TOO many people with “common” mental health problems are reliant on the state, Conservative Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith claimed yesterday.

The Minister was speaking ahead of a major shake-up of the Employment and Sickness Allowance (ESA) benefit. He claimed the system was too “binary” and argued people with mental health problems would benefit from working.

The SNP said his shake-up would force more people into hardship.

In the speech, which was behind closed doors, Duncan Smith made no policy announcements, rather policy intentions.

Duncan Smith claimed that ESA, introduced by Labour, was supposed to reduce the number of people claiming incapacity benefits by one million. Since 2010 there has been a fall of just 90,000.

Duncan Smith said: “ESA may have been designed with the right intentions, but at its heart lay a fundamental flaw. It is a system that decides that you are either capable of work or you are not. Two absolutes equating to one perverse incentive – a person has to be incapable of all work or available for all work.

“This needs to change – things are rarely that simplistic.

“We need to look at the system and in particular the assessment we use for ESA – and I want to look at changing it so that it comes into line with the positive functioning of Universal Credit, and as such is better geared towards helping to get people prepared for and into what work they may be capable of, rather than parking them beyond work.

“We need a system focused on what a claimant can do and the support they’ll need – and not just on what they can’t do.”

He continued: “Nearly 11 million adults in the UK have a common mental health condition and people are much more likely to fall out of work if they do.

“We also know that being out of work for four weeks or more can actually affect people’s mental health, even if the original reason for ill health was a physical one.”

Eilidh Whitford, the SNP’s Work and Pensions spokesperson, said: “Ian Duncan Smith’s speech today is his way of trying to hide further benefit cuts and is yet another example of the

Tories' ideologically driven attack on our social security system. Once again, it is society’s most vulnerable who will suffer most as a result.

“There are deep-seated flaws with the current assessment process. What is needed is a full independent assessment to understand the problems within the current system.

“Once that is established, a new assessment system can be introduced which does not stigmatise people and truly supports people into meaningful work rather than acts as a vehicle to removing benefits. That is what people actually need rather than the measures proposed by Iain Duncan Smith today, which will only lead to more hardship for more people. If he truly wanted to see people supported into work, his first act should be to commission the independent review called for twice by the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee.

“The Scottish Government has been acting to offset the savage cuts by the UK Government through the ‘Getting It Right’ framework, Scottish Independent Living Fund, over £5 million to improve learning disability services, and of course almost £300m to mitigate UK Government welfare cuts.

“This is in stark opposition to a UK Government who have removed support from disabled people at every turn, scrapping the Independent Living Fund, cutting the disabled Access To Work Scheme, closing Remploy factories, and introducing the bedroom tax.

“It is still a deeply worrying time for many in Scotland and across the UK who rely on support. This is just the latest in a series of attacks by the Tories who have consistently and frequently attacked the ill and disabled.” Letters to The National: August 25