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TX: 27.03.06 - Incapacity Benefit

PRESENTER: PETER WHITE
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WHITE
On tomorrow's programme the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, John Hutton, will be taking your questions on the reform of incapacity benefit. You may remember that proposals for changes to the benefit were announced at the end of January and the consultation about what is outlined in the Welfare Reform Green Paper is still ongoing. Incapacity benefit costs the taxpayer around £7 billion every year, the government wants to reduce the number of people receiving it by 1 million over the next 10 years - that's by more than half based on current figures. So what do organisations working with disabled people think of the reform proposals? We asked three people who have a strong interest in any reforms to incapacity benefit to give us their views.

KNIGHT
My name's John Knight, I'm head of policy and campaigns at Leonard Cheshire - a large voluntary sector body providing support services to over 21,000 disabled people. We think the Green Paper provides an opportunity to give those disabled people that choose to work the opportunity to work. However, we argue that the reform of welfare benefits must be based on the absolute necessity of lifting disabled people out of poverty by either getting them into paid work, if that's the best route for them and of their choice, or ensuring that benefit levels are raised. We feel that people are locked into welfare benefit poverty and we hope that the Secretary of State will use the Green Paper as an opportunity to radically reform the rates of benefits paid to people who are unable to work. The good things are the Department of Work and Pensions has realised the complex needs of disabled people and that they will try and build this in to any support services they give to disabled people looking for work but we need to be convinced that the job advisors that the Department of Work and Pensions will be deploying will be up to the task, at the moment we're not.

REES
My name is Lorna Rees, I'm chief executive of Disability Alliance. We're a small national campaigning charity aiming to break the link between poverty and disability. One of the things that's very positive in the Green Paper is the national roll out of what's called the Pathyways to Work Programme. It's a tailored programme of help and support to disabled people and what's very significant is that about 10% of the people coming forward are actually volunteering, which I think demonstrates that there's really no evidence that you need to have sanctions in order to get people to start thinking about work. And that brings me on to the area that we're most concerned about which is the possibility that people will face sanctions and have their benefit reduced if they're felt to be not engaging or working properly with the programme. And to give an example: what about the person who's got depression, how does a member of staff judge whether somebody really has depression and isn't able to engage with their work plan or not? These are really difficult decisions to make because disability and impairment cover such a wide area.

GOULDING
My name's Nick Goulding, I'm the chief executive of the Forum of Private Business, which represents some 25,000 privately run businesses who are all employers but generally small employers. We welcome the fact that real effort is being put to get people back to work but what employers want are people who come back wanting to work and if there's too much stick and not enough carrot that won't work. And secondly, we're concerned that the Green Paper proposes to withdraw the relief that small firms presently get when their workers are on statutory sick pay, that'll be damaging for the employment prospects of those returning from incapacity benefit as well as damaging to the businesses.

WHITE
Well that's what some employers and disability organisations think about the proposals to change incapacity benefit, now it's your turn to give us your thoughts on the subject. Are you on incapacity benefit perhaps and worried about what changes might mean to you? Are you working in a job centre where you may have to decide whether someone is capable of working? Maybe you're a GP who will now have to advise patients on the role of work. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, John Hutton, will be with us in the studio and to put your question to him you can e-mail us via the website, that's bbc.co.uk/radio4/youandyours or you can call us on 0800 044 044. And please, as always, leave us a contact number so we can get back to you.




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