Cancer patients who have more than six months to live could have to do work experience or see their payments slashed
Terminally ill people face being forced to work to keep their benefits under draconian new Government plans, it was revealed yesterday.
Cancer patients who have more than six months to live could have to do work experience or see their payments slashed under the scheme by Work and Pensions Minister Iain Duncan Smith.
And unlike fit and healthy job seekers, there will be no limit on how long those claiming Employment and Support Allowance are expected to work for free.
The Department for Work and Pensions initially said rumours of the plan, which could affect 300,000 disabled people, were “absolute nonsense”.
A spokeswoman said: “No-one on ESA will be forced to do work experience.”
But she later admitted private firms paid by the Government to push people back into work will be able to compel disabled people to take placements or lose money.
Mr Duncan Smith’s plan has dismayed experts and fuelled fury over the Government’s “workfare” scheme that forces the jobless to work for their benefits.
Mental health and disability groups warn making the vulnerable work risks making their conditions worse.
Neil Coyle, of pressure group Disability Rights UK, said: “The idea that disabled people should work but receive no financial recognition for contributing is perhaps a level of abuse in and of itself.”
He added: “When Conservative backbench MP Philip Davies suggested disabled people should work for less than the national minimum wage he was castigated. But it now appears to be Government policy.”
Department for Work and Pensions officials held discussions on subjecting people on ESA to “work-related activity” with disabled groups late last year.
The groups were told: “There are no plans to introduce a maximum time limit.”
The advisers also defended the idea of docking cash from those who refuse to take up work placements.
They said: “Ministers strongly feel there is a link-up to support moving close to the labour market, and the individual’s responsibility to engage with the support. Ministers feel sanctions are an incentive for people to comply with their responsibilities.”
Vicki Nash, of mental health charity Mind, said that work placements could be a “useful bridge” in helping people to get off benefits and into work.
But she added: “We are very worried about people being pressured into taking unpaid positions before they are ready.”
French firm Atos currently interviews the sick and disabled to decide if they must join a “work-related activity group” in order to keep getting paid.
They have to have meetings with advisers and take courses to ready them for work.
More than 8,000 claimants had their payments docked or were hit with other sanctions in the 12 months to August for offences such as missing interviews “without good cause”.
Currently, ESA payments, of which the top rate is £95 a week, can only be docked to the £67.50 a week level of Jobseekers’ Allowance.
The DWP spokeswoman last night claimed it was “ludicrous to suggest” that the sick and disabled will be “forced into unpaid and unlimited work experience”.
But she added: “The DWP cannot mandate any ESA claimants to do unpaid work but we can require ESA claimants to take part in work-related activity as long as it is reasonable to ask them to do so.”
Ruth, 52, has Spondylosis, a bone condition affecting the spinal cord. It causes severe pain in the neck, shoulder, arm, back, and sometimes also the leg. It can accompanied by muscle weakness. She currently receives £95 in ESA.
Jon, 33, has a learning disability and had been on benefits for all of his life. He lost £19 a week when he was moved over from incapacity Benefit, which is being phased out, and now receives £71 a week.
Jane, 28, has terminal cancer and is expected to live for 18 months. She receives £94.25 per week in ESA, which she could lose if she refuses to take an unpaid work placement
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