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Reforming Disability and Illness Benefit: What is the Government Proposing?

disability

Under plans announced by the Government, individuals with disabilities could be given enhanced support to work from home. Mel Stride, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has said this move would seek to reduce the number of people claiming benefits due to illness.

Supporting people with disabilities

Figures have shown around 2.5 million Britons are missing from the jobs market because of medical conditions. The Government has pledged £2 billion worth of investment to help those with long-term illnesses and disabilities get into work as allowing more flexibility within the workplace would enable them to “move off benefits and towards the jobs market”.

Mel Stride announced that changes to the Work Capability Assessment are being considered as this test which supposedly establishes how much a disability or illness limits someone’s ability to work is now outdated. Stride says that new plans will take into account the capacity for people to work from home and provide those who can with “better access to employment opportunities from the rise in flexible and home working”.

The proposals include:

  • Updating the categories associated with mobility and social interaction
  • Reflecting flexible and home working – and minimising the risk of these issues causing problems for workers
  • Providing “tailored support” for those found capable of work preparation activity in light of the proposed changes

Stride told the Commons “we know many people who are on out-of-work benefits due to a health condition want to work, and, assisted by modern working practices, they could do so while managing their condition effectively. We have seen a huge shift in the world of work in the last few years, a huge change that has accelerated since the pandemic. This has opened up more opportunities for disabled people and those with health conditions to start, stay and to succeed in work.”

An 8-week consultation will take place, with the Government hoping to implement plans by 2025. Stride confirmed that the changes would not affect those at the end of their life, or with severe learning difficulties or disabilities.

Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt announced plans to completely scrap work capability assessments when he announced his first spring Budget. The DWP says these latest proposals are “designed to help pave the way towards the landscape of support and work incentives that will be offered” when the assessments are eventually scrapped.

Responses

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said “work transforms lives” and the proposed changes would ensure “no one is held back from reaching their full potential through work”.

However, Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, Liz Kendall stated that the proposals as “tinkering at the edges of a failing system”. She said: “If you run your NHS into the ground for 13 years and let waiting lists for physical and mental health soar, if you fail to reform social care to help people caring for their loved ones, and if your sole aim is to try and score political points rather than reforming the system to get sick and disabled people who can work the help they really need, you end up with the mess we have today.

“A system that is failing sick and disabled people, that is failing taxpayers, and failing our country as a whole. Britain deserves far better than this.”

Furthermore, some charities have voiced their concerns. James Taylor, executive director of strategy at disability equality charity Scope, said this move could force people to work when they are not well and that this could make them even “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,” he added as he urged the Government to ensure new employment support for disabled people is “flexible, and voluntary”.

Sarah White, head of policy at national disability charity Sense also warned the plans could “cause huge anxiety for disabled people up and down the country”.

“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,” she said.

Final thought

Putting measures in place to enable those with health conditions to work from home through flexible arrangements symbolises progression towards a more inclusive society. However, this must be treated with caution. The post-pandemic drive to encourage more people with long-term conditions and disabilities into the workplace due to the rise of working-from-home, could force unwell people back into work and cause anxiety. It is vital that people with disabilities and illnesses maintain access to state welfare.

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