Claimants 'may be left destitute'

Ian Duncan SmithSome benefits claimants could be left "destitute" as a result of the Government's welfare reforms, even though they are genuinely unable to work, a group of MPs and peers have said.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights warned that provisions in Work and Pension Secretary Iain Duncan Smith's Welfare Reform Bill could be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
The committee backed the Government's aim of supporting more people into work as the best route out of poverty. However, it warned that provisions to withdraw benefits for up to three years from claimants if they fail to meet certain requirements could hit some people who were unable to work.

"There is a risk, for example, that some disabled people who are adjudged to be capable of work may in practice not be able to do so," the report said. "The ECHR does not preclude individual member states from setting conditionality requirements in respect of work.

"However, there is a risk that the conditionality and sanction provisions in the bill might in some circumstances lead to destitution, such as would amount to inhuman or degrading treatment contrary to Article 3 ECHR if the individual concerned was genuinely incapable of work.

"The absence of more detail about the proposed system of hardship payments, and the lack of publicly-available statistics on the number of applications for hardship support under existing regimes, means that we are not in a position to assess the degree of risk."

The committee also expressed concern that the new cap on the amount of benefits any one household can claim would hit the disabled, with around half the households likely to be capped including someone with a disability.

While households where someone is in receipt of disability living allowance (DLA) are exempt from the cap, the committee said: "We are concerned that some disabled people who do not get DLA ... may be forced to move, and will face disparate impact in terms of extensive disruption regarding adaptations and caring/support networks."

© 2011 Press Association
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