A LEADING economist has welcomed new Government figures showing thousands of Northern Ireland’s Incapacity Benefit (IB) claimants are fit to work.
John Simpson described the series of reassessements taking place as a move towards a more logical social security system.
Around 76,000 recipients are currently undergoing assessments to gauge their ability to return to the workplace.
Of the 9,328 people assessed to date, 2,202 have been cleared to commence work, with a further 4,262 deemed to have at least some earning potential.
Responding to the revelations, Mr Simpson said the system had slipped into a “benign” state.
“The very fact that we have that number [76,000 claimants] says something about our system — that it’s slipped into a position that it should never have been in,” he said.
“The other thing to say about it is, that because they’ve not qualified for DLA they will still qualify for employment support allowances. It’s not as if the state is going to disown them.
“The state is saying we really need to get this system more logically set up. I think it will be more honest and it will be an improvement.”
Around 30 per cent (2,864) were found incapable of any work, primarily due to ill health or learning difficulties.
In comparison to the number of benefit claimants in England, there are almost twice as many in receipt of disability-related benefits in Northern Ireland.
Mr Simpson said the benefit reassessment “doesn’t take away the obligation of the Executive” to make the related issue of the economy a stronger priority and added: “What this particular test is showing, is that we have let the social security system slip into a benign system which is really not trying to get the discipline of the labour market back where it should be.”
The minister for social development, Nelson McCausland, has described the reassessments as shifting the focus to “what people can do” rather than what they can’t.
“It ensures that we do not allow people to languish on a life of benefits, with no opportunity or support to move back into employment,” he said.
Following their reassessment, anyone found capable of employment will no longer receive Incapacity Benefit. Instead, they will transfer to Jobseeker’s Allowance while they search for work.
Those found to have only some capacity to work will be placed in the Work Related Activity Group and will now receive Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
They will also be given tailored support to prepare them for the workplace and to help them overcome any remaining barriers to taking up employment.
Anyone found not capable of any work has been awarded the highest rate of ESA and will not be expected to undertake any work-related activity.
More than 1,300 recipients have appealed their reassessment decisions. Of the appeals already heard, 97 (around 40 per cent) have been upheld in the claimant’s favour.