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Thousands in Devon and Cornwall on sickness benefit are told to work

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 19, 2012

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Around one-quarter of 23,000 people in the Westcountry on sickness benefit for more than a decade are at risk of losing the state handout and sent back to work in a Government crackdown.

Official figures have revealed the scale of long-term dependence on Incapacity Benefit (IB) in Devon and Cornwall as details emerged of claimants being stripped of their welfare payments.

Across the two counties, around 121,810 men and women rely on out-of-work benefits – with 24,690 of them in receipt of state help for ten years or more. All but 1,000 of the decade-long claimants are on IB.

Ministers are in the process of a three-year national re- assessment of about 1.5 million people on the sickness help, and will potentially place them on the new Employment and Support Allowance which is worth more.

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New Department for Work and Pensions research, seen by the Western Morning News, has revealed tens of thousands of people who had been on IB for over a decade were actually fit for work.

Between October 2010 and February 2012, 147,600 people on IB for more than ten years were tested. Some 39,500 – or close to a quarter – were found fit for work after being reassessed.

Extrapolated to Devon and Cornwall, this could mean around 5,500 people sent back to work.

In total, 145,000 people of a 462,100 caseload are ready to start employment immediately, the DWP said.

While critics claim the most vulnerable are at risk of losing much-needed support, the Government insists that people who are genuinely too sick to work will continue to receive unconditional support from the state, and will not be expected to look for a job.

Mark Hoban, Minister for Employment, said: "These figures show how broken the old incapacity benefit system was. We're determined to give people all the support they need to help them on the long road back towards work.

"I don't underestimate the scale of the challenge. For many people it will take time to get back into work, but we are determined to do all we can to help."

The Government's £5 billion welfare-to-work programme is designed to help people like those who are reassessed and found able to go to work, officials said.

Ministers have promised to cut the welfare bill by roughly 10 per cent during the course of the Parliament in an attempt to make work more attractive than a life on benefits.

But unions and Labour politicians fear the poor and vulnerable who rely on state help through no fault of their own will be pressured back into work.

Adrian Sanders, Liberal Democrat MP for Torbay, sounded a note of caution. He said: "The system has to be one that ensures benefits don't go to the people who don't deserve it, while ensuring those who need it get it. So you do need to have a system of assessment.

"But it should never be about money, as people who are perfectly entitled will not get it. That is the concern the public have."

The Westcountry figures, recently deposited in the House of Commons library, also highlight long-term jobless benefit dependency, though only 20 people in Devon and Cornwall have been claiming the dole for more than a decade.

However, in Cornwall 330 people have been looking for work for more than two years while claiming Jobseekers' Allowance (JSA). In Plymouth, 260 people have been on JSA for more than two years.

A DWP spokesman said: "Long-term unemployment is a big challenge, but we know there are jobs out there with Jobcentre Plus offices in Devon and Cornwall posting 10,437 vacancies in October alone.

"When people have been out of a job for many years, whether through ill health or other circumstances, we know it can take time before they are ready to return to work.

"That's why we introduced the Work Programme, which offers two years of support for people who are furthest away from the world of work and who need the most help to eventually move into a job."

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  • lien60  |  November 22 2012, 8:28PM

    I have worked since I was 16 and now I am 43 but have been off sick since Oct last year with af all ready had two operations and have been waiting for a third since June. I hope to go back to work in the new year as I have just just a letter from the Hospital saying my operation is booked for next month

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  • northernchimp  |  November 22 2012, 7:50PM

    Wake up and Smell the Coffee? That is exactly what is happening. The only people to blame for this mess are the thousands and thousands of blaggers who have got away with it for years (we all know someone!). Unfortunately genuine cases may be getting caught up in this and are suffering, but I am yet to hear a reasonable alternative. Things definitely couldn't stay as they were.

  • phoebbs  |  November 22 2012, 7:22PM

    I've worked constantly since I left school at the age of 16 (now 43) - but I've been off long term sick as a result of chronic pain syndrome, severe depression, and Aspergers Syndrome (which causes me crippling anxiety / panic attacks). I've paid my tax in full (what company can say that these days ?), but am having trouble claiming due to lies and deliberate falsehoods by ATOS who ignore all medical evidence by actual trained professionals, and think their bigoted and uneducated view that a "look up and down" is sufficient to declare almost everyone fit to work. I can barely make it to the toilet by myself at times, and frequently lie in bed struggling to breathe due to back pain. Not all disabilities are visible - but that doesn't change the fact that they still are, even if some of your readers are too pig-headed to believe it, or too stupid to understand it. ...until it happens to them...

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  • kevinretallic  |  November 22 2012, 5:36PM

    I tried to get a blue badge and disabled parking to aid my elderly relative to get about, no go because I am not disabled and yet I see a person skipping down the road to school with a blue badge...totally wrong!

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  • mnix2020  |  November 22 2012, 10:16AM

    What is wrong with people? Where has your compassion and humanity gone? In the 1930s the Nazi's produced posters which showed that one disabled person costs more to the public purse than a whole family. And the people believed this. And then turned a blind eye to the mass euthanasia of those sick and disabled who had been deemed undeserving of life. Now, this government are putting out skewed statistics which basically say the same thing - "you are paying for this sick person out of your hard earned money." "You should be outraged". When in actual fact, most of these people have also worked for many years, had the misfortune to become ill and unable to work, wrongly expecting that the tax and national insurance that they have paid for so many years would ensure that they were able to survive in their hour of need. SO WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE!!!!! If you become ill (and there's a good chance that sometime in your life you will) your actions now will ensure that there will be NO SAFETY NET for you, when you need it most. And just one little fact to remember when you see government statistics - their own figures show that only half a percent of claims for disability benefit are fraudulent. And with regards to sickness benefit - they are actually telling you how many people are being fit for work after a "computer says no" half hour test, but conveniently forgetting that after appeal this figure is dramatically lower. So don't think that if you are ill you will not be found fit for work - chances are you will fail their ridiculous medical as well, even if you have doctors, consultants, tests etc all saying that you are too ill to work, and then have to spend precious energy which you should be using trying to get well instead having to appeal over and over again, just to get less than £100 a week. IT IS NOT A CUSHY LIFE! Certainly not one I would've chosen or even anticipated when I was working 50 hours a week and had £400 a week to play with. Get a job? I would love to be there right now.

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  • 1newlyn  |  November 22 2012, 6:32AM

    Boo Hoo , get a job ! If there are any around! If not leave the UK and get a job overseas. Many of us have to , whats wrong with these people ?They have probably never earned an honest pound in their lives !

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  • robocop1982  |  November 22 2012, 12:11AM

    THis is very dangerous. supposing a person is starving from the system losing all control and they decide to cannibalize somebody due to hunger as nobody will help them. the danger is this system is losing control and people are suffering and nobody is available to help them. I realize now ww2 still isn't over. our economy is still being effected amongst other things. starving people will end up being driven to cannibalism. ITs in our blood

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  • pwest1  |  November 21 2012, 11:47PM

    Unfortunately genuine claimants who are suffering with illness are struggling to receive the benefits they are entitled to even when they may have paid taxes for years. It is not an easy option to be restricted by illness and to have to rely on the state especially when the state decides they must cut disability benefits as much as possible wherever possible, it is obvious that people with genuine needs are going to be targeted. The process to claim disability benefits is stressful and degrading at times, it is not a simple handout and any one who has this view clearly has never been ill or had to use the benefits system.

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  • joseph_k  |  November 21 2012, 7:15PM

    About time...

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  • mothershipton  |  November 21 2012, 6:54PM

    In Torbay you can work three jobs a day and most still don't earn enough to get a mortgage and buy your own home, there's no reward for working hard anymore if you tackle this problem people will go back to work. We have the power to make this the best generation of mankind in the history of the world or to make it the last. John F. Kennedy

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