In an article for today’s News of the World David Cameron promises to end the "something-for-nothing culture" that Labour has failed to tackle during its ten years in power.
The Tory leader says that he is particularly concerned that one-in-five of the 2.6m incapacity benefit (IB) claimants are under 35:
"I don’t believe that there are nearly half a million young people in Britain with a disability which prevents them from doing any work at all."
The promise to "axe" 200,000 claimants doesn’t appear in David Cameron’s article but in a quotation from Tory Welfare spokesman Chris Grayling. Mr Grayling tells the NotW:
"We know there are at least 200,000 people who should be moved straightaway from incapacity benefit and into jobs. Over time there are another million who want jobs who, with help and retraining, will be able to find permanent work."
Given that there are 2.64 million people claiming IB at an annual cost of £12.65bn, the savings to the taxpayer would be about £1bn if 200,000 people were successfully removed from the system. For the other million who need "help and retraining" the savings are more difficult to predict as the costs of easing them back into work will be considerable.
Writing for The Sunday Telegraph, Chris Grayling promises that every person currently on incapacity benefit will be interviewed and examined under a Tory government:
"The majority of people signed on to [incapacity] benefit by filling in a form and sending in a note from their doctor. Most claimants are then simply left to their own devices. We will change that. We will contact every single one of those 2.6 million people as quickly as possible. We will carry out face-to-face interviews with all of them, to assess what they can do, and how we can help them back into work. It’s a big task, and it won’t be done overnight, but it has to be done, and as rapidly as possible."
These medical interviews will establish whether the claimants are (1) not deserving of IB and should be on the Jobseekers’ Allowance and subject to its different regime; (2) capable of some work but only with a lot more support; or (3) genuinely unable to work and deserving of long-term support from the taxpayer.
Work and Pensions Secretary Peter Hain has accused the Tories of plagiarising Labour plans but ConservativeHome understands that Labour only plans to examine new claimants – the Tories are much more ambitious in wanting to assess all 2.6 million people receiving IB. Voters will also remember that Gordon Brown has already scuppered previous reform attempts by Frank Field in the early Brown-Blair years and more recently by John Hutton. Labour enjoys little credibility on welfare.
David Cameron and Chris Grayling will formally launch the party’s welfare ideas on Tuesday. Today the incapacity benefits reforms are being trailed. Over the next 48 hours expect more about some of the other ideas that ConservativeHome highlighted yesterday.