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Turner: Perhaps Now The Minister Will Listen

Turner: Perhaps Now The Minister Will Listen

The Government should require sickness and invalid beneficiaries to seek treatment, and not just be given a scrap of paper saying they can’t work, United Future’s Judy Turner said today.

“The Government has can no longer pretend all is well with unemployment numbers when beneficiaries are switching in their droves to sickness and invalid benefits,” Mrs Turner, who has been pointing out the trend for over a year, said today as media reports picked up on the scam.

“I congratulate the medical professionals who have spoken out on this issue. I have repeatedly brought this matter up in Parliament, and particularly the invidious position that honest doctors are placed in as skivers, who are well capable of working, present themselves to be declared unfit for work,” Mrs Turner said.

Against the trend of falling numbers of job seekers in recent years, the number of sickness beneficiaries has increased by 29% since 1999. Psychological conditions account for over half of this total increase, and make up the biggest category of sickness benefits.

Over the same period, more than 60,000 people have transferred from the unemployment benefit to the sickness benefit, increasing every year. Those claiming stress or depression as the basis for transferral have more than doubled in that time, to become the second and third most common reasons, she said.

“GPs have told me that they are increasingly being asked to sign-off on claims by potential beneficiaries that they suffer from fairly intangible or subjective disorders, such as stress, depression, back pain, and even drug addiction.

“They can either sign their form as requested, which is the easy option, or refuse, inviting a potential conflict with or loss of the patient, and with the loss of income that goes with that,” she said.

Mrs Turner also renewed her call for specialist diagnosis for sickness and invalids beneficiaries presenting with psychological symptoms.

The most disturbing part of all of this is the suggestion that Work and Income staff are actually encouraging people to move from the dole to the sickness benefit, Mrs Turner said.

“One GP has told me that on one such occasion they rang a Work and Income case manager only to be told that the client was asked to seek a sickness benefit because they were ‘unemployable’.

“We should not be writing anyone off, and it would be outrageous if this practice had become anything more than an isolated incident.”

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