Rishi Sunak has announced plans to review work capability assessments saying ‘hundreds of thousands’ of benefit recipients with ‘less severe’ conditions will now be expected to work.

The Prime Minister is now being accused of a “full-on assault on disabled people” after a speech in London today where he spoke of the “moral mission” to reform welfare.

He repeatedly stressed that the system as it stands is letting people down by not being focused enough on the work, they might be able to do.

He insisted the changes – including benefits being stopped if someone does not comply with conditions set by a work coach and a pledge to “tighten” the work capability assessment (WCA) – are not solely about cutting costs.

He said: “Right now, the gateway to ill health benefits is writing to many off leaving them on the wrong type of support and with no expectation of trying to find a job with all the advantages that that brings.

“In 2011, 20 per cent of those doing a work capability assessment were deemed un fit to work, but the latest figure now stands at 65 per cent. That’s wrong. People are not three times sicker than they were a decade ago, and the world of work has changed dramatically.

“Of course, those with serious debilitating conditions should never be expected to work. But if you have a low-level mobility issue your employer could make some reasonable adjustments, perhaps enabling you to work from home.

“And if you’re feeling anxious or depressed, then of course you should get the support and treatment you need to manage your condition. But that doesn’t mean we should assume you can’t engage in work. That’s not going to help you and it’s not fair on everyone else either.

“So, we’re going to tighten the work capability assessment, such as hundreds of thousands of benefit recipients with less severe conditions will now be expected to engage in the world of work.”

Other proposed changes by Mr Sunak included having so-called specialist work and health professionals charged with responsibility for issuing fit notes instead of GPs – in a bid to end the “sick note culture”.

Disability equality charity Scope has questioned whether the announcements are being “driven by bringing costs down rather than how we support disabled people”.

Following the speech, the charity described proposals as feeling “like a full-on assault on disabled people” branding them “dangerous” and saying they risk leaving disabled people “destitute”.

James Taylor of the charity said calls were “pouring into our helpline” from concerned disabled people.

He said: “In a cost-of-living crisis looking to slash disabled people’s income by hitting PIP is a horrific proposal.

“Sanctions and ending claims will only heap more misery on people at the sharp end of our cost-of-living crisis.”


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The Herald:

The Prime Minister continued by detailing plans for new legislation to prevent “fraudsters” from exploiting “the natural compassion and generosity of the British people”.

The Prime Minister said: “For me, it is a fundamental duty of Government to make sure that hard work is always rewarded.

“We are preparing a new fraud Bill for the next parliament, which will align DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) with HMRC (HM Revenue and Customs), so that we treat benefit fraud like tax fraud, with new powers to make seizures and arrest, and we’ll also enable penalties to be applied to a wider set of fraudsters through a new civil penalty.

“Because when people see others in their community gaming the system that their taxes pay, it erodes support for the very principle of the welfare state.”

He rejected suggestions the reforms were lacking in compassion, saying “the exact opposite is true”.

Although a trade union representing physiotherapists has said long NHS waiting lists are driving up levels of worklessness over a ‘sicknote culture’, they have said the Prime Minister should take a deeper look into the causes ‘closer to home’.

Ash James, director of practice and development at the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, said: “Too many people are being signed off sick but the Prime Minister should look closer to home for the causes.

“There are long waiting times for NHS services for musculoskeletal conditions, such as back and neck pain – the second most common reason for sickness absence.

“Long waits lead to more complex problems and we know that the greater the amount of time someone is off work, the less likely they are ever to return.”