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Wednesday, 23rd April 2014

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Britain: penalising benefit claimants will not create jobs

The UK government has announced that 2.5 million sick and disabled people must undergo more rigorous 'work capability' tests, through which they risk losing their state benefits. But in the UK labour market, able bodied and fully fit workers get jobs ahead of those who are disabled and not fully fit.

New rules announced in the British Government's Budget on March 13th 2008 will mean that a total of 2,517,988 people on incapacity benefit in the UK, amounting to 6.7% of the population of working age, must attend work capability assessments. The percentage of the population of working age in the UK on incapacity benefit who will face this new test ranges from 16.9% in Merthyr Tydfil, a former coal mining area, to 1.9% in Wokingham. 

The numbers facing the test in each of 229 areas in UK, expressed as a percentage of the working age population, based on a new analysis by the GMB trade union from official data, are on the GMB website.  The top and bottom ten areas with the highest and lowest percentages are set out below:

 

Top Ten by Percentage

working age population

Incapacity benefit claimants of working age

% of Working age population

1

Merthyr Tydfil

33,800

5,710

16.9

2

Blaenau Gwent

41,800

6,660

15.9

3

Strabane

24,000

3,521

14.7

4

Neath Port Talbot

82,400

11,930

14.5

5

Rhondda, Cynon, Taff

143,400

20,670

14.4

6

Derry

67,900

9,720

14.3

7

Caerphilly

104,500

14,490

13.9

8

Glasgow City

386,200

52,310

13.5

9

Belfast

167,000

22,420

13.4

10

Knowsley

93,300

11,630

12.5

Bottom Ten by Percentage

220

Kingston-upon-Thames

105,400

3,270

3.1

221

Oxfordshire

403,500

12,410

3.1

222

Richmond-upon-Thames

117,700

3,520

3.0

223

Bracknell Forest

73,400

2,140

2.9

224

Surrey

668,600

19,080

2.9

225

Buckinghamshire

298,800

8,490

2.8

226

West Berkshire

93,100

2,610

2.8

227

Windsor and Maidenhead

85,900

2,230

2.6

228

Rutland

22,800

530

2.3

229

Wokingham

98,500

1,850

1.9

The districts with high percentages of people on incapacity benefit are mainly the working class areas where, prior to de-industrialisation, employment was provided by major industries including mining, shipbuilding and steelmaking. They are now poor areas with high levels of unemployment.

The districts with very low numbers of people claiming incapacity benefit, on the other hand, are among those which are currently the most prosperous in the UK. The website of Wokingham Borough Council, for example, states as follows:

The Wokingham Borough is a prosperous area with a thriving economy, very low unemployment and a concentration of multi-national companies, in and around its boundaries...  The area is economically buoyant with growth sectors of the economy well represented eg. information technology and communications. 

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Britain's finance minister) has announced that the requirement for new incapacity benefit claimants to undergo a tough new eligibility test is to be extended to existing claimants from 2010. Speaking about the new test in the budget debate in the House of Commons on Thursday 13th March James Purnell, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said:

"For those who play by the rules we will provide extra support so they can realize their ambitions. For people who don't play by the rules there will be clear consequences to their behaviour."

GMB General Secretary Paul Kenny commented:

 "The Government policy that those on incapacity benefit must attend work capability assessments is based on the false notion that the high levels of claimants in some areas is due to the fact that these people to not want work. There is a failure to see this for the labour market issue that it really is. This new GMB study demonstrates yet again that in the areas where there are lots of jobs there are less people on incapacity benefit and vica versa in the areas where there are few jobs. The unpalatable truth is that the problem lies with the lack demand from employers for these workers.

"The Government needs to face up to the fact that in today’s labour market, able bodied and fully fit workers get jobs ahead of those who are disabled and those not fully fit. The government should desist from threatening to penalize those affected by this as Mr. Purnell threatened to do in Parliament. It is going to waste a lot of money bringing in private firms to find non existent jobs for these workers while closing the job centres."

Paul Kenny also remarked on the closure of many of the Remploy factories, which provide jobs for severely disabled people who would otherwise find it very difficult or even impossible to gain employment:

"GMB and the disabled Remploy workers fought to stop the Government sacking 2,500 disabled Remploy workers as they close 30 factories in 2 weeks time because most of the sacked Remploy workers will never work again."