Budget Aftermath: Strict new test for sickness claimants

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The Independent Online
MOST people claiming Invalidity and Sickness benefit after 28 weeks will be subjected to a stringent new medical test under which their disabilities will be rated and scored to measure their incapacity to do any work. People who are terminally ill or aged over 58 will not have to undergo the test.

More details of changes to the benefits system, disclosed in Tuesday's Budget, were given yesterday by Peter Lilley, Secretary of State for Social Security.

Invalidity benefit, now paid to about 1.5 million people, and sickness benefit, paid to 135,000 people, will be abolished and replaced by Incapacity benefit which, for all new claimants after April 1995, will be taxed.

A consultation document on the proposed new medical test for incapacity benefits, published by the Department of Social Security, was launched by Mr Lilley.

The new test will consider medical factors only, and the test will simply consider capacity to do any work. Under the present system, GPs take into account the person's capacity to do work suitable for their age, experience and qualifications, and the jobs market.

The test, which will be developed in pilot studies, will have a clear medical threshold above which a claimant will be considered incapable of work and below which they will be considered capable.

The test will assess a person's ability to carry out a range of work- related activities including walking, bending and lifting, and other mental and sensory as well as physical activities, rather than their capacity to do specific jobs. The department is inviting comments before 11 February.

The proposed new test will award points depending on the degree of disability and ability to perform a range of activities. These activities will be adapted from those used by the Office of Population, Censuses and Surveys to measure disability for a survey for the Department of Health and Social Security in 1985.

A series of specific activities have been drawn up including rising from sitting to standing, manual dexterity, manual handling, reaching and stretching, speech, hearing, seeing, comprehension, behaviour, cognition, psychiatric morbidity, fits and consciousness and continence.

The OPCS system rated disabilities on a scale of nought to 25 points. The test includes practical activities - a person who cannot pick up and carry a 5lb bag of potatoes in either hand will be awarded 9.5 points while those who cannot lift and push an unladen wheelbarrow will get 4.5 points.

The total number of points which must be reached before the person in judged incapable of work has not yet been set.