An SNP minister has penned a letter to the UK Government raising “deeply concerning” changes to how people are assessed as being about to work.

Changes to work capability assessments announced by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt in the Autumn Statement could mean people receive less support based on a change of criteria rather than a change in their health, SNP Social Justice Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville has suggested.

Writing to the Department for Work And Pensions (DWP) Secretary Mel Stride, Ms Somerville has highlighted how the Scottish Government has taken a different approach with its social security system, which she claimed was “not a threat”, compared to the UK Government attitude.

Ms Somerville said: “I remain deeply concerned about the changes to the activities and descriptors for ‘getting about’ for limited capability for work, and the mobilising and substantial risk criteria for limited capability for work-related activity.

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“The changes you are proposing, including the extension of the sanctions regime, will have very significant additional impact on some of the most vulnerable people in our communities who need our support most.”

She added: “In Scotland, we have taken a different approach to devolved employability support; our services remain voluntary, and we want the support we provide to be seen as an opportunity, not a threat, with fairness, dignity and respect at its heart.

“In delivering our first devolved employability service, Fair Start Scotland, Scottish Government officials had a close working relationship with Job Centre Plus to ensure we were collectively working to provide support for the people of Scotland.”

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In the autumn statement, Mr Hunt pledged to increase universal credit by 6.7%, in line with September’s inflation figures.

But the Chancellor set out a tougher stance on benefits – pointing to a need to move more people into work.

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He said: “If after 18 months of intensive support jobseekers have not found a job, we will roll out a programme requiring them to take part in a mandatory work placement to increase their skills and improve their employability.

“And if they choose not to engage with the work search process for six months, we will close their case and stop their benefits.”