Rise in benefit claims linked to social change

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Indy Politics
(First Edition)

THE RISE in the number of invalidity benefit claims is linked to social change - that, at least, was the view of Sir Michael Partridge, Permanent Secretary at the Department of Social Security, when he appeared before the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee in 1990.

This week, at Prime Minister's Question Time, in answer to a question about the Government's current plan to withdraw benefit from thousands of claimants, John Major said it 'beggared belief' that so many more people had become invalids over the past decade.

Yet, in the minutes of his evidence to the PAC, Sir Michael blamed the rise in claims on the decline in traditional industries and increase in long-term unemployment, the growth of the one-parent family and advancement in medical science.

'All these factors go together. It is a change in society, it is a change in medicine and those are the sort of factors that are contributing to this quite considerable growth in the number of people who are receiving invalidity benefit.'

Sir Michael told the PAC that there were a 'number of non-medical factors involved' in the rise in the number of claims. These included the decline in traditional manufacturing industries and the inability of people in areas affected to find new work.

Sir Michael related how he himself had been to the DSS office in Sunderland which was having to cope with the run-down in local shipbuilding, 'which meant that a whole range of jobs were no longer available'. He continued: 'A number of those people who were initially unemployed did go sick and the sort of jobs they were capable of doing at their age without retraining were not any longer available.'

He also blamed the rise in claims on the single-parent family. 'That does affect the medical condition of the claimant and also their ability to do a job. Those numbers have been rising very fast.'

Advances in medical science were another factor. 'A number of people who a few years ago would have died are kept alive but are not capable of work,' said Sir Michael. 'This can happen at younger ages. People can have severe illnesses, strokes or heart attacks and may recover but not be capable any longer of doing their old job, or indeed, any job.'

In its report, the PAC accepted Sir Michael's evidence and concluded that 'prolonged unemployment could have an adverse effect on the individual's health'. The Government's community care policy was given as another reason for the rise in claims because 'more people were returning to the community and receiving invalidity benefit to which they were not entitled when in institutional care.'

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