Text Only Version Last Update: Press Releases (22 May 2023)
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Drive to cut benefit claimants 'fatally flawed'
The Daily Telegraph, 4 February 2023
TONY Blair's drive to cut the number of incapacity benefit claimants was condemned as "fatally flawed'' yesterday after it emerged that there were only about 170 full-time doctors to examine hundreds of thousands of new claimants each year.
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The Conservatives seized on the figures, revealed in a parliamentary answer, to claim that the Government did not have the resources to deliver on its shake-up of incapacity benefit, which has 2.7 million claimants and costs pounds 12 billion a year.
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David Ruffley, the shadow minister for welfare reform, said: "The Government's plans are fatally flawed. How are people going to get better and get the medical help they need? A total of 176 full-time doctors really is inadequate.''
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The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said that as well as 176 full-time doctors used last year, there were also 92 part-time and 1,380 "sessional'' doctors called in at particular times. "We have enough doctors,'' it said.
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In a fanfare of publicity last week, the Government unveiled plans for a huge welfare shake-up, designed to get one million people off incapacity benefit.
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The Prime Minister issued a "work is good for you'' message and indicated that existing claimants who were not severely ill or disabled would have to take part in work-related interviews, or face losing benefits.
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A Green Paper hinted that GPs who signed fewer long-term sicknotes could get bonuses.
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In order to get incapacity benefit, people on long-term sick leave have to pass a Personal Capability Assessment. This starts in the local GP's surgery but is then monitored by doctors, employed by the contractor Atos Origin but who work for the DWP.
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In practice, though, just over one in three applicants are called in by DWP doctors for examinations, with the other applications simply checked on paper.
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A DWP spokesman said that while most of the personal capacity assessment checks were done on paper, there were enough doctors for the overall workload.
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If it emerged that more resources were needed, the contract with Atos Origin covered that.
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The spokesman said it was "inaccurate'' to suggest that many people were not examined face-to-face because of a lack of resources.
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