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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 January 2006, 19:37 GMT
Concerns over incapacity reform
Doctor measuring blood pressure
The government said 2.7m people currently claim the benefit
The Scottish Executive has welcomed proposed reforms of the welfare system, which aim to cut the number of people on incapacity benefit by one million.

The UK Government has confirmed plans to cut benefits for people who refuse to take part in back-to-work projects.

The government insisted that the most seriously disabled, who are unable to work, would be exempt from the changes.

However, disability charity Capability Scotland said the reforms offered a simplistic solution to a complex issue.

The government needs to provide support to employers and tackle discrimination in the workplace
Kate Higgins
Capability Scotland

John Hutton, the work and pensions secretary, told MPs that the reforms would reduce the number of new claimants and provide greater help for those on the benefit to return to work.

Glasgow has the highest concentration of claimants in Britain, with an estimated 16% of the workforce, or 61,000 people, claiming the benefit.

First Minister Jack McConnell said there were too many people on incapacity benefit in Scotland's largest city.

He said Glasgow had enormous potential but added that there was an "awful lot still to do".

The city council may be offered financial rewards to run back-to-work schemes for those currently claiming the benefit.

Street in Glasgow
Glasgow has the UK's highest concentration of claimants

Council leader Councillor Steven Purcell, who met with Prime Minister Tony Blair and Mr Hutton last week, has indicated Glasgow's intention of being the first to bid for the new pilot schemes.

He claimed that thousands of people in the city were prevented from working because of the benefits trap.

He said: "We have the best opportunity in a generation to fundamentally address poverty in Glasgow.

"I have made it clear, that the best way to do that is to help people off benefits and into work.

"These pilot schemes will allow the council and other services to work together to spring that trap and provide the support necessary to get people into sustainable employment."

'Sustainable employment'

However, Kate Higgins, head of Capability Scotland's campaigns, said: "The government must do more and spend more to make sure that work is an attractive and viable option for disabled people.

"As well as ensuring that disabled people have access to well paid, sustainable employment opportunities, the government needs to provide support to employers and tackle discrimination in the workplace."

Bert Massie, chairman of the Disability Rights Commission said: "Disabled people who can work should do so, but only if the support is right and employers are fair.

The real problem is that the sick and disabled continue to be placed at the bottom of the pile when it comes to gaining meaningful and sustainable employment
Grahame Smith
STUC deputy general secretary

"We need to ensure the system is flexible enough to help disabled people make the transition back to work - such as part time working, volunteering, taking up positions on committees - without losing benefit."

The Scottish Trades Union Congress said it was unclear how the "severely disabled" would be separated from the "less severely disabled".

Grahame Smith, STUC deputy general secretary, said: "The real problem is that the sick and disabled continue to be placed at the bottom of the pile when it comes to gaining meaningful and sustainable employment.

"The experience for many is of serial rejection from employers, many of whom avoid employing those with physical or mental disability and the long-term inactive."

Mr Smith said the proposals would be supported if they emphasised creating new employment opportunities and providing support for the tens of thousands of claimants who want to work.

The government said that about 2.7m people currently claim the benefit, at an annual cost of 12.5bn.

It said it was aiming to reduce the number of claimants by one million within a decade.

Financial incentives

Mr Hutton also said that GPs had an important role to play, with employment advisers being placed in GPs' surgeries within a month.

There have also been suggestions that GPs would receive financial incentives for getting patients off the benefit.

However, Dr Malcolm Brown, a GP based in Glasgow's Pollokshaws, which has a high proportion of claimants, said the proposal would jeopardise the doctor-patient relationship.

He said: "I would certainly have nothing to do with that and I'm sure my colleagues wouldn't either.

"I think there would be a very real threat to the doctor-patient relationship if the patients that I encouraged back to work felt I had a financial incentive to do so."

While the Tories broadly welcomed the proposals, the SNP's shadow minister for work and pensions, Mike Weir MP, said it had left many questions unanswered.

He said: "If they try to do this on the cheap it will fail those whom it is meant to assist."


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