Left Foot Forward’s Ed Jacobs writes about the disproportionate effect the welfare reforms will have on poverty in Wales and Scotland.
A new report has warned that government reforms to incapacity benefits will hit Wales harder than any other part of country leaving many families impoverished.
The new study, carried out by researchers at Sheffield Hallam University warns that 600,000 people look set disappear from the benefits system altogether across the UK and in many cases will have to rely on family members for financial support.
Amongst the worst hit regions of the country identified are Wales and Scotland, areas where, as the report concludes:
“local economies have been struggling for years to cope with job losses, and where the prospects of former claimants finding work are weakest”.
Across Wales, the Western Mail reports that roughly 65,000 people look set to lose their incapacity awards as a result of the government’s planned reforms to the benefit, including a tougher medical test for claimants, the re-testing of existing recipients of payments, and a limit on the length of time individuals are entitled to non-means tested benefits.
It is thought that whilst 20,000 of these will transfer to jobseekers allowance, 45,000 look set to lose all their benefits. With the addition of new claimants denied benefit, the report estimates that the headline total of 180,000 men and women on incapacity benefits in Wales is likely to be cut by 75,000 by 2014.
Those areas thought likely to be hardest hit include Merthyr Tydfil, Blaenau Gwent, Neath Port Talbot and a number of other Valleys authorities.
In Scotland, meanwhile, The Herald declares that “vast numbers of Scots will be impoverished” with the current total of 275,000 men and women in Scotland currently on incapacity benefits likely to be cut to 115,000 by 2014. 65,000 Scots are thought likely to be pushed out of the benefits system altogether, adding 35,000 to the number of those seeking Jobseeker’s Allowance.
Warning that the government’s reforms will serve to “impoverish” those families affected, one of the report’s co-authors, Professor Steve Forthergill of the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research has concluded:
“The estimates show that the coalition government is presiding over a national welfare reform that will impact principally on individuals and communities outside its own political heartlands.
“In terms of the numbers affected and the scale and severity of the impact, the reforms to incapacity benefits that are underway are probably the most far-reaching changes to the benefits system for at least a generation. They will impoverish vast numbers of households and cause untold distress in countless more. The incapacity benefit numbers need to be brought down, but this is not the way.”
Responding to the report, employment minister Chris Grayling argued:
“It’s clear that millions of people have been written off for years left on incapacity benefit with no real support to get into work. That’s why we are re-testing people to see if they have the capacity to work.
“Our changes will make sure those in genuine need get more support and those who could and should be working are given the opportunity to do so. For those that need additional help our new work programme is up and running and will tailor support to people’s needs so that they can overcome whatever barriers they face.”
In a comment piece however, whilst arguing in favour of the principle of greater support to encourage people into work, The Herald has warned:
“The policy of requiring people to engage in preparation for work and to move those well enough from incapacity benefits to Jobseeker’s Allowance is philosophically correct but impractical in the current economic climate when even highly motivated workers are struggling to find work.
“A benefits system funded by the taxpayer must have effective mechanisms to prevent fraud but it must also fulfil its function of providing adequately for the ill and disabled. Yet many of those who lose incapacity benefits as a result of the new work test or time limit will also lose other benefits, resulting in real hardship.
“The evidence so far is that the pendulum is swinging too far and too fast and the additional impact of taking millions of pounds out of areas of high unemployment can only make the situation worse.”
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