More than a million people could be forced to find work despite suffering from health conditions under a huge benefit shake-up.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said the package of welfare reforms, which include the Back to Work Plan to help people with health conditions and long-term unemployed to look for and stay in work, is the biggest change since the introduction of Universal Credit back in 2012.
At the moment, someone who is deemed not able to work due to severe health issues receives £390 a month on top of their Universal Credit payment, but the changes would mean more people face benefit cuts if they don’t follow the new rules. The tough new plan comes ahead of Wednesday’s Autumn Statement as part of a major drive to reduce the record high 2.6 million peoplewho are on long-term sick.
The changes, which will kick in next year, are part of an overall £2.5bn plan aiming to help 1.1 million look for work and stay there. The three key changes in the pipeline for people disabled people and people with health conditions are:
- Fit note reform The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) plans to work with healthcare professionals to work out the best way to reform the fit note process. The changes will be trialled in 2024 to improve the assessment of fitness for work, provide quick and easy access to support and enable more people to resume work.
- Universal Support in England and Wales Up to 100,000 people per year will be matched with existing vacancies and supported in their new role, to help people with disabilities and the vulnerable. Those matched will get to 12 months of personalised support, including a a dedicated keyworker and up to £4,000 of funding to help with training, managing health conditions or help for employers to make necessary adjustments.
- WorkWell This new service delivered by the DWP and the Department for Health and Social Care will support almost 60,000 long-term sick or disabled people to start, stay and succeed in work. A prospectus will soon be launched outlining the plan for all Integrated Care Systems across England to develop their work and health strategies. The service will then be delivered in up to 15 pilot areas.
Welfare Secretary Mel Stride said: “Work is good. It pays the bills, improves health and grows the economy – so we’re all better off. And it also means we can support those who can’t work, as any compassionate society should. We are rolling out the next generation of welfare reforms to help more people start, stay and succeed in work. We know the positive impact work can have, not just on our finances, but our health and wellbeing too. But our message is clear: if you are fit, if you refuse to work, if you are taking taxpayers for a ride – we will take your benefits away.”
Sanctions will see the worst-offending claimants lose parts of their benefits. New rules are being drawn up to cut off free prescriptions and legal aid for those who repeatedly don’t turn up for work appointments or interviews. Digital technology will be used to track claimants’ attendance at job fairs and interviews as part of the beefed-up regime and under the plans, no claimant should hit 18 months out of work on full benefits if they’ve not taken all reasonable steps to comply with Jobcentre demands.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said: “We’re serious about growing our economy and that means we must address the rise in people who aren’t looking for work – especially because we know so many of them want to and with almost a million vacancies in the jobs market the opportunities are there. These changes mean there’s help and support for everyone – but for those who refuse it, there are consequences too. Anyone choosing to coast on the hard work of taxpayers will lose their benefits.”
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