Monday, 27 October 2008

End of Incapacity Benefit

Incapacity benefit will be replaced with a new employment and support allowance today under the latest phase of the government's programme of benefit reform.

Under the new system, ill or disabled benefit claimants will have their capability assessed by an expert health professional within weeks.

The government said the changes reflect an end to "writing people off". Work and pensions secretary James Purnell said: "In the 1990s people were written off on incapacity benefit with no help to overcome their problems or support to get them into work.

"It is even more important during an economic downturn that we increase support for people not take it away.

"The introduction of employment and support allowance [ESA], which marks a significant landmark for the delivery of our welfare reforms, will offer the help and support disabled people and people with ill health are telling us they want in order for them to get back to work."

The Disability Alliance raised concerns that ESA rates were lower than incapacity benefit. "Jobcentre Plus must improve its decision-making standards, including consideration of medical evidence and the standard of medical examinations."

Reforms to the way single parents apply for child maintenance also come into force on Monday amid concerns that the changes could leave to fewer poor children receiving the benefit.

Under the arrangements single parents on benefits will have to decide whether to continue using the Child Support Agency, make their own arrangements, or do without child maintenance altogether.

Fiona Weir, chief executive of the One Parent Families/Gingerbread group, said: "We fear that many poor single parents on benefit will struggle to agree private child support arrangements and their children may end up doing without.

"This would be disastrous for the children affected and for the government's child poverty targets."

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