Leeds and Wakefield benefit ‘shake up’ unfair, Yorkshire Evening Post, 15 November 2011

From the Yorkshire Evening Post, 15 November 2011 (story by Katie Baldwin).

The Government wants to get more back to work – but opponents say its benefits reforms are unfair. Katie Baldwin reports.

Campaigners have warned of the “horrifying” impact of reforms which could see tens of thousands of people lose incapacity benefits.

It is estimated that a third of the 30,000 Leeds residents currently claiming because they are unable to work due to ill health or disability will be told they are ineligible.

In Wakefield, another 7,700 claimants are set to lose out.

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Across both cities, academics say more than 11,000 people could be moved off benefits entirely.

Tim McSharry, head of disability and diversity on Leeds Access Committee, said the changes to the system would have a “horrifying impact for the health, inclusion and equality of disabled people”.

The Government’s reforms include moving claimants to Employment Support Allowance and introducing a tougher medical test.

Researchers from Sheffield Hallam University have calculated that by 2014, nearly one million people across Britain will be no longer entitled to incapacity benefits.

Prof Steve Fothergill, co-author of the report, said: “They will impoverish vast numbers of households and cause untold distress in countless more. The incapacity benefit numbers need to be brought down, but this is not the way.”

Mr McSharry, of Tingley, Leeds, who is registered blind, said increasing numbers of disabled people were being told they were fit to work.

He added the current assessment process was “not fit for purpose”: “Many of our members feel this is a disingenuous and discriminating way to simply hit disabled people and will result in greater social inequality which will carry even greater hidden costs to the public.

“We appeal to the Government to reconsider this socially divisive policy and set up an independent root and branch evaluation into the impact of cutting the disability welfare support that is fundamental to basic human dignity, inclusion, health and social equality.”

Rachel Burr, a Leeds representative of the national Hardest Hit campaign, said: “Many disabled people in the area already live in poverty and depend on benefits just to make ends meet. These cuts could cause enormous hardship and serious debt for many people at a time when they most need support.”

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “We want to ensure the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) is as fair and accurate as possible. We have accepted all of Professor Harrington’s recommendations from the first year of his independent review and will soon receive his second year recommendations. We are confident that the changes we are making will lead to a fairer, more accurate assessment. We will continue to review and refine the WCA and it will remain under independent review for the next five years. People can appeal a benefit decision if they think it is wrong.”

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