[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Sunday, 22 January 2006, 13:52 GMT
GP cash plan in benefit shake-up
John Hutton
Mr Hutton says he will be sensitive over the reforms
GPs may be offered cash incentives to encourage patients on Incapacity Benefit back to work, Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton has confirmed.

He said the government wanted to talk to doctors "and some of their patients" so that "people don't just end up on benefit when there are other options".

In a planned shake-up of welfare reforms, Mr Hutton said the name for Incapacity Benefit would also change.

It suggested people were incapable and we should not take that view, he said.

If you are seriously disabled then we should be looking to do more for you
John Hutton

Pilot schemes were currently running in several areas of the country where employment advisers were working side-by-side with doctors to advise people who were requesting a sick note of other jobs they could do instead, he said.

And while support would be given for those able to work but "trapped" on incapacity benefit, benefit for those with serious disabilities would increase, Mr Hutton told the BBC's Andrew Marr.

If you are seriously disabled then we should be looking to do more for you.

"We are here to help," he said.

Asked about the troubled Child Support Agency, which it has been revealed has a backlog reaching near 3 billion in uncollected debts, Mr Hutton said wholesale changes in the agency's remit could be necessary.

The prime minister has already stated the agency - which assesses and collects maintenance from absent parents - is "not suited to its job" and the government is looking at reforms.

"I think we do need now to make some big decisions about the future and what is the best way to support families who need this maintenance being paid," Mr Hutton told the programme.

He did not go into detail about the government's thinking, which is said to include looking into the possibility of the new Revenue and Customs agency (a merger of the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise) taking on collection of child support payments.

Opposed

Under the plans for reform of incapacity benefit, due to be announced in the next few days, councils may be offered financial rewards for back-to-work schemes for the unemployed and those on Incapacity Benefit.

Mr Hutton hopes to test the idea in a number of cities across the country.

HAVE YOUR SAY
It is incredibly difficult to live on incapacity benefit
Matt and Vikki, Plymouth

Previous attempts to force Incapacity Benefit claimants back to work have been opposed by disability groups.

Speaking on Sunday, Kate Stanley, the head of social policy at the Institute for Public Policy Research welcomed action to return people to the job market, but warned that those on benefit should be given help to move off to prevent the problem recurring.

'Reform needed'

"The main problem since the early 1990s has not been the number of new people moving on to the benefit, but the lack of people moving off it," she said.

Last week Mr Hutton announced tougher sanctions against people claiming the benefit who refuse to take jobs.

Incapacity Benefit, for sick and disabled people, is paid to about 1.8 million people.

BBC social affairs correspondent Kim Catcheside said each person who stopped claiming the benefit saved the tax-payer 7,000.

She said councils are likely to be paid depending on the number of people they managed to get back to work.

Glasgow, with 61,000 people on Incapacity Benefit, and Liverpool with 41,000 are likely to be targeted by the government.

But Kim Catcheside added the number of people claiming benefits was also becoming a bigger issue in south-east England.

The Conservatives have said the system needs reform but they believed Tony Blair could have to water down his proposals to head off a rebellion among his own MPs.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Watch the latest edition of Sunday AM



RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific