Suffolk: More than 6,500 people on long term sickness benefit
MORE than 6,500 people across Suffolk have been out of work receiving sickness benefits for more than a decade, official figures show.
The statistics from the Department for Work and Pensions come at a time when the Government is testing all those who currently receive Incapacity Benefit (IB) to see if they are actually fit to work.
Between October 2010 and February 2012 the Government tested 147,600 people receiving IB for more than 10 years across the country. Some 39,500 – more than 26% – were found fit for work after being reassessed.
If the same rate is reflected in Suffolk it would mean that of the 6,470 people receiving IB for more than a decade, 1,728 could be told they are fit to work.
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.”
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Under the testing regime claimants undergo a series of physical examinations and mental skill assessments which last around 13 weeks.
If they are found to be fit for work and cannot find a job they may then be moved on to the less generous out of work benefit, Jobseekers Allowance.
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In Babergh there are 640 people that have received IB for more then 10 years. In Forest Heath there are 390, in Ipswich there are 1,550, in Mid Suffolk there are 620, in St Edmundsbury there are 810, in Suffolk Coastal there are 880 and in Waveney, 1,580.
Mr Hoban added: “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.”
Ministers have promised to cut the welfare bill by roughly 10% during the course of the Parliament in an attempt to make work more attractive than a life on benefits.
The Government’s �5bn welfare-to-work programme is designed to help people like those who are reassessed and found able to go to work, officials said.
Incapacity benefits are thought to have cost the taxpayer around �135bn between 2000 and 2010 and coalition ministers have blamed Labour for “abandoning” tens of thousands to a lifetime on benefits.
But some unions and Labour politicians say the poor and vulnerable who rely on state help through no fault of their own will be unduly pressured back into work by the testing regime.
Tracey Lambert, head of health for UNISON East of England, said the Government was “attacking the weak and vulnerable”.
She said: “We are very disappointed at the Government’s proposals. We believe that stigmatising the disabled and mentally ill as scroungers is not helpful and will leave people impoverished and in distress. We would call upon the government to rethink this policy.”