Daily Mail - Labours' 'sham' on benefits

Friday, 30 June, 2006

LABOUR'S vow to move one million people off Incapacity Benefit within ten years is a sham, say Tories.

The Government said welfare reforms would slash the number of claimants from 2.7million today to 1.7million by 2016.

But ministers were accused yesterday of fiddling the figures after it emerged there will be 350 , 000 fewer claimants by then even if nothing is done.

That means Labour will have to move only 650,000 off the benefit to hit the target.

The revelation will embarrass Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton, who made the goal the centrepiece of plans for welfare reform.

Ministers say there are fewer claimants because they have already introduced measures to help people back to work.

But the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion, a Leftwing think-tank, says much of the fall will be natural wastage.

Claimants cease to be eligible when they become pensioners, whose numbers are soaring leading to a drop in those who receive the benefit.

Mr Hutton told MPs in March: 'We are not trying to do any statistical sleight of hand.' But fellow minister Anne McGuire released new figures yesterday showing the number of Incapacity Benefit claimants is already due to fall.

She added: 'These forecasts do not take into account any of the proposed policy changes.' Shadow welfare reform minister David Ruffley said: 'In true New Labour style, John Hutton has fiddled the figures. It is a sham. He is not trying to help one million people get off benefit. He's only going to help 650,000. This is proof Labour are not serious about helping people out of dependency and leading more fulfilling lives.

'The taxpayer will also have something to say about John Hutton's double dealing. As a result, benefit bills are going to be higher than they need be and the taxpayer will fund it.' A source close to Mr Hutton defended the pledge and attributed the fall in claimants to the Pathways to Work scheme, which makes claimants attend job-related interviews.

He said: 'This is in no way a soft target. We will have to fight very hard to achieve it.' A DWP spokesman said: 'This is an ambitious aspiration which we are committed to.'