ABOUT a quarter of the 23,000 people in the Westcountry living on sickness benefit for more than a decade are at risk of losing the state handout and being sent back to work in a Government crackdown.
Official figures have revealed the scale of long-term dependence on incapacity benefit (IB) in Devon and Cornwall as details emerged of claimants being stripped of their welfare payments.
Across the two counties, about 121,810 men and women rely on out-of-work benefits – with 24,690 of them receiving state help for 10 years or more. All but 1,000 of the decade-long claimants are on IB.
Ministers are in the process of a three-year national re-assessment of about 1.5m people receiving the sickness help, which could result in them being placed on the new, more generous Employment and Support Allowance.
New Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) research has revealed tens of thousands of people nationwide who had been on IB for over a decade have been declared fit for work.
Between October 2010 and February 2012, 147,600 people on IB for more than 10 years were tested. Some 39,500 – or close to a quarter – were found fit for work after being reassessed.
If the trend is replicated in the region, it could mean about 5,500 people in Devon and Cornwall being sent back to work.
In total, 145,000 people out of a 462,100 caseload are ready to start employment immediately, the DWP said.
While critics claim the most vulnerable are at risk of losing much-needed support, the Government insists that people who are genuinely too sick to work will continue to receive unconditional support from the state and will not be expected to look for a job.