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A new era of welfare reform has been ushered in from the Autumn Statement

Backed by almost £30bn, a new vision for welfare reform has been outlined by Mel Stride, the work, and pensions secretary, to support more people into work. However, charities have claimed the announcement could be detrimental for people with a disability.

The new plans, which were unveiled on Friday, offer unprecedented employment and health support to help over a million people, while protecting those most in need from cost-of-living pressures – including raising pensions and benefits in line with inflation.

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Since the Conservative party was elected at the end of 2019, the group have made it clear that they are aiming to support people on benefits and those with a disability into work. Plans to begin this motive were outlined in the Autumn Statement, which was delivered by Jeremy Hunt last week.  

Within the statement, the chancellor announced a new £2.5bn Back to Work plan which is designed to assist thousands with a disability, long-term health condition or people who have been out of work for a long period of time. The news also comes alongside new guarantees for those on the highest tier of health benefits around keeping benefit support to cushion those who try work.

Against this backdrop, the government also delivered a triple lock-protected boost for pensioners and raising benefits in line with inflation next year, worth £20bn taken together.

‘Work changes lives,’ said the secretary of state for work and pensions. ‘With the next generation of welfare reforms, we will help thousands of people to realise their aspirations and move off benefits into work, while continuing to support the most in need.’

Mr Stride added: ‘We are taking long term decisions that will build a brighter future for millions, offering unprecedented support to open up opportunity and grow the economy, building on our record that has seen almost four million more people in work since 2010.’

However, various charities have warned that forcing disabled people into work could push them into destitution. Although experts have welcomed the government’s decision to uprate benefits in line with inflation levels, they said the proposals to change criteria meaning people with certain conditions, such as mental health illnesses, do need to work, could lead to ‘dangerous consequences’ – including a risk of suicide or harm.

Ministers intend to abolish the so-called ‘work capability assessments’ and introduce a new regime with a slim-lined list of definitions as to what constitutes someone being unable to work.

Government sources have stressed no one currently classed as unable to work due to health conditions will lose any money from the changes – which will only apply to new claims in 2025. Following this, existing claimants will be offered a new policy called the ‘chance to work guarantee, which will mean they are not assessed for work – unless their health condition changes – and that will remain the case even if they move into employment and it doesn’t work out.

James Taylor, director of strategy at disability charity Scope, has claimed Jeremy Hunt’s new plan ‘demonises disabled people’.

He said the announcement was ‘a missed opportunity to set out how disabled people can thrive. Instead, now many will be thinking how they will survive”.

‘The government is hellbent on reducing the benefits budget come what may, but inflation is still high, prices are rising, and disabled people are still facing sky high bills.

‘Disabled people are struggling to make ends meet. Life costs more if you are disabled. We’re hearing from disabled people who are using candles instead of putting the light on, skipping meals, and taking cold showers.’

Images: GraphicMama-team and fietzfotos

More on this topic:

Tax cuts, benefit increases, but not a single social care mention: Autumn Statement 2023

New government planner to help thousands of disabled university students into work

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