Page last updated at 15:26 GMT, Monday, 5 October 2009 16:26 UK

'I'm just too ill to work'

BBC News website readers have been assessing the Conservatives' proposals to cut the incapacity benefit bill.

The party says it suspects one in five of the existing 2.6 million incapacity benefit claimants could work and will bring in a new test.

Those deemed fit for employment would be put on jobseeker's allowance instead, reducing their benefits by £25 a week.

ALISON POOLE, STOCKPORT

Ten months ago Alison Poole, 32, became too sick to carry on her job as a primary school teacher.

She had cancer as a child and has since been claiming incapacity benefit and disability living allowance of about £250 a month.

Alison Poole
Alison Poole: Panic attacks when she goes to check-ups

"I am desperate to get back to work but I'm just too ill," she says.

Mrs Poole, from Stockport, Greater Manchester, says she had to undergo several tests - including an external medical exam and a job centre assessment - before qualifying for incapacity benefit.

She acknowledges that "some people could go back to work as they are not genuine cases".

But she says: "Going to these assessments are really stressful and the hoops have increased 10 fold from this time last year."

Mrs Poole adds: "I get mass panic attacks when I go for check-ups because - it sounds ridiculous and although I know I'm entitled to it and that my doctors have written letter after letter justifying it - I'm just so scared that people won't believe me.

"It's the stress and anxiety."

She says losing incapacity benefit would mean her "independence would be gone".

ANTHONY PHILLIPS, CAMBRIDGE

Former motorway recovery driver Anthony Phillips believes the Conservative plans will only highlight a "grey area" that already exists.

He has been told his incapacity benefits are going to stop because he has been assessed as being fit enough to work - but he does not accept the type of job he could hypothetically do actually exists.

Mr Phillips, 48, had been on £64 a week under the new system of employment and support allowance that was introduced in April as a replacement for incapacity benefit for new claimants.

I'm restricted to what I can do because of my illness

He stopped working a year ago because of a heart condition and asthma and suffers from depression.

But after further recent tests, he was told he is "not sick enough".

He is going through an appeal now as he feels the criteria being applied to his case are too harsh.

"I'm restricted to what I can do because of my illness. I know they are not specifying I have to do 40 hours a week of driving anymore. But the jobs they are suggesting are not there."

Mr Phillips says spending cuts should be made elsewhere because at the end of the day his benefits barely covered the bills.

"How the hell could you feed yourself too on that money," he says.

"They should think about cutting their own wage packets before picking on the already poor."

SIMON HUTT, NUNEATON

Former soldier Simon Hutt agrees there is a need to review the system of incapacity benefit.

Mr Hutt, 36, lost a leg after an injury, but is on incapacity benefit because of a slipped disc.

"The way incapacity benefit is talked about, I'm made to feel like I'm a scrounger," he says.

"There are too many people getting away with fiddling the system," he adds.

Simon Hutt
Simon Hutt wants assessments to take account of 'the whole picture'

He would like to see more flexibility in incapacity benefit assessments to weed out those cases which are not genuine.

But he worries bringing in sweeping changes as part of a "populist benefits cut" may not be the answer.

"It's still going to be difficult to help those in need," he says.

"Assessments of those in need should be more personal and take into account the whole picture of the claimant, rather than the system as it is now which is a matter of ticking boxes and fulfilling criteria."



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