UK benefit reform will cause hardship without helping the economy, charities warn

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UK charities are urging ministers to abandon plans to tighten eligibility for sick benefits, warning they would cause severe hardship without clear benefits to the economy or public finances.

Proposed changes to the workability assessment, a test used to identify those who qualify for more benefits without having to look for work, could be at the heart of a wider push to cut the welfare bill in Jeremy Hunt’s autumn report.

The chancellor has already signaled tougher sanctions on benefit claimants who fail to find work, as the Conservatives seek to draw dividing lines with the Labor opposition. Along with Mel Stride, the Work and Pensions Secretary, he is considering cutting the value of working age benefits, breaking the link to inflation.

Going further by reducing the bill for disability benefits, which has risen from £15.9bn in 2013-14 to £25.9bn in 2023-24, will help create space for the Hunt Fund allowance. The next election is expected next year.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has questioned the sharp increase in the number of people eligible for disability benefits, calling it a „national scandal” that more than 2 million people are estimated to be unfit to work.

“Are people three times sicker today than they were a decade ago? No, of course not. . . I refuse to accept this,” he told the Conservative Party conference in early October.

But Tom Waters, co-director of the Fiscal Studies think tank, said the proposed changes to the assessment of disability benefits would ultimately make little difference to public finances, with similar reforms in the past. „On paper, these things always look like they save money . . . in practice they fail to do so,” he said.

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Under the proposals Released in SeptemberPeople struggling with mobility, social involvement or bladder control will have to look for work from 2025, while losing £400 a month in benefits.

Ministers have framed it as a reform to help people realize their potential, arguing that employers are more willing to accommodate remote and flexible work after the pandemic.

But with a brief eight-week consultation ending on Monday, charities warn the changes could remove vital support from vulnerable people.

„We are very concerned,” said Rebecca Rennison, policy manager at the charity Citizens Advice, arguing that while the government aims to help people into work, „in reality it means less money and tougher conditions”.

A proposed change threatens to remove a rule that exempts people from looking for work if they pose a „substantial risk” to their mental health, forcing some to leave the benefits system entirely to avoid stress. Economic sanctions regime, he added.

Rory Veal, senior policy manager at the Trussell Trust charity, said seven in 10 people referred to food banks are disabled and any policy change that led to disability claimants being denied the right level of support would be „deeply worrying”.

Waters also noted that the new regime would quickly become „irrelevant” if the government followed through on long-term plans in March to scrap the WCA altogether.

The Department for Work and Pensions said the government wanted to ensure that those seeking help for work benefits were not „unnecessarily singled out”, and any changes would be part of welfare reforms, with an extra £2bn to support them. With health conditions and disabilities to stay at work.

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