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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 February 2008, 15:41 GMT
Call to copy US to cut benefits
Dr Merrill Matthews
Dr Merrill Matthews says welfare reforms worked in the USA
The number of people claiming incapacity benefit in Wales could be reduced by two-thirds if American-style reforms were adopted, says a US expert.

Merrill Matthews, who studies US welfare reform, visited south Wales towns which have a high number of benefit claimants, such as Merthyr.

He said welfare money should be cut and put into creating local jobs, as was done in the USA in the 1990s.

But his get-tough stance would not help genuine claimants, some people said.

Dr Matthews was brought to south Wales by BBC Wales' Week In Week Out programme after it was revealed it has five areas in the top 10 councils with the highest percentage of people on benefits for more than five years.

Merthyr has the highest ratio of long-term benefit claimants in the UK and the other south Wales regions near the top of the list are Blaenau Gwent, Neath Port Talbot, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Caerphilly.

Dr Merrill Matthews and Robert Naether
Everything is put in its place to stop me getting a job
Robert Naether, pictured with Merrill Matthews

Dr Matthews, who is a member of conservative think-tanks in Washington and Texas, said many people in the areas seemed to be in denial about the problem.

"With one in five of Merthyr's working age population on incapacity-type benefits, why isn't there more outrage?" he told the programme.

"In the US we cut people's cash benefits in the 1990s and told them they were going back to work.

"They are some of the most successful policies we've ever introduced. In some states, money from benefit claimants was taken and used instead to create jobs in local companies, boosting employment opportunities."

Supporters of the reforms say they have reduced the number of people on benefits in the US by nearly two-thirds on average and moved people into jobs.

'Making excuses'

The UK government is currently overhauling the welfare system and is introducing changes in October, including an assessment to decide what a person is capable of, and how they can manage their condition to return to work.

But some people who met Dr Matthews were sceptical that the reforms will help disabled people back into work.

Robert Naether, who lives in Llanelli, Carmarthenshire, and became disabled after two industrial accidents, said: "The only thing that'll happen to me this October is that my benefits are going to go down. I still won't get a job.

"Everything is put in its place to stop me getting a job. I am one of the 8m disabled people this government doesn't care about."

Dr Matthews insists politicians must take a tougher stance on the issue.

"Both the system and the recipients themselves have to reform," he said.

"Public officials must stop making excuses for people and stop coddling them. They destroy people's lives if they over-protect them."



SEE ALSO
Benefit claim town 'needs funds'
29 Oct 07 |  South East Wales

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