Charities divided over employability testing

Divisions are emerging in the voluntary sector about how far it should go to help carry out the Government's plans for welfare reform.

The Green Paper on welfare reform is expected to offer charities the chance to deliver employment services, including new employability assessments, for Britain's 2.7 million incapacity benefit claimants.

Although disability charities such as Leonard Cheshire say they would not have anything to do with such tests, other groups, such as the Shaw Trust, say they would have no objections

Pressure for charities to take over employment services increased last week when chief executives body Acevo met work and pensions secretary David Blunkett and pressed for a handover of job centre services.

Among these would be the assessments that would test an individual's ability to work. Final decisions on benefit eligibility would remain with job centres, but charities could be asked to verify that claimants are fulfilling new conditions.

But disability charities warn that they risk losing the trust of their beneficiaries if they are seen to collude with benefit cuts for claimants.

John Knight, head of policy at Leonard Cheshire, said participating charities would face "guilt by association".

Lorna Reith of the Disability Alliance said: "If charities have to report back on people, that's not a good position for them to be in."

But the Shaw Trust said it would welcome involvement in such tests. "We are looking for an expansion of the role of voluntary sector providers in incapacity benefit," said Julian Burnell, head of public affairs.

"It will be up to organisations like us to keep up the dialogue with government to ensure the system we end up with is as smart and flexible as possible," he added.

- See Editorial, page 22.

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