One million on sickness benefits will have to find a job
5th September 2023

One million people on sickness benefits could be forced to start looking for jobs including thousands with mobility and anxiety problems as the Government gets set to slash billions from its welfare budget

  • An estimated 2.5million incapacity claimants are deemed unable to work
  • Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride hopes to slash £26b welfare budget 

Up to a million sickness and disability benefit claimants are to be ordered to seek work.

Unveiled by Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride tonight, the blitz is aimed at slashing the £26billion welfare budget.

An estimated 2.5 million incapacity claimants are deemed unable to work and languish on handouts.

But ministers believe this total could be cut by hundreds of thousands if those excused work because of mobility or anxiety problems are told to look for employment.

They also hope the shake-up will plug gaps in the labour market and boost the economy. Official surveys suggest that up to half a million people on sickness benefits want a job and are keen to receive help.

Those deemed capable of work could have their benefits docked if they refuse to cooperate.

Unveiled by Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride tonight (pictured), the blitz is aimed at slashing the £26billion welfare budget

Mr Stride assured MPs that the changes would not affect the terminally ill or those with severe learning difficulties or disabilities. 

But the proposals sparked a backlash from disability groups last night, with the MS Society saying they would ‘create worry, fear and the real threat of major financial loss’.

READ MORE: Surge in workers going off sick will cost the government £15.7 billion as debt could soar to 435% of GDP by the 2070s 

Rishi Sunak said helping people back into work could ‘transform lives … providing not just greater financial security, but also providing purpose that has the power to benefit individuals, their families, and their communities’.

He added: ‘The steps we’re taking will ensure no one is held back from reaching their full potential through work, which is key to ensuring our economy is growing and fit for the future.’

Mr Stride said capability assessment rules were a decade old and ‘don’t reflect the reality of work today’.

Ministers believe the growth of working from home since the pandemic means that many people once deemed unable to work could now hold down a job.

Currently those deemed unable to walk or wheel themselves 50 metres without experiencing ‘significant discomfort’ are not required to look for work.

Similar exemptions apply to those suffering incontinence and to those with mental health problems that leave them unable to engage with others without experiencing ‘significant distress’.

Rishi Sunak said helping people back into work could ‘transform lives’

But ministers believe that, with support, many of these people could now hold down a job from home. One senior government source said officials believe only a million of the 2.5million are so disabled they are incapable of doing any work. 

Officials will also review whether too many people are being written off because of depression. Mr Stride launched a consultation last night that could lead to the guidelines being changed or scrapped altogether.

He told MPs: ‘Our plans include taking account of the fact that people with mobility problems or who suffer anxiety within the workplace have better access to employment opportunities from the rise in flexible and home working.’

However, the changes are not due to be brought in until 2025, after the next election, raising the prospect they could be scrapped by Labour. 

Former Cabinet minister Sir John Redwood urged ministers to ‘speed it all up’ rather than wait until 2025: ‘Why on Earth is it going to take so long? This is something we need to be doing now to ease our workplace shortages and to give those people earlier support and hope.’

Mr Stride told MPs he shared Sir John’s ‘keenness’ to see changes made as soon as possible, but said they would require ‘quite a lot of work’ with IT systems.

Ministers have intervened following a surge in claims for incapacity benefits.

Those who qualify for the payments are divided into two groups – those deemed able to work and those who are not.

But since 2011, the proportion in the latter group, who are not required to seek work, has soared from 21 per cent to 65 per cent. Real-terms spending on incapacity benefits has soared by 62 per cent over the past decade, rising from £15.9billion in 2013 to £25.9billion this year.

Mr Stride launched a consultation last night that could lead to the guidelines being changed or scrapped altogether

Government sources said that – on current trends, the bill would rise to £29.3billion by 2027, with a further 500,000 people set to be written off.

The British Chambers of Commerce welcomed the plan. Deputy policy director Jane Gratton said: ‘Across the country, businesses are crying out for workers to fill job vacancies.

‘Being employed has many positive benefits for people, so it makes sense to help everyone who wants to work to find a good job that meets their needs and personal circumstances.

‘Employers understand this and want to be as flexible as possible to assist.’

But James Taylor of Scope, a disability equality charity, said: ‘We’re worried these proposals will end up forcing huge numbers of disabled people to look for work when they aren’t well enough, making them more ill. If they don’t meet strict conditions, they’ll have their benefits stopped. In the grips of a cost-of-living crisis this could be catastrophic.’

Sarah White, of the disability charity Sense, said: ‘We’re seriously concerned that if the Government does overhaul its assessment process without putting any additional support in place, then disabled people are just going to be put under more pressure to find work, without having the support they need to do so.’

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