Northern Ireland

Quarter claiming Incapacity Benefit 'can work'

Nelson McCausland
Image caption Nelson McCausland told Sunday Politics that he believed the reassessment process was working

Nearly a quarter of those on Incapacity Benefit who have been reassessed were found to be capable of work.

Out of the 76,000 people who claim the benefit in Northern Ireland, 9,328 have completed the reassessment process.

Of those, 2,202 have been taken off the benefit and put on Jobseeker's Allowance.

Slightly more than 4,000 have been found capable of some work and just under a third, 2,864, have been found not capable of work.

It is hoped that all of those claiming Incapacity Benefit will have their entitlement to the benefit reassessed by March 2014.

Incapacity Benefit reassessment is one of the biggest changes to the welfare system in a generation.

It is now known as the Employment and Support Allowance.

Those found fit for some form of work will receive slightly more than £90 per week and be classified in a Work Related Activity Group.

That means they will be given some help and support to find a suitable job.

People assessed as unfit to work and they are placed in what is called the Support Group. These are people who have conditions like cancer or have severe learning difficulties.

They will be paid £99 per week and face annual reassessment for their benefits.


But the assessment process has caused controversy.

Many claimants in England have appealed the decisions and about a third has been successful.

Of the 2,202 people who were told they can no longer claim incapacity benefit - 1,382 appealed that decision.

Of the 247 appeals heard so far, in 40% of the cases the appeal was successful for the claimant.

The minister responsible for the changes Nelson McCausland denied that means the reassessment system is flawed.

"Of those who appeal it, 60% of the appeals are found in favour of the previous decision," said the Social Development Minister.

"What it says to me is that the independent appeals system is actually working and the main reason why you get changes is that additional medical evidence is provided."

Of course, critics say all of these changes come at a time when it is more difficult than ever to get a job.

Eighty percent of Incapacity Benefit claimants have been on the benefit for four years or more meaning it could be very difficult to get a job they are qualified for.

Mr McCausland acknowledges this but says there is no quick fix: "This is not a short-term thing we're looking at putting in place a system that will last for years.

"I think a good number of people will be able to get back into work and that's good for them, good for their families and good for society."

Sunday Politics can be see on BBC One NI at 22:25 BST on Sunday.

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