Medical tests for new benefit 'unfair': Over-reliance on health evidence attacked (CORRECTED)

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Indy Politics

MEDICAL tests to be introduced by the Benefits Agency in April for people claiming incapacity benefit will be unfair and exclude genuine cases if staff consider medical evidence alone, according an influential independent think-tank.

At least two changes to the system for assessing people's inability to work are needed to make it more flexible, a report by the Policy Studies Institute recommends.

First, a questionnaire to be filled in by claimants should include questions about factors which combine with their condition to make their job prospects especially difficult. These include age, skills, job accessibility and discrimination by employers.

Second, adjudication officers should use the scoring system only as a guide to their decisions, but take account of other evidence, especially if the score was near the threshold below which the benefit would be refused.

These changes would 'avoid the obvious anomalies which might occur if the score based on medical evidence alone was applied too rigidly,' Richard Berthoud, the author, said.

Under changes announced in the Budget, incapacity benefit will replace invalidity benefit and sickness benefit and be taxed for new claimants from April 1995. From this April, claimants will have to undergo a stricter medical test based on ability to perform certain functions. Claimants will fill in a questionnaire to be considered by an adjudication officer, and usually a Benefits Agency doctor. The changes are intended to cut the number of people claiming invalidity and sickness benefit, which is paid to 1.6 million at a cost of pounds 6.4bn.

Peter Lilley, Secretary of State for Social Security, has claimed that GPs give sick notes to people who are not genuinely unable to work.

Mr Berthoud's report says there is no evidence of an increase in the number of people inventing false disabilities in order to claim benefit. Instead, he argues: 'As the labour market has tightened, disabled people have found it more difficult to get back into work'.

The new procedure says entitlement should be based strictly on medical criteria and that other factors affecting disabled people's employment prospects, such as age, mobility and labour market prospects, should be ignored.

The report says unless the system is more flexible, 'disabled people may fear that the official doctors will place a higher priority on rejecting illegitimate claims than on accepting legitimate ones'.


New medical tests for Incapacity Benefit which replaces Invalidity Benefit and Sickness benefit will come into effect from April 1995 not 1994 as we incorrectly stated in yesterday's Independent. The Department of Social Security issued a consultation document on how claimants should be assessed and will report in the summer.