Page last updated at 07:27 GMT, Monday, 27 October 2008

Benefits reforms to be introduced

Gary King returned to work after help through a Pathways to Work scheme

A new benefits system making it tougher for sick and disabled people to claim benefits is due to be launched later.

Claimants who are neither terminally ill nor severely disabled could have their benefits cut if they refuse to attend interviews with jobs advisers.

About 2.6 million people claim incapacity benefits but ministers say most want to work and the Employment and Support Allowance should help.

But campaigners fear rising unemployment will be a barrier to many.

Any new claimants will have to pass a tough new test intended to identify the sort of jobs claimants may be able to do.

In the 1990s people were written off on incapacity benefit with no help to overcome their problems
James Purnell
Work and Pensions Secretary

The government hopes to reduce the number of people on sickness benefits by one million.

Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell said the benefits reforms would mean better support and help for disabled people and people with ill health, who have been calling for it.

"In the 1990s people were written off on incapacity benefit with no help to overcome their problems or support to get them into work," he said.

"It is even more important during an economic downturn that we increase support for people, not take it away."

But campaigners claimed the new rules would leave many worse off.

The Leonard Cheshire charity warned that disabled people already faced discrimination and rising unemployment would only make getting jobs more difficult.

The Disability Alliance voiced concerns that the majority of Employment and Support Allowance claimants would find the rates of payment effectively lower than current incapacity benefit rates.

But a charity spokesman did say he hoped the new allowance would bring about positive improvements in the employment rates of disabled working-age adults.

"The need for personalised, tailored, employment support that actively assists disabled people to overcome barriers to work will be key and we will be closely monitoring the effectiveness of this provision," he added.

Child poverty

Meanwhile, a leading charity has criticised changes to the way child maintenance is claimed.

Single parents will now have to decide themselves whether to continue using the Child Support Agency or make their own arrangements.

It's assumed that it is the claimant who is at fault and not the employers who need to be more understanding
Sarah, Birmingham

The One Parent Families/Gingerbread group says as many as one in four single parents on benefits could struggle to agree private child support arrangements.

Fiona Weir, chief executive of the charity, said: "This would be disastrous for the children affected and for the government's child poverty targets.

"Greater investment in services to help parents deal with the financial and emotional consequences of separation is urgently needed."

The Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission says the reforms are intended to simplify the system and make sure more of the money from absent parents reaches their own children.

Incapacity tests raise concerns
13 Mar 08 |  UK Politics
Q&A: Incapacity benefit
20 Jan 06 |  Health

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