‘Sick’ forced back to work

Employment minister Mark Hoban
Employment minister Mark Hoban
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Almost a third of people claiming Incapacity Benefit in Sheffield have been told to return to work over the last three years.

Of 7,320 claimants in 2010, 2,180 have since been found fit for work, according to new figures.

Employment minister Mark Hoban

Employment minister Mark Hoban

However, concerns have been raised by trade unionists, who say new eligibility tests are too stringent.

The Government decided to reassess 1.5 million people across the country who were on Incapacity Benefit three years ago, as part of cuts to state benefits.

Announcing the huge fall in claimants of the benefit, now renamed Employment and Support Allowance, employment minister Mark Hoban said: “The old system condemned far too many people to a life on sickness benefits.

“This was a huge waste, but now people in Sheffield who can work will be given the long-term help they need to find a job which is right for them, while those who need support will get it.”

However, Jon Mordecai, for trade union Unison at Sheffield Council, said: “The are questions about how Atos, the contractor conducting the new assessments, is carrying out the work. There are now severe restrictions.

“I have to walk with a stick due to a spinal condition, which makes it painful to stand or walk for long periods, but would not qualify for a blue parking badge.

“As far as the minister’s comments go about disabled people returning to work, he is not living in the real world. There are a staggering number of people who are in disciplinary proceedings due to sickness absence caused by ill health.

Sheffield had the eighth-highest number of people found fit for work who had been claiming Incapacity Benefit, the Department for Work and Pensions has said.

Nationally, 203,330 people have been told to return to work, out of 700,170 people reassessed so far.

n Opinion: Page 8