Changes to benefits need to be handled sensitively

Cheryl Gibbs' train meditation was so successful she fell asleep and missed her stop

CHERYL GIBBS: My new meditation technique works a little too well

Have your say

Most people would agree that everyone who can work should work.

Staying in employment is often key to keeping up self-esteem and a sense of purpose, and there is also a general sense of making a contribution to society, which goes hand-in-hand with not being a burden to the rest of the country by accepting benefits that are not needed.

But that’s our side of the bargain. The other side, the agreement that must be stuck to by the state, is that anyone who genuinely can’t find or is unable to perform a job must be supported and looked after.

That’s why we have some worries over the story that we report today about Christine Clapson, from Gosport. Miss Clapson has a long list of ailments but has been told that she will be moved from Employment Support Allowance –what most people still think of as incapacity benefits – to Job Seekers Allowance, which is dependent on attending sessions that are aimed at getting people in to work.

As already mentioned, in principle there is no objection to the rule that those who can work should. But assessing someone’s fitness for employment on a 40-minute session is superficial at best, particularly when that person has had two hip replacements, suffers from osteoporosis and tinnitus and cannot walk without two sticks.

The templated letter sent out by JobCentre Plus points out the change of attitude in that benefits are paid out not on the basis of disability, but on ability – whether the person concerned can be matched to a job they can carry out. A laudable aim, but we will be watching carefully to make sure that political pressure to cut benefits does not result in Miss Clapson being railroaded into an unsuitable role purely because it will be another one off the bill.

Contrary to the perception of some of the public, most people on benefits would rather not be on them – they would rather enjoy good health and be able to go to work. It is of paramount importance that political grandstanding does not play with the lives of those unfortunate enough to need financial support from the state.