Monday, 5 October 2009

Harvey Nicks, the Professor, and Incapacity Benefit

The Harvey Nicks cocktail bar in the conference centre is doing a roaring trade. Perhaps the warnings about complacency have yet to filter through to the massed Tories here. Alan Duncan has apparently been spotted drinking something fizzy.

But enough frivolity. Just occasionally we cover stories that actually affect the lives of our audience. David Cameron's plan to make everyone on Incapacity Benefit take medical tests to prove they really are too sick to work could have a big impact in former industrial areas of south Wales.

No fewer than one in ten of the Welsh workforce - 188,000 people - claim IB and its ESA successor.

In Merthyr, one in six people of working age are on the benefit. The Tories say many of them (400,000 out of the UK's 2.6m) could be in work.

If David Cameron wins power next year, those who are judged fit to work will be expected to look for a job, or have their benefit cut from the £89 a week on IB to the £64 a week job seeker's allowance.

Mr Cameron argues that many on the benefit want to work - although the success of his idea may depend on there being jobs to do in deprived areas.

Nick Bourne, the Tories' leader in the Welsh Assembly, went on Radio Wales to defend the policy. He told Good Evening Wales the numbers claiming the benefit had "swollen" each year under Labour - words such as "remorselessly" appeared  alongside "year on year" during the interview.

He may be right. He is a professor, after all. But the official figures here and contempotary ones confirmed by the DWP today suggest numbers have gone down, albeit slightly, under Labour.

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