An independent report into the reforms of incapacity benefits suggests 600,000 will be “pushed out” of the system altogether, with the headline total of 2.6m people set to be cut by nearly 1m by 2014.

Researchers from the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University said the changes would force a big increase in reliance on other household members for financial support.

The researchers say the largest impact will fall on the older industrial areas of the north, Scotland and Wales, where local economies have been struggling for years to cope with job loss and where the prospects of former claimants finding work are weakest.

Merthyr Tydfil in Wales, Easington in County Durham, Liverpool and Glasgow look set to be hit 10 times harder than for example Kingston-upon-Thames in London or Wokingham in Berkshire.

Professor Steve Fothergill, co-author of the report, said: “The large numbers that will be pushed off incapacity benefits over the next two to three years are entirely the result of changes in benefit rules - the introduction of a new tougher medical test and, in particular, the more widespread application of means-testing from next April onwards. The reduction does not mean that there is currently widespread fraud, or that the health problems and disabilities are anything less than real.

“Our estimates of the impact of the reforms are based on experience in the pilot areas and on the Department for Work and Pension's own assumptions about the impact on benefit claimants.

“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.”

Author's Bio: 

Roy Rowlands writes for Public Sector Executive an essential guide to public sector management offering a wide view public sector news views and opinions