Incapacity benefit crackdown begins after pilot scheme
The one-and-a-half million people who claim incapacity benefit will start to receive letters this week asking them to be tested on their ability to work.
The new assessments are part of government plans to reduce the number of long-term claimants in a rolling programme through to 2014.
Almost 30% of those who took the test during pilot schemes in Burnley and Aberdeen were declared fit to work.
However, disability charities say many of the assessments are unfair.Potential
But Work and Pensions minister Chris Grayling said: "My message to people who are worried about this process is that this is all about helping those who can return to work.
"It's not about forcing people to return to work, but unless we do the assessments, unless we identify who has that potential, we'll never be able to offer that help."
During the pilot scheme, a further 39% were assessed as able to work but needing the right support to do so.
Under the initiative, once claimants have had a work capability assessment they will be placed in one of three groups.
Those immediately fit for work will be put on jobseeker's allowance.
Clifford Rise, from near Caernarfon in Gwynedd, has been on incapacity benefit for seven years.
"The first interview I had with the medical services was only a couple of months after I'd been diagnosed by the psychiatrist in Bangor as severely depressed and with obsessive compulsive disorder.
The interview lasted 20 minutes. I had nine points instead of the 10 that I needed. I fought for six months without getting any money to get an appeal.
The second interview lasted an hour-and-a-half and was a lot fairer. They gave me enough points.
I wouldn't mind going through it again if it was done fairly.
It would be impossible for me to find any employment again.
I wish I could, but I'm afraid there's too much pressure being put on the doctors to get people off the incapacity benefit onto Jobseekers', which would be definitely less money. There's no way I could manage on that - £95 is not much for myself and the wife. You can't live on that."
Those deemed unable to work because of sickness or disability will be entitled to the highest rate of employment support allowance, and will not be expected to look for work.
A middle section - those who have been long-term unemployed but judged capable of doing some form of work - will be placed in a "work-related activity group".
They will be expected to take steps to prepare themselves for a return to employment.
Early indications showed 70% of incapacity benefit claimants had the potential to work.
But Mr Grayling told the BBC there were "absolutely no targets attached to this programme".
"Of course, if we get people back into the workplace it will save money for the taxpayer in the end, but we do not have a financial target."
He also said the assessments would only be one factor taken into account when determining fitness to work, and even greater emphasis would be placed on expert evidence from a person's GP or consultant.'Very blunt'
The fitness-to-work test was changed last year after widespread criticism.
Charities expressed concern that it unduly focused on an individual's physical capacity and ignored other factors such as mental health issues.
They also warned that people were not being given enough help to prepare for the test.
But Richard Hawkes, chief executive of disability charity Scope, told the BBC that changes made since then had not gone far enough.
"This test is a very blunt medical questionnaire where you sit across the room from somebody you've never met before," he said.
"It just doesn't take into consideration things like fluctuating impairments, or things like ME [chronic fatigue syndrome] where you might not be able to do things over a sustained period of time."
This was supported by an independent review of the system in November calling for a "more fair and effective" process.
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