Disabled to be forced to reapply for benefit

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Indy Politics

Disabled people will be forced to reapply for Incapacity Benefit every three years in a new Government crackdown on the £8bn-a-year allowance.

The controversial move, which will be announced today by Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, will enrage disability groups. Both Tory and Labour ministers have faced demonstrations from wheelchair-bound protesters against previous attempts to cut the bill for sickness and disability benefits.

But Mr Darling will spell out his determination to overhaul Incapacity Benefit, often regarded as a respectable alternative to Jobseekers' Allowance or to early retirement. About 2.3 million, mainly older, people are paid the benefit, with numbers of claimants rising every year. The annual cost to the Treasury is an estimated £8bn. At present, eligibility for the benefit is open-ended, and many claimants receive payments for years at a time.

Future claimants will only be automatically entitled to the benefit, which currently ranges between £52.60 and £69.75 per week, for a maximum of three years before facing a fresh assessment of their ability to work. A lower limit is likely to be set for people with less serious conditions.

Mr Darling stressed last night that the severely disabled or terminally ill would not be forced off the benefit as a result of the changes, which are likely to come into force by the end of next year. But he believes that a majority of claimants – for example, those recovering from car crashes and other accidents – recover sufficiently to be fit for some sort of work.

At the moment, many tend to remain on the benefit for what would have been the rest of their working lives. Mr Darling said: "We can't regard Incapacity Benefit as being a benefit for life. We can't allow people either to be written off or to allow people to write themselves off."

He said the Government was prepared to consider setting time limits for other allowances once the changes to Incapacity Benefit had been implemented.

In a speech to the Institute of Public Policy Research in London today, Mr Darling will call for a "decisive change" in the whole approach to the benefits system. He will say that the Government now has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to press on towards its "unfinished business" of achieving full employment.

He will confirm Government plans to merge the Employment Service with the Benefits Agency to set up Jobcentre Plus, a single, integrated service to all people of working age and their employers.