Letter: Invalidity benefit is not an option for the jobless

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YOUR article on Easington ('The village that is sick of living without a future', 15 August) implies that claiming invalidity benefit is an easy option for people who are unable to find work. This is not the case. Claimants cannot choose to receive invalidity benefit if there is no sickness or disability. Benefit is not paid automatically if a claimant produces a sick note.

First, the claimant has to have paid in sufficient National Insurance contributions during the previous two tax years to qualify.

Second, invalidity benefit is only paid when the Benefits Agency is satisfied that that person is incapable of work for which an employer would be prepared to pay. In addition, claimants have their case regularly reviewed by the Benefits Agency Medical Service, which often involves an examination by a Benefits Agency doctor.

Eight out of ten cases referred continue to be assessed as unfit for work. Of the rest, 52 per cent successfully appeal. This shows that far from being claimed by those who are not really sick or disabled, invalidity benefit is often withdrawn incorrectly.

Research shows that the rising numbers of invalidity benefit claimants is explained by longer periods spent on benefit by existing claimants rather than an increase in new claims.

To imply that people on invalidity benefit are not really 'sick' because they can manage to keep pigeons or go to an allotment is a misunderstanding of both disability and the conditions of eligibility for invalidity benefit. By the end of this year, disabled people will have lost pounds 30m from the abolition of the additional pension paid with invalidity benefit. Any further reduction in the living standards of disabled people - through cuts to invalidity benefit or the imposition of VAT on domestic fuel - would be tantamount to making disabled people pay for the Government's debts.

Marilyn Howard

Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation

London W1