George Osborne faced anger and dismay last night over his plans to cut sickness benefits, with even a Government minister joining the backlash.
Further details of the drive to provide jobs for the long-term unemployed — including those claiming incapacity benefit at an annual cost to the Treasury of £12.5bn — will be set out today.
Private companies and charities are expected to be offered extra incentives to help find work for the jobless under the proposals to be set out by Chris Grayling, the Employment Minister.
The Government believes that an overhaul of the benefits system will eventually reduce by one-fifth the number of people registered as too sick to work.
Mr Osborne, who has already announced plans to cut the benefits bill by £11bn, said he was seeking further savings from the employment and support allowance, which is replacing incapacity benefit, and from housing benefit payments. The Chancellor indicated the costs of incapacity benefit were no longer sustainable as they exceeded the budget of some Whitehall departments.
Further signs that benefit claimants are being targeted for cuts will put greater pressure on the coalition Government.
Lynne Featherstone, the Liberal Democrat Equalities Minister, expressed concern that the 2.6 million people on incapacity benefit could soon face more frequent medical assessments.
“I would think that everyone wants those who can work but
who claim incapacity benefit falsely not to receive that support,” she wrote on her blog.
“However, the previous Labour Government tried to get people off such allowances and my experience as a local MP from surgery is that the ‘reassessment' of people claiming has been variable at best. We need to be sure that there is no perverse incentive to determine that someone can work when they cannot,” she said.
“We also need to be sure that those carrying out the assessment are good at it.”
Under the new Government plans all claimants of the benefit would have their cases reassessed to determine their “readiness to work”. Those deemed healthy enough to hold down a job would be transferred to Jobseeker's Allowance.