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My observations about Incapacity Benefit are now on The Guardian's website.

The discussion around benefits is often a heated one. The lines seem to be drawn between those who believe that the system is being exploited by most claimants and those who feel that they have been marginalaised by society because of their circumstances.

In my opinion, neither the old nor the new system is fit for purpose.

There can be little doubt that Incapacity Benefit was used in the past to massage jobless figures. It is surely no coincidence that the level of Incapacity among men of working age increased in areas like the North East of England at a time when many industries were in terminal decline.

But there are also many people who have a genuine case, but who would be deemed fit for work by the new system. There is also a wider issue. Many employers are reluctant to employ people with disabilities, particularly those with chronic conditions or who have a history of mental health issues.

Society needs to be able to provide meaningful and adequately supported opportunities for people with disabilities, we need a safety net that recognises health issues and the difficulties involved in finding alternative income. Until then, the existing system remains the only way of preventing many people  from slipping into homelessness and despair.

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