Benefits trawl will unearth malingerers

When I saw the photograph of Paul McGovern in yesterday’s editions of The Sentinel it re-emphasised to me just how important our welfare system is.
At just 49, former engineer Mr McGovern has been struck down with progressive motor neurone disease.
He is incapacitated by this cruel illness, confined to a wheelchair and patently has no hope of returning to the workplace.
Having paid his taxes, Mr McGovern and his wife are obviously deserving of the money they receive from the state.
Surely cases like his are what Incapacity Benefit was created for.
But what about the other 22,069 people in Stoke-on-Trent, Newcastle and the Moorlands currently receiving the same payments?
News that the Government is going to reassess each and every one of them to check whether or not they are fit and able to work has predictably been met with a chorus of disapproval.
The default position of critics when any kind of change to the benefits system is proposed is to claim that it will hit the poorest and most vulnerable people hardest.
Alternatively, you could take the view that it may force a few malingerers to get off their lazy backsides and earn a crust like the rest of us have to.
I don’t believe for a second that the box-tickers will be cancelling the Incapacity Benefit for the likes of Mr McGovern when there are clear medical reasons why they are unable to go to work.
But they will shine a light into a very grey area and I suspect that they will discover an underclass of people who could actually be helped back into employment.
To suggest that every single person in North Staffordshire receiving Incapacity Benefit is unable to lift a finger is plain nonsense.
It is a bit like saying that everyone who has a blue badge is deserving of one and that no-one ever abuses the privilege.
The way I see it, if those on incapacity benefit are genuinely incapacitated then they have nothing to fear from this reassessment as their doctor’s notes and supporting evidence will back up their claim and life will carry on as normal.
Other than the mild inconvenience of having to prove why they are deserving of the benefits I can’t see a problem.
Forget the bleeding hearts. We simply have to act to tackle what is a very serious problem locally because the statistics are, frankly, a disgrace.
Last month this newspaper reported that, between October and December last year, almost 30,000 people of working age were claiming out-of-work benefits in Stoke-on-Trent.
That is 19.1 per cent of working-age people, compared with an average of only 13.8per cent in the West Midlands and just 12 per cent across England.
These benefits include Jobseeker’s Allowance, Incapacity Benefit and the Employment Support Allowance.
These figures tell me two things.
Firstly, the Government must recognise that Stoke-on-Trent deserves to be named in the second tranche of Enterprise Zones to be announced this summer.
Our city desperately needs help in stimulating investment and job-creation and Enterprise Zone status would at least give us a fighting chance.
What these figures also tell me is the unpalatable truth that here in the Potteries some people view claiming benefits and even ill-health as a career choice.
What’s more, we have more of such people than neighbouring cities in the West Midlands and elsewhere in England.
Some people will say there are no jobs to be had and blame deprivation, low levels of academic achievement and poor health for these embarrassing statistics.
But, however we dress it up, there are an awful lot of people sitting at home day-in, day-out who ought to be contributing to the economy.
A friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, was made redundant about a month ago.
He has spent every waking moment trying to find a job and has told me how he shushed his lad in the playground when he questioned what ‘dole’ was.
The bloke in question really has no need to feel embarrassed at being unemployed but, because he has worked all his life, he does.
I wonder how many of the almost 30,000 people in the Potteries claiming out-of-work benefits and the 21,000 people in North Staffordshire on Incapacity Benefit have the same work ethic.

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