What we know about Rishi Sunak's changes to sick pay and benefits

In a major speech on the benefits system, Rishi Sunak announced a number of proposed reforms. Here's what we know so far.

Rishi Sunak giving his speech in central London on welfare reform, where he called for an end to the
Rishi Sunak giving his speech in central London on welfare reform, where he called for an end to the "sick note culture". (PA)

Rishi Sunak has announced significant changes to the welfare system.

In a major speech on Friday, Sunak called for an end to “sick note culture” and warned against “over-medicalising the everyday challenges and worries of life”.

He announced a number of proposed reforms, which have been criticised by some unions and charities.

Here is what we know of the reforms so far.

1. 'Tightened up' work capability assessments

Sunak said "hundreds of thousands of benefit recipients with less severe conditions will now be expected to engage in the world of work - and [will] be supported to do so".

The government has said that under the current Work Capability Assessment, "too many people are effectively being written off as unable to work". However, Sunak didn't go into detail about how this system would be reformed.

2. GPs will no longer carry out work assessments

Sunak said "we need to change the sick note culture, so the default becomes what work you can do - not what you can’t".

Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show UK workers take 5.7 sick days a year, though experts have pointed out UK rates are lower than other countries.

Sunak said the government has designed a "a new system where people [would] have easy and rapid access to specialised work and health support to help them back to work from the very first fit note conversation".

Under this, the government would shift the responsibility for work assessments from GPs to “specialist work and health professionals who have the dedicated time to provide an objective assessment of someone’s ability to work, and [provide] the tailored support they need to do so.”

Responding to this announcement, Dr Katie Bramall-Stainer of the British Medical Association (BMA) said Sunak was using “hostile rhetoric", adding: "With a waiting list of 7.5 million, not including for mental health problems... patients cannot get the treatment they need to be able to return to work."

Meanwhile, The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health said his suggestion of specialist work and health professionals replacing GPs was "vague and unclear”.

Rishi Sunak announced a number of welfare reforms. (PA)
Rishi Sunak announced a number of welfare reforms. (PA)

3. Benefit claimants must find extra work

Sunak said "higher expectations" need to be placed on those who are able to work while claiming benefits.

Therefore, he said, "anyone working less than half the full-time week will now have to try and find extra work in return for claiming benefits".

Under this, the government would accelerate people from “legacy benefits” towards Universal Credit “to give them more access to the world of work".

4. Benefits removed if someone doesn’t accept a job

Sunak said there are 500,000 people “with no medical conditions” preventing them from working who have been unemployed for six months.

“There is no reason these people should not be in work,” he said, “especially when we have almost a million job vacancies.

“Anyone who doesn’t comply with the conditions set by their work coach, such as accepting an available job, will after 12 months have their claim closed and their benefits removed entirely, because unemployment support should be a safety net, never a lifestyle choice.”

Watch: Rishi Sunak sets out plans to tackle 'sick note culture'

5. Review of mental health payments

Sunak said 5,000 new awards of Personal Independent Payment (PIP) are made every month to people citing anxiety and depression. He questioned whether they all face the same living costs as people with physical conditions, and suggested the “whole system is undermined by how people are asked to make objective and unverifiable claims about their capability”.

He said the government will publish a consultation “on how we move away from that to focus on those with the greatest needs and extra costs”, and suggested it will look to implement "greater medical evidence to substantiate a claim" and make the system "harder to exploit".

Sunak added: "I want to be completely clear about what I’m saying here. This is not about making the welfare system less generous to people who face very real extra costs from mental health conditions. For those with the greatest needs, we actually want to make it easier to access, with fewer requirements.”

Responding to the announceent, Dr Sarah Hughes, chief executive of mental health charity Mind, said it was "deeply disappointed" in Sunak "conjuring up the image of a ‘mental health culture’ that has ‘gone too far’. This is harmful, inaccurate and contrary to the reality for people up and down the country."

Meanwhile, PIP can also be claimed by people with physical disabilities to help with extra costs, with Sunak saying money is used for things like handrails or stairlifts. But he said these are "already available at low cost, or free from the NHS or local luthorities... so it probably isn’t right that we’re paying an ongoing amount every year."

James Taylor, director of strategy at Scope, criticised the plans as “a full-on assault on disabled people... in a cost of living crisis, looking to slash disabled people’s income by hitting PIP is a horrific proposal".

6. New powers to target benefit fraud

Sunak detailed plans for new legislation to prevent “fraudsters” from exploiting “the natural compassion and generosity of the British people”.

The Fraud Bill, he said, would "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",

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