I have received a number of letters about incapacity benefit since the changes were announced in December 1993. Those changes will target help through a fairer, more objective medical test and provide an affordable and sustainable system of incapacity provision for the future.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we are right to restructure the invalidity benefit system so that those who are genuine claimants will continue to receive benefit and others can be encouraged to return to work? Should that not help to control the ever-rising cost of benefit expenditure?
Yes, my hon. Friend is right. The old system was well intentioned but inconsistent and haphazard in its application. The new test will focus help on those who are entitled to it. That is what the welfare state is about and that is what the taxpayer is entitled to expect.
In the representations that the Minister has received, has anyone remarked on the amazing foresight—indeed, the prophetic nature—of the Department? Even before questionnaires have been completed and medical examinations undertaken, the Department suggests that there will be savings of £3.3 billion over three years. How is it that it can make that prediction before medicals have taken place? Is that not illustrative of the fact that the exercise has been led by the Treasury as a cost-cutting measure and is not a system of fair payments for disabilities?
No. The test is about focusing help on those who need it most and are entitled to it. Of course there are estimates of savings. We believe that there will be savings because we know that the old system was inconsistent and haphazard in its application. Everyone knows that except those in the Labour party.
I note the Government's intention next year to refer to placing, assessment and counseling teams the 29,000 people who, it is anticipated, will fail to qualify for incapacity benefit and will therefore sign on and claim the jobseeker's allowance. What plans do the Government have to provide advice and help to another 120,000, on the Government's estimate, who have degrees of disability, will not be eligible for incapacity benefit and will be required to seek work actively if they are to be able to claim benefit?
I can assure my hon. Friend that the Employment Service will be ready to provide the full range of its usual help to anyone who has been receiving invalidity benefit but is not eligible for incapacity benefit. I draw his attention to the improvements that we are making in the disability working allowance system for the many disabled people who want to work and are able to do so. The improvement will bring considerable benefits to many people.
I have no doubt that the Minister has received representations from citizens advice bureaux throughout the country, along with the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux. Where will the Government find extra funding for citizens advice bureaux so that they can cope with the increased work load due to the devastating effect that the introduction of incapacity benefit has had on many people?
Incapacity benefit will not have a devastating effect. It is about focusing entitlement on those who are medically incapable of work. The Government have a most constructive relationship with citizens advice bureaux, and I am confident that that will continue.