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Monday, 22 October, 2001, 08:44 GMT 09:44 UK
'MOT' for disabled scheme attacked
Protest
Benefit changes have previously sparked protests
Government plans to force those on disability benefit to attend an interview about work prospects have been condemned.

Opposition MPs are angry because the regulations are being implemented in a series of trials before Parliament has had a chance to discuss them.

The new schemes, being brought in on Monday, mean sick and disabled people must attend the interview or their benefit claims will be stopped.


For the first time everyone of a working age gets the help and support they are entitled to

Alastair Darling
The changes to the incapacity benefit, announced to widespread criticism in July, will not be debated until Thursday.

Work and Pensions Secretary Alistair Darling says the debate has been brought forward.

More than 2.5m people in the UK claim disability benefit and new claimants in the pilot schemes will now be expected to meet an employment adviser. The dying and the most severely disabled will be exempted.

The Liberal Democrats said it was outrageous that the measures were being brought in before they are fully debated in Parliament and described the new rules as "cruel and unnecessary".

Parallel initiative

Tony Blair's father-in-law, the actor Tony Booth, a campaigner on behalf of pensioners, also criticised the new rules when they were announced.

The Department of Work and Pensions says the changes were always intended to be brought in now - at the same time as the new JobCentre Plus initiative.


Disabled people who are able to work should be supported and not threatened

Prof Steve Webb
Liberal Democrats
The regulations specify that all 16 to 60-year-olds who have made a claim for incapacity benefit must attend a work-focused interview "as soon as reasonably practicable after the claim is made".

Anyone who fails to take part in such an interview following a new claim will be treated as though a claim has not been made, and no benefit will be paid.

Professor Steve Webb, Liberal Democrat spokesman on work and pensions, said the government had been talking for years about the million disabled people who want to work, but has made no progress.

"Now they are threatening to withhold benefit from disabled people who are unfit for work, unless they come in to talk about job prospects," he said.

Work barrier

"Given the many barriers to work already faced by disabled people, and the discrimination that many suffer, forcing them to discuss jobs on pain of loss of benefit is cruel and unnecessary.

"Disabled people who are able to work should be supported and not threatened."

He said the benefit system was a barrier to disabled people taking part-time work because of a reliance on what he described as an 'all-or-nothing' notion of disability.

"The benefit system needs to be changed to allow people to combine part benefit with part-time work," he said.

"This would do more good for disabled people than new threats by the government."

Mr Darling, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the announcement was openly announced in July.

He said neither the Tories nor the Liberal Democrats had asked for a debate on the issue and the first slot available had been this Thursday.

"These regulations will mean for the first time everyone of a working age gets the help and support they are entitled to because our objective is to get as many people into work as possible," he said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Kim Catcheside
outlines how the scheme will operate
Work and Pensions Secretary Alistair Darling
"This is an important development of our welfare reforms"
Professor Steve Webb, Liberal Democrats spokesman
criticises the government for not publishing the regulations sooner
See also:

08 Feb 99 | UK Politics
Benefits warning for criminals
06 Jul 01 | UK Politics
Blair accused of disability U-turn
04 Jul 01 | UK Politics
Blair squares up for benefit battle
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