Help for disabled people in England and Wales to find jobs is being cut due to a crackdown on benefits

A major plan to help disabled people into work has been quietly scrapped – just as the Prime Minister announced a crackdown on disability benefits.

The £100 million The Work and Health Programme, which operates in England and Wales, will end in the autumn, providers have been told, while Rishi Sunak at the same time wants to cut benefits for 420,000 sick and disabled people in a bid to force them into work – a move that charities say will leave people destitute.

The blow to people with disabilities comes after the Prime Minister unveiled a plan to hand power to officials without medical training to decide whether a worker is ill, raising the possibility that decisions about workers’ health will be made to goals rather than based on clinical needs. .

Charities last week condemned Sunak’s plans as an “all-out attack on people with disabilities” after he announced a consultation on the future of the Personal Independence Payment (PIP), which covers the additional costs of living with a disability or poor health helps cover.

The Prime Minister wants to cut the disability care budget by £69 billion a year, amid rising illness rates. The charitable Health Foundation said last week that by 2040, health inequality meant this 3.7 million adults, many in deprived areas, are believed to be living with a serious illness such as type 2 diabetes, chronic pain or depression.

Sunak said Britain had a “sick note culture” and blamed the problem on “young people… parked on benefits”, even though the majority of people receiving statutory sick pay are women over 50 who work part-time , according to the British newspaper The Guardian. Resolution Foundation.

He said there is “a moral mission” to help people get back to work. Yet he made no mention of the end of funding to help people return to work through the Work and Health Program (WHP). Launched in November 2017, with some EU funding, it was primarily a voluntary scheme aimed at helping people with disabilities find work. By November 2023, it had helped 300,000 people, with 31% still working after two years.

Provider companies worked with people with disabilities to discuss their aspirations and options to move into mainstream jobs, said Elizabeth Taylor, CEO of the Employment Related Services Association, which represents providers. She said scrapping WHP would leave “a big hole in provision” because new programs would not help as many people with disabilities, and people in some areas would receive no support at all for a year.

Last year, Mel Stride, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, announced Universal Support, with the aim of helping 25,000 disabled people into work by September. While the plan was welcome, it wouldn’t go nationwide until the summer of 2025, Taylor said, and would help fewer people.

“When this is placed in the context of rising rates of health-related benefits, greater expectations for people to find work and shortages in the labor market, it is alarming.”

The gap means providers will be left without funding, and some may go bankrupt or lay off the staff needed to help disabled clients find work. Taylor said that without support, employers would “likely revert to traditional recruitment practices, making it less likely that they would give disabled applicants the opportunity for employment”.

Gareth Parry, director at Maximus UK, one of the providers, told the Commons work and pensions committee last week that there have been national programs since 2000 to help people with disabilities into work.

“As far as I can remember, this is the first time in a long time that we have reached a point where from November this year there will no longer be specialist disability provision for people who need it,” he told MPs.

Stephen Timms, chairman of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, said WHP was not “sensationally successful, but it has helped quite a large number of people get back to work”.

“We haven’t had a chance to ask the minister yet why they are doing it,” he said. “But there is obviously nothing that will replace that particular provision, when all the evidence, including what the Prime Minister has said, is that it is needed more than ever.”

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Sunak’s plan to cut benefits was announced alongside a separate initiative announced to strip GPs of the power to issue sick notes, although these are only issued to some workers and the statutory sick pay of £116.75 per week – barely half of the state pension – is paid. by employers.

GPs, physiotherapists, nurses and other health professionals will have issued 11 million ‘fit notes’ in 2022-2023. In its consultation document, the government said it would create new “work and health advisors”, who would be “non-clinical professionals” to have “robust and in-depth work and health conversations with patients”. But it was not set out how many officers would be needed, and charities raised the possibility that having too few officers to issue sick notes would create a new waiting list.

Ken Butler, wellbeing rights adviser at Disability Rights UK, said: “Fair enough, employers say you should be fit after five working days. How will that work out in terms of speed?”

There are also concerns that people who may be too ill to work temporarily will be thrown out of their jobs and forced to receive benefits if they do not have access to suitable notes.

“I think most employers will accept a sick note because it has actually been diagnosed by a primary care physician,” Butler said. “So they’ll feel like it’s valid. How valid will this be? It just doesn’t seem to make any sense.”

The DWP said: “The Work and Health Program is part of a much wider offer to help people with disabilities and long-term health conditions get into, stay in and succeed in work. Our £2.5 billion Back to Work Plan will help more than a million people, including those with disabilities and long-term health conditions, to break down the barriers to work.”