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Sickness benefits crackdown begins

The coalition's crackdown on sickness benefits is getting under way in earnest with ministers suggesting half a million claimants could be ready to start work immediately.

The first letters are being sent out asking some of the 1.6 million incapacity benefit claimants to submit to reassessments.

By the end of the week 7,000 people will have been contacted, rising to 10,000 a week by the end of April, with the first assessments happening in June.

The move follows the publication of final results from trial assessments in Burnley and Aberdeen, which ministers said confirmed almost a third of claimants were fit for work while a further 38% had the potential to work with the right support.

Of the 1,626 people assessed in the two trial areas, a third had been found fit for work straight away and transferred to Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA), 38% were assessed as able to work with the right support, while 30% have been placed in the support group for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) - which means they will receive unconditional support and not be expected to look for work.

Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, employment minister Chris Grayling said: "The trial results show that, if replicated nationally, we could expect around half a million people to be found fit for work over the next three years as the reassessment exercise is completed."

Another 600,000 of the 1.6 million people who will be tested are likely to be able to find work "with the right support", he added.

Private companies will be used to help people off benefits and back into work, and rewarded with fees of up to £14,000 for each individual case. Anybody ruled fit for work who is currently on an invalidity benefit (IB) will be placed on the less generous JSA.

The coalition's plan was first put forward by Mr Grayling when the Tories were in opposition more than three years ago. The then work and pensions secretary James Purnell came forward with similar proposals, but they are believed to have been blocked by Gordon Brown.

Mr Grayling warned that claimants who refused to take part in the schemes would lose their benefits. But the Government has insisted people genuinely too sick to work will continue to receive unconditional support from the state, and will not be expected to look for work. They will also receive a higher rate of benefit than they currently receive.

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