Thousands of people on incapacity benefit will this week receive letters asking them to be reassessed to see if they can work as the Government steps up its welfare reforms.
Employment Minister Chris Grayling said: “A life on benefits is no longer an option,” as he suggested that half a million people who currently claim sickness benefits in the UK are fit to start work immediately
The first letters will be sent out today to some of the 1.6m incapacity benefit claimants.
The first assessments begin in June.
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Mr Grayling said around five million people had consistently been on out-of-work benefits for the last decade.
“Too many people were left abandoned ‘on the sick' while new jobs went to migrant workers from overseas,” he insisted. He highlighted findings from pilot studies in Burnley and Aberdeen which showed “almost a third” of existing claimants were fit for work.
“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,” Mr Grayling added.
Another 600,000 of the 1.6 million who will be tested are likely to be able to find work “with the right support”.
The welfare crackdown will see up to 10,000 people “reassessed” every week, with a process that can involve tough new medical tests.
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 Job Seekers' Allowance (JSA).
Mr Grayling wrote: “Refusal to take part is not an option. If claimants refuse that help, they will lose their benefits.”
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.
The Government said people genuinely too sick to work will continue to receive unconditional state support, and they will receive a higher rate of benefit than they do currently.
Mr Grayling said: “The evidence clearly shows that there are people out there who, with the right support, will be able to gain employment and say goodbye to a life on benefits.
“For too long millions of people have been written off with no real support to get back into sustained employment. The changes we are making to the benefits system will ensure that those in genuine need get more support and those who could and should be working and given the opportunity to do so.”
The Government says Incapacity Benefit is seen to be an inactive benefit. This means claimants are not required to regularly justify their eligibility, and can therefore remain on the benefit for years without any reassessment of their capabilities. A Government White Paper in December 2008 proposed a radical reform of the current Incapacity Benefits system.