Research on the operation of the benefits system published last year found direct links between the imposition of new targets on the Employment Service to cut the numbers claiming unemployment benefit, and rising numbers of sickness or invalidity benefit claimants.
The link stemmed partly from the requirement laid down in the 1989 Social Security Act that people must be 'actively seeking work' to qualify for unemployment benefit. John Jacobs, lecturer in social policy at Sussex University and co-author of last year's study said: 'The Employment Service found that one of the most simple ways of getting the unemployment figures down, and so meet their targets, was to reclassify people as sick.
'There are very many people whose poor health leaves them on the margins of employability who, in times of recession, swell the numbers of unemployed.'
However, over the same period social security officials have also been under pressure to meet targets of their own - to bring down the number of those claiming invalidity and sickness benefit. This created a 'Kafkaesque roundabout' for claimants caught between the two departments' conflicting policies.
He pointed out that if Peter Lilley's proposed squeeze on invalidity benefit was implemented, then more people would be likely to claim unemployment benefit. 'So unemployment will go up, and so will the costs of unemployment.' Any move to restrict sickness and invalidity benefit further would be 'yet another example in a long line of this Government's penchant for blaming the victims of its own policies' Mr Jacobs said.
According to Thursday's leaked documents, one reason for the soaring costs of invalidity benefit to the current pounds 6.1bn a year is that the period over which the benefit is claimed is increasing.
The British Medical Association said that doctors did not have unfettered powers to sign people off sick indefinitely, as had been suggested in some quarters. Six months after signing a patient off as sick, further medical examinations had to be carried out and a report prepared for the DSS.