Fears Universal Credit to be scrapped for millions in Autumn Statement | Personal Finance | Finance
Millions of Brits face losing benefits in ‘concerned’ Hunt back-to-work crackdown
Benefit claimants who “refuse” to contact their Jobcentre or take work offered to them will face losing financial support, under new plans to be announced in next week’s Autumn Statement.
The crackdown is part of Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s “back to work plan”, with £2.5billion worth of funding over five years to tackle the nation’s decline in labor force participation since the pandemic.
But the charity Mind says the new rules will put more people out of work because it has a devastating effect on their mental health.
Under a plan that will need parliamentary approval, those who are currently receiving the standard Universal Credit allowance will have their claims closed if they refuse work and contact with the Job Center after six months. Sanctions may also result in access to additional benefits, such as free prescriptions and legal aid being revoked.
Mandatory work placement trials will be rolled out if a claimant is still not working after 12 months, to “improve” their employability prospects. Ministers also plan to trial reforms to the fit notes process to make it “easier and quicker” for people to get specialist work and health support.
READ MORE: Jeremy Hunt urged cutting taxes in his autumn statement
People who don’t look for work will face tougher sanctions
Plans outlined also include expanding key health and employment programs to help those with mental health conditions stay in or find work, such as additional investment in therapy.
Vicki Nash, associate director of policy and campaigns at mental health charity Mind, said: “Poverty and mental health problems create a vicious cycle that all parts of Government must work together to tackle. [The] announcements look like they came from departments working on different planets.
“We welcome the UK Government making a real investment in enabling more people with mental health problems to find work in a way that supports them to get better. And with close to two million people on waiting lists for mental health treatment, it’s worth investing in talking therapies.”
However, Miss Nash noted: “The increasing use of sanctions is a cause for concern – evidence has shown time and time again that they don’t work and make people’s mental health worse. Changes to sick notes will make it harder to be signed off from work and may mean people don’t get the time they need to recover.
“The investment announced shows that the Government knows that the answer to tackling the number of people struggling with their mental health is to increase support rather than decrease it. But the support being offered does not match the scale of the need and is undermined by the many other decisions that have been announced.
“And if the expected changes to work ability assessments are confirmed in next week’s Autumn Statement, we will see more people being pushed further out of work because of their mental health.”
Ben Harrison, director of the work foundation at Lancaster University, said: “At a time of record levels of sickness absence and ongoing shortages of workers, the Government should be focusing on tackling ill-health drivers, while at the same time support those with long-term conditions. work to find a job that is right for them.
“The shortage of workers facing certain sectors will not be reduced when people are pushed into ‘any job’. It is vital that the Government’s offer provides adequate support for some of the most vulnerable people in society to find good, secure and long-term employment.
“The offer must focus on tailored support for jobseekers with different needs, and a renewed drive to work with employers to increase the quality of jobs available. Instead, threatening to revoke access to aspects of NHS provision as a free prescription is a dangerous precedent and would increase the risk of anxiety for those already unable to work due to ill health.
“Previous Government proposals to push people into ‘any job’ have not produced long-term results – and the DWP’s own evidence from 2020 suggests that sanctions are ineffective and slow people’s progress on back to work.”
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According to the Treasury, the number of people not looking for work has increased significantly since the pandemic, which is having a negative impact on the economy.
He said a record 2.6 million people in the UK are inactive due to long-term illness or disability, with mental health, musculoskeletal conditions and heart disease being some of the main reasons.
Meanwhile, 300,000 have been registered as unemployed for more than a year in the three months to July.
The aim of the amendments is that no claimant will reach 18 months of unemployment while receiving their full benefits unless they have taken “all reasonable steps” to comply with Jobcentre support.
Jeremy Hunt, Chancellor of the Exchequer, said: “We are serious about growing our economy and that means we have to tackle the rise in people not looking for work – especially as we know that there are so many of them trying and with almost. million vacancies in the job market the opportunities are there.
“These changes mean that help and support is available to everyone – but for those who refuse it, there are also consequences. Anyone who chooses to coast on the hard work of taxpayers will lose their benefits.”
Mel Stride, the secretary of state for work and pensions, said: “We are rolling out the next generation of welfare reforms to help more people start, stay and succeed in work. We know the positive impact that working can have, not only on our finances, but also on our health and well-being.
“So we are increasing voluntary support for people with health conditions and disabilities, including our flagship Universal Support programme.
“But our message is clear: if you’re fit, if you refuse to work, if you’re taking taxpayers for a ride – we’ll take your benefits.”
The Chancellor will announce the Autumn Statement on Wednesday, 22 November.
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