GENUINE claimants will be the real losers in a Government crackdown on benefits fraud, says a woman working with disabled people on Wearside.
The Government is writing to about 1.6million long-term Incapacity Benefit claimants, who face being reassessed to see if they can work.
Latest figures for Wearside show there were 18,550 people claiming Incapacity Benefit or Employment and Support Allowance – which replaced it in 2008 – in August last year.
The Government move follows trial assessments in Burnley and Aberdeen, which ministers say confirmed the majority of claimants were able to return to at least a limited form of work.
Of the 1,626 people assessed in the two trial areas, a third had been found fit for work straight away and transferred to Jobseeker's Allowance, 38 per cent were assessed as able to work with the right support, while 30 per cent have been placed in the support group for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) – which means they will not be expected to look for work.
Employment minister Chris Grayling said: "For too long, millions of people have been written off with no real support to get back into sustained employment.
“The changes we are making to the benefits system will ensure that those in genuine need get more support and those who could and should be working and given the opportunity to do so.
“A life on benefits is no longer an option."
But Tracy Vincent, volunteer benefits officer with the Sunderland-based North East Disability Support Group, in High Street East, fears assessments are intended to shift people off benefit, regardless of need.
“I think there probably are a lot of people out there who should not be on benefit, but it will be those people who don’t know how to work the system that will suffer,” she said.
“If you have got a physical disability, it can be assessed, but it is the people with mental health problems who will be hit.
“There are a lot of people I work with who cannot read or write and they are absolutely horrified at the prospect.”
Claimants had been told they would be assessed by people who were not familiar with their medical history.
“I agree the system should be looking at people who have been on Incapacity Benefit for a long time, but it should be done by someone they can relate to.”
It is hoped the new plans will save the Government millions of pounds.