three years, to see if they're fit to work.

The Works and Pensions Secretary, Alistair Darling, believes as many as 70% of the 2.3 million people claiming incapacity benefit could return to work.

Darling believes there should be a three-year limit to the benefit and also work-based interviews to test suitability for employment.

Should incapacity benefit be regularly re-assessed in this way? Is it an insult to the disabled or a common-sense requirement?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

There could very easily be a system whereby people with permanent conditions were registered as such and were never required to pass a "disability means test" beyond that accompanying their initial registration. People with non-permanent conditions could similarly be registered but have, as a condition of their benefit award, a periodic re-evaluation. This seems perfectly reasonable and would more efficiently target possible fraud.
BS McIntosh, Sweden (ex-UK)

If the medical was to take place as often as six-monthly I could see some reason to argue. But a three yearly medical sounds more than reasonable to me. The truly disabled have nothing to fear.
Fay, UK

Sounds like a bit of a blunt instrument to me

John, UK
Sounds like a bit of a blunt instrument to me - I guess we need some common sense. People with MS, missing limbs etc. aren't suddenly going to be "cured" so a 3 yearly assessment might be inappropriate. Equally, a 3 yearly check-up is unlikely to deter the determined fraudster. If I were a teacher, I'd have to say "Darling has tried hard on this project, and the overall standard of his work is good, but he needs to focus more on the detail"."
John, UK

As long as the system is set up correctly, those who are genuinely unable to work will not have a problem. Those who are abusing the system will be found out. It may also be possible for a lot of housebound disabled people to work from home, giving them a sense of accomplishment.
Diane Coleman, UK

Yes I will have a three-year check up. I think all taxpayers' money should be paid out to genuine claimants. I also want 3 year checkups on Westminster MPs as they could teach us all about fraud, and as for the Euro MPs a yearly check will be needed as the EMP who claimed 1,100 for a sit on lawn mower while he lived in a eleventh floor flat springs to mind.
J. O'Donnell, England

I have been unable to work for over six years due to a back injury. I have always claimed incapacity benefit. I have had a medical to assess my problem every three years, in the beginning I had about four medicals in eighteen months. I accept that the are people who take advantage of the system, and it is always the people who are really disabled that have to suffer. I am prepared to be checked every 3 years, if this will help to get rid of the spongers.
Ian, England

I'm all for social programs and essential benefits for those who genuinely require them but I don't see why the State should give handouts without undertaking checks to ensure that the taxpayer isn't being fleeced. Most people work hard and contribute generously in tax compared to the US and Canada and it strikes me as only right and proper that Tony Blair as steward of taxpayers' money ensures that it is spent wisely. Not checking on possible benefit fraud is the same as not having company accounts audited, which is unthinkable. Tony - stand firm against the left on this issue.
Ian Jones, Canada

Yes, they should be checked regularly. Doctors should be able to put forward recommendations in extreme cases of disability that such people will be unfit to do whatever types of work their disability dictates and thus exempt them from further inspections. However, the man with the aching back, who wants to avoid the world of work for the rest of his life, should receive regular checks
Rory McKnight, UK

A friend of mine can barely walk due to disability, but works full time. My father has worsening arthritis and a condition related to ME, but works part time. Why should others, with lesser conditions, not work also? I completely agree with the Government on this one, if someone can work AT ALL, then they should do so. The shirkers have had it easy since the benefit system was introduced and the work ethic died out.
Ella, UK

My father has a full time job in London and commutes from Essex every day. Although he is blind, diabetic and epileptic he is still able to work a full week. He is entitled to disability benefit and I'm sure he will be one of the exceptions to the 3 year rule. However, there is someone else we know who is registered disabled due to an injury he sustained to his back at work and although he claims disability benefit because he cannot work he often goes fishing for long periods of time and does all the shopping (even carrying the week's groceries in one go). He claims his disability is so severe that he is entitled to a Mobility car, which my father is not.

There is obviously something wrong with the current system and I know my father and many of the disabled people he works with, would not have a problem with attending a medical every 3 years if necessary. After all, it is only those who are fraudulently claiming benefit that will have something to worry about!
Karen, England

Benefits claims should definitely be investigated. Genuine claims shouldn't worry - then at least the taxpayer wouldn't be footing the bill for lazy, greedy people.
Nicole Smith, UK

For genuine benefit claimants, regular reviews/testing is nothing to worry about - particularly as the Government are suggesting a three year review period. For many people, incapacity is not a permanent state but a response to major illness/accident. I would like to see the Government put more resources into occupational therapy to provide real assistance to those who have been absent from the workplace for extended periods. Also, where people are incapacitated through mental health problems, the Government should work with the charitable sector to provide meaningful and supportive assistance while people are signed off rather than leaving vulnerable, and often isolated people, unchecked and unmonitored.
Sophie Hargreaves, UK

Only those who are not eligible for the funds will be afraid of this move. Every taxpayer has the right to expect accountability for their money, including that which goes to disability collectors. For those who say it would cost a lot or overburden the doctors, this is completely untrue. You're paying much more in fraud then you ever will in tri-annual check ups and if someone is so disabled that they can't do work of any kind or sort, then they're seeing the doctor on a regular basis anyway, aren't they?

In response to those who say they'd like to work but can't find a part time job that allows them flexibility, why not give back to the community that supports you? Why not volunteer at your local hospital, school or city council for those two or three hours a day, two or three days a week? Many posters at BBC online have said time and again that there is a shortage of personnel at churches, schools and hospitals.
Linda, USA

I have been disabled from birth and my disability is not insignificant. However, I work full time and pay my income tax each month and am proud to do so. I know many disabled people who could do the same but (some who are not even as severely disabled as I am) but refuse to do so because it would mean giving up benefits. This should not be permitted.

There does need to be some checking therefore to ensure that only those truly in need receive the appropriate benefits provided that those checks take all factors into account that are relevant to the individual. I am all for helping those who genuinely need it but if people can contribute to the nation then this should be encouraged. What better way is there to improve the image and status of disabled people in society.
Bryn, UK

Here we go again no sooner does the Government start looking a welfare reform than people are up in arms about it. This is seven billion pounds of taxpayers' money going on benefit claims most of which are deserved and genuine, but as with any universal benefits system it can and is open to abuse.

A benefit is a support; a means to an end and not a way of life and the current law actively discourages people from moving away from welfare into work; and without checks even more so especially if you are not a genuine claimant. I'm sure many working disabled people who have taken advantaged of adaptation technology in the workplace and training into new job opportunities must be dismayed at how the word disability is utilised like a preventative barrier, a no go subject for fear of offending the afflicted.
Simon Griffiths, UK

My wife has been on incapacity benefit for two years and there is no way she can ever realistically go back to work

P. Haines, UK
My wife has been on incapacity benefit for two years and there is no way she can ever realistically go back to work. She recently went through the 'points' scoring medical test referred to above. The medical was rushed and unprofessional. The report completed by the doctor was inaccurate and ignored specialist medical opinion. She finally won her appeal after much heartache and a tremendous amount of work which we had to carry out ourselves. The process left my wife totally debilitated. Neither of us object to a regular process to verify that my wife is unable to work. We do object to the unprofessional way the process is currently carried out.
P. Haines, UK

If you're a genuine claimant, then what's the problem? I have a disability, but still manage to work. I get checks whether I can still get my disability living allowance, so why can't people on this get them as well? If you're genuinely disabled, then what's the problem????
Tommy Atherton, Scotland

I worked for US Social Security during the Reagan years when a very similar scheme was implemented. All disabled recipients were reviewed and approximately two thirds were cut off. The implications of this were brought to the attention of the press when several cut off folks shot themselves in Social Security offices. It turned out that only about 10% of those cut off as "able to work" ever found a job. Most were put up by relatives but approximately 100,000 became homeless; living on the streets and such. We ended up reinstating most (at great expense). There is still a periodic "review" but the standard requires "medical improvement" so few are actually cut off. The latest development is a plan to identify those who are likely to be cut off and "push" them to get jobs first; before they are cut off.
Dave, USA

The only people we should all contribute towards supporting are the disabled and the elderly

Mark Hill, England
The only people we should all contribute towards supporting are the disabled and the elderly. Let's give them more by scrapping the welfare system where we pay someone to sit on their backside all day - unemployment benefit. This was only ever meant to serve as a stop gap following the Second World War.
Mark Hill, England

I have been on incapacity benefit in the past and eventually made a recovery and returned to work. During this period I visited my doctor periodically for a new medical certificate that was submitted to ensure that my claim was paid. Surely if people are regularly assessed by their doctor who has a far more in depth knowledge of their condition then why introduce another layer of bureaucracy and cost? If the person concerned is going to be signed off permanently then this may well be a case for review at the time of signing off.
Robert, UK

Rather than taking yet another pop at people claiming ICB, why not deal with the "causes" of incapacity? More and more workers suffer high stress levels and poor health and safety in our workplaces. If the Government really want more people in work, they should address these problems!
Ben Drake, York, UK

There shouldn't be benefits for life

Neil, UK
Of course they should be. People's circumstances change all the time. There shouldn't be benefits for life, for anyone in society. My wife work in social services where she has to assess elderly care every 6 months. If the people need it, they will get it.
Neil, UK

A means testing system might be all right if the aim of it was to do what they say they want to. However I think the real reason for doing this is to shave off some of the claimants in order to cut social services spending, the result of which will be to send people to work who are not really fit for it. I think the people who are sent out to look for work will be able to do jobs to some extent but the quality and possibly the length of their lives will suffer as a result.
Dave, Sweden

At present I am required to go for a medical examination about every three years. When I attend the doctors complain that they are overworked and can't cope. They say that they are paid a fixed sum for each examination and most of the questions in the 60 page form are irrational and a waste of time; in short they can't cope. Do the Government have in mind "releasing" doctors from the arduous task and instead using "specially trained personnel", in other words office staff, to decide who should live and who should die from being forced to work when they are ill?
Robert, UK

OK, so there are some kinds of disability that preclude all kinds of work, but some people could work at something, though not necessarily their original trade. I know one person who won't even try to find work because the benefit is available and it would be more of a struggle to cope on low pay. I'm sure he's not alone.
Lee, UK

Certainly there should be means testing. Not every case is clear cut, and there are those in this world who will insist on getting more than their fair share and deprive others more deserving. I have worked for an insurance company and seen many bogus disability claims. In the long run the people that truly deserve allowances will benefit from improvements in the service.
Rob, UK

Unless someone has something to hide, I can see no reason why they should object to a three-yearly medical.

Steven Baker, UK
I used to represent claimants in incapacity benefit cases before social security tribunals. I didn't come across a single case that wouldn't benefit from the three-year rule, which I regard as still too generous.
Bilal Patel, London

Unless someone has something to hide, I can see no reason why they should object to a three-yearly medical.
Steven Baker, UK

I am of two minds about this. On the one hand it appears unchristian and uncaring, whilst on the other I am aware of some people much more able-bodied than I who are claiming incapacity benefit whilst I am able to earn my living without recourse to benefits. If checks are to be carried out every three years, then I believe they must be rigorous enough to filter out the workshy but must take care not to disadvantage those who, because of communication impairments, are unable to justify benefits which they genuinely need and should be entitled to.
Steve, England

Instead of picking on the disabled, how about putting car drivers through an 'MOT' every three years. Traffic congestion would be sorted at a stroke, thus saving on road-building. Pressure on A&E departments would be eased which will save the NHS money too. Oops, forgot that all the drivers put off the road that lose their jobs will go onto incapacity benefit!
Janet, Scotland

Whilst I can agree with the concept to an extent, I feel that this is a bad plan. I have seen supposed disabled people who are fit and active, and obviously playing the system - stop this at the start. Make sure that the original assessment is done by a truly unbiased independent doctor. Once this is achieved, leave them alone. I hate to see people sponging off society, but let's not go too far the other way, when everything is means tested, and the rules for passing are a moving target (and this WILL happen) designed to save the government money each year at the expense of the people they supposedly represent.
Ian, UK

This is not so much about saving money but more about getting people to pay tax. If you are dishonestly on benefits then not only are you costing money directly but, more significantly, you are not paying your share of income tax to cover health/education etc.
Gareth Houghton, Britain

Of course they should. I have several friends on long-term benefits and they would have no objection to this. The only real sense of panic stems from those with something to hide.
Bill Hamilton, UK

Most disabled people greatly fear the DSS doctors

Maureen Barnes, England
No one would object to providing medical evidence of continuing health problems, but most disabled people greatly fear the DSS doctors - the system is an unjust shambles - the number of people winning appeals is evidence of this.
Maureen Barnes, England

Of course benefits should be regularly checked for fraudulent claims, the rest of us that pay a fair chunk of our wages would like to be sure that it goes to people in real need. It was never meant as a lifetime meal ticket for someone who was ill but is now OK. As an example, which I'm sure most people have seen themselves, I went walking in the Lake District last August, and as usual the car parks were full, unless of course you had a coveted 'Orange Badge'. In drives a man in his fifties, straight into one of the disabled slots. I was even more annoyed when he set his badge in view before striding off into the distance. When I left the area two hours later he was still away walking, not bad for a disabled person. No one begrudges a penny to genuine claimants, but those of us who fund the system would like to be sure that the money is being properly targeted.
Stephen Owen, England

I'm all against means-tested benefits, people should be given the benefit of the doubt.
Bob, UK

Yes, of course. All welfare benefits should be means tested to ensure that the benefit goes only to those in most need. Unfortunately in Britain "means testing" is a dirty phrase, whereas in Scandinavia and the rest of mainland Europe is it a simple administrative measure which all recognise as necessary for a fair distribution.
Patrick Fidler, Ireland

I think it would be a good idea to wheedle out the fraudsters and make them do a decent, honest days work for a change

Sonia, England
My mum is on benefits because she has severe arthritis of the coccyx, spine and it is spreading rapidly through her body. She has been told she will never work again because this disease will eventually completely rob her of her mobility. However, a man who lives up the road from her is also on benefit, has a mobility car and has had a stair lift fitted free of charge and there is nothing wrong with him. At weekends he can be seen digging his garden. His back is obviously not that bad because as soon as the chair lift was fitted he decided he don't need it and de-installed it himself, those things aren't exactly lightweight. I think it would be a good idea to wheedle out the fraudsters and make them do a decent, honest days work for a change as long as those who are in genuine need of benefit are not penalised.
Sonia, England

If we, as a society, don't want "means testing" then we, as a society should be honest - be it benefits, tax or whatever.
Neil, UK

I believe there should be some for of re-evaluation of claims. I am aware of several people who are simply not disabled, but by using a friendly doctor can be in a situation whereby they work all their life and then the following day are registered disabled and qualify for benefits, orange badges etc. There should be a periodic independent review of all people claiming benefits. The review period could be dependent on the age of the claimant with elderly claimants being checked every 5 years and with annual checks for younger claimants.
David Gregory, UK

I feel that annual checks is the minimum the tax paying public should expect. After all, we are the people who are paying this. When either the wife or husband is disabled I see no reason why the partner should not be required to go out and work. Both me and my husband work hard and it saddens me to think that any of are hard earned taxes are being wasted.
Amy Morley, UK

Not only should there be some form of check but it should be random and at short notice

Karl Peters, UK
Not only should there be some form of check but it should be random and at short notice. While I was claiming unemployment benefits some years ago I was usually given three weeks' notice of an interview at the Job Centre. Three weeks is plenty time to prepare for an unscheduled hour or two away from work, for those so inclined. If notice periods are brief, the genuine claimants will still be able to attend but the fraudsters will have more problems. Consideration should also be made of what jobs can be done by a disabled person - nowadays there is no reason why a disability which previously prevented any form of work should continue to do so (e.g. a paraplegic IT worker).
Karl Peters, UK

I do worry that we are heading slowly for the situation in many parts of the USA where people can receive benefits for a limited time only and then are on their own no matter how unable they are to fend for themselves.
Though it is surely true that some people fraudulently claim incapacity benefit the government needs to think very carefully. It cannot throw partially recovered people back into the workplace only to work for a short while and fall ill again, also if people have been unable to work for several years due to illness who will want to employ them?
Angus Gulliver, UK

I find this a strange piece of news, as I have been on Incapacity Benefit for 8 years, and have had to have a medical every year without fail. Every year I fail the test, sometimes by only one point (the DSS use a "game of points" system - less than 15 and you're out) then see my doctor who managed to keep me on Incapacity Benefit.
Bruce Ruff, UK

There is means testing and there is means of testing

Hazel, UK
There is means testing and there is means of testing. While I acknowledge the fact that there are many idle persons hiding behind a disabled label, having detected them they will then sign on as unemployed, still costing the taxpayer. What the government can and should do is recognise that there are plenty of disabled persons out there who would rather work, be it part or full time, but cannot because there is no suitable work for them, or the premises cannot or won't be adapted for disabled persons needs, nor are there many industries which will consider home-working unless the person concerned is a valued staff member of long standing.
Hazel, UK

I don't see how people can complain about this. Some cases would need to be examined only once as the nature of the injury would prohibit working forever. In all other cases, people should be able to prove they are just recipients. Only those that are dubious candidates would need to fear. Genuine claimants with genuine conditions should have no fear.
Mike, England

I'll say! An old friend of mine got his foot caught in a drill whilst at work. He was in hospital for a month and came out on crutches. Now he has a very bad limp, but is classed as disabled and hasn't worked for over a year. He doesn't need any support to walk, so what's to stop him getting on a bus, going to work and sitting at a desk like the rest of us? It's plain lazy, and I resent paying out for those who are basically just blaggers.
David Doine, UK

Firstly, this is NOT means testing. So comments on that subject are not relevant. Secondly, I don't think that having a doctor confirm your claim once every three years is really such a high price for the support of the state, and by extension all the tax payers in the country, do you?
Peter, England

I don't agree with this move. Although it may save some money, it will also cause some genuine recipients to live in fear of the three-yearly re-evaluation. I believe this is too high a price for the saving.
Malcolm Cleaton, England

There are always those innocent people who end up being treated like criminals

M. Deal, UK
The government is right in principle to tackle the issue of fraudulent claims. There are a vast amount of claimants who are simply manipulating the system to avoid work. I have certainly known a few people who have claimed incapacity benefit and yet were as fit as anyone else. They simply wanted to avoid work. However, as usual in these cases there are always those innocent people who end up being treated like criminals, and who really are in need of benefit. Yet even a blind person can do some sorts of work and the government should do more to train people with particular disabilities for jobs they could be doing and probably would like to do. But yes, weed out the fraudsters, protect the genuine, and be ruthless but fair with it.
M. Deal, UK

I feel the only people who have a right to worry about these plans are those who are claiming when they don't need to.
Steve Webster, England

Yes, all benefit should be means-tested or assessed periodically. The role of the State is to provide for the poorest and disadvantaged in society - not to provide for all regardless of their ability to pay.
Andreas White, United Kingdom

People are caught in a trap until they are well enough to go back for near normal working hours

Kevin Anderson, UK
My wife has been unable to work for nearly 4 years due to illness - although recovering she would even now only be able to work 1-2 hours per day for 2-3 times per week. Employers are unwilling to offer flexible working hours and the pay would not match the benefits lost so people are caught in a trap until they are well enough to go back for near normal working hours. Means testing should only be introduced when there is some way of getting back into work on reduced or flexible hours.
Kevin Anderson, UK

Yes they should be tested on a regular basis to see if they can work. That way people who really need the benefits will get them and people who can work will stop sponging off the country. I know people on these benefits who are able to work but would rather live off whatever benefits they can get. This is the sort of thing we can do to target those in need and stop the freeloaders.
Martin, Yorkshire

The reduction in fraudulent benefit claims would free up cash for more deserving, genuine cases

Cav, UK
Anybody claiming benefit (of any kind) should be subject to regular or perhaps random checks. I see no harm in this at all. The reduction in fraudulent benefit claims would free up 'cash' for more deserving, genuine cases. Careful steps should be taken to avoid heavy pressure on people with a disability that are rightfully receiving benefit, who may think that the awards are 'not worth the trouble' or feel belittled by the experience. Equally, too soft a touch would leave hardened benefit fraudsters laughing all the way to the bank.
Cav, UK

There's me, thinking that the Tories LOST the last election. Whatever next - privatisation of the health service and the London Underground? Whatever happened to the third way?
Bob, UK

If you have nothing to hide then every 3 years you can prove you should get the benefit. Too many people claim it when they can work. This method of checking will find out who has been cheating the system and save the taxpayer plenty of money to be used on other areas.
Kris, UK

I'm not prepared to let people continue to leech off the state

Randy, UK
As with all benefits relating to the ability or otherwise to work, there are those amongst the claimants who choose to abuse the system, cultivate the help of gullible, over-stretched doctors, and who also earn in the black economy. I know of one. Many others will be known to their friends and families. I'm not prepared to let such people continue to leech off the state. True disability is another thing, but to assess claimants' qualification for benefit cannot be written off as harassment or needlessly causing distress. It has to be done to ensure the benefit gets to the deserving. Remember, the more fraudulent claimants there are, the less there is to go round for the genuine cases and the rest of society. It comes from our pockets through taxation and should be taken seriously, not just given away when demanded.
Randy, UK

Exactly how much will this means testing add to the total bill for this benefit? This is the question which MUST be answered before we even begin to ask whether it is morally right to means (or should that be mean?) test disabled people. Despite the apparent belief of Government ministers that bureaucracy comes free of charge, it doesn't. The army of civil servants and hangers-on who would be needed to administer these checks would surely more than negate the savings achieved by being so penny-pinching.
David Hazel, UK

Why not? A check up every 3 years in return for ongoing benefit seems a tiny inconvenience for someone with a genuine problem. Also technology is changing, bringing opportunities to those to work, who could not do so before. And, let's face it, there is a lot of fraud going on. I can only think of one person I knew on permanent invalidity benefit. He was paid because his eyesight was too poor for him to work. Oddly, his eyesight was fine for driving.
AndyC, UK

This will end up just like the Child Support Agency

Andrew Whiteside, UK
This will end up just like the Child Support Agency, by penalising the honest and genuine but not tackling the fraudster, who will always find a way around the system. Time to think again, Mr Darling.
Andrew Whiteside, UK

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See also:

04 Jul 01 | UK Politics
Disabled face benefit health tests
20 Jun 01 | Business
Pensions and benefits shake-up
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