6 December 2004

Chancellor Gordon Brown has stepped up the drive to make claiming incapacity benefit both more difficult and socially shaming. The increased responsibilities for claimants were set out in a DWP press release which, once again, referred to the "sick-note culture". Sick-note culture claimants are now taking over from "compensation culture" recipients as the government's most demonised group.

Under the new rules, drawing up an action plan detailing the steps they will take to get back to full-time work is to be made compulsory for all new IB claimants and for anyone taking up higher limit permitted work. In addition, the Pathways to Work pilot, under which claimants have six work-focused interviews is to be extended to cover one third of the country. Attempts are also to be piloted to interfere further in the relationship between patients and their GPs.

Permitted work
The rules which allow claimants to do some paid work and still be classed as incapable of work are to be altered, or "improved and simplified" in the words of the report.

Under the changes, higher limit permitted work will automatically last for 52 weeks. At present it lasts for just 26 weeks and claimants then have to apply to a decision maker for a further 26 weeks extension. In what may be a further improvement, some claimants with the most limiting health conditions, such as advanced progressive conditions, will be able to work for a longer period whilst still being considered incapable of work. This would, however, appear to create a fourth category of permitted work somewhere between higher limit permitted work and supported permitted work, which lasts indefinitely. Improved, perhaps, but simplified?

In addition, however, those undertaking permitted work "will be required to sign up to an action plan committing them to consider the prospects of a move into full time employment, with support where necessary". At the 26 week stage they will need to demonstrate an ongoing commitment to their action plan and, where necessary revise it.

Work-focused interviews
From October 2005 all new incapacity benefit claimants will obliged to attend a work-focused interview after eight weeks of their claim and to complete an action plan. This is a change from the current system, whereby only claimants in the Pathways to Work pilots are obliged to draw up an action plan.

In addition, starting from October 2005, the Pathways to Work pilot under which claimants have to attend a series of six work-focused interviews will be extended to a further 14 Jobcentre Plus districts, amounting to one third of the country. The areas targeted are those with the greatest concentration of incapacity benefit claimant. Including existing pilots, the total area covered will have 900,000 incapacity benefit claimants.

The current seven Pathways to work pilots will continue beyond 2006 and are likely to be extended to cover people who have been claiming IB for a number of years.

General Practitioners
To help end what the DWP now uniformly demonise as the "sick note culture" the DWP are to pilot a scheme in which GPs will have access to "specialist GPs" (a title which, in posher publications would be derided as an oxymoron) dealing with mental health, musculo-skeletal and other conditions. These are conditions which the DWP consider are best dealt with by remaining in full-time employment.

More worrying still, the DWP intends to place employment advisers in GPs surgeries. What role these advisers will play and what access they will have to GPs, patients and their records is yet to be divulged.


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