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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 May, 2005, 15:14 GMT 16:14 UK
Warning over benefit reform
Geoff Adams-Spink
BBC News website disability affairs correspondent

Photo of wheelchair user
More than 50% of disabled people don't have jobs
The Disability Rights Commission says the government risks derailing incapacity benefit reform with negative media images of disabled people.

DRC chairman Bert Massie is urging the government to stop portraying claimants as "work shy".

"Misleading spin will do nothing to help the government to achieve their goals," he said.

The Queen's Speech announced on Tuesday a bill to reform incapacity benefit to"facilitate a return to employment".

The DRC is one of a number of groups which - while welcoming measures to help disabled people to find jobs - is concerned that tough talk from ministers will have an adverse effect.

"Characterising people on incapacity benefit - a million of whom say they want to work again - as work shy will hardly aid their employment prospects," said Mr Massie.

"If the government is serious about supporting disabled people back into work, then the energy it has exerted in sounding tough should be turned toward the real challenges - tackling the barriers to work, ending employer discrimination and investing in disabled people's skills."

Earlier this year, when ministers said that the higher rate of incapacity benefit should be linked to a willingness to work, campaigners were concerned that some of the most vulnerable people might be penalised.

Incentive

At the time, Leonard Cheshire's Jon Knight said: "The government's policies could end up making disabled people, already some of the poorest in society, even poorer.

"People whose condition causes them pain or fatigue should not be forced to look for employment."

Under the current arrangements, incapacity benefit rises after six months and again after a year.

This is thought to provide claimants with an incentive to stay on the benefit rather than finding a job.

Cautious Welcome

While welcoming the idea of benefit reforms, disability charity, Scope, says it is vital that disabled people and organisations are fully consulted on the legislation so that it works for them.

Scope's chief executive, Tony Manwaring, said this was particularly important for, "those with high support needs and those who have been out of work for long periods, who in the past have found themselves penalised rather than supported".

"We look forward to working with the government to ensure the welfare benefit system supports disabled people to live independently, free from poverty, rejects segregation and enables disabled people to exercise choice and control over every aspect of their lives."

Support for the new work and pensions secretary, David Blunkett, has come from another pan-disability organisation, RADAR.

It thinks that the proposed reforms should benefit disabled people in the UK, and it has welcomed Mr Blunkett's "consensual tone".

"RADAR believes strongly that disability does not mean 'cannot work'," said chief executive, Kate Nash.

Ms Nash thinks that the current system unhelpfully compartmentalises disabled people into those who can and cannot work.

"It's all a matter of the right person, in the right job, with the right support," she said.

Careful handling

Incapacity benefit now costs about 7bn a year and is paid to almost three million people - so reform would have been a priority for whichever party won the election.

And increasing the number of people in the workforce is an important part of the government's strategy to help pay for the pensions crisis.

But campaigners may well be hoping that having a high-profile disabled person - David Blunkett - in charge of the Department of Work and Pensions will result in more sensitive handling of a complex issue.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Benefit claimants react to the planned welfare reforms



SEE ALSO:
Blair targets incapacity benefit
01 Feb 05 |  UK Politics
Disability plan to cut inequality
19 Jan 05 |  UK Politics


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