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Disabled people claiming benefits will face mandatory work experience if they do not find a job within 18 months as part of the biggest shake-up to the welfare system in a decade.
Although Universal Credit and other working-age benefits will be increased by 6.7% in line with September’s inflation rate, there will be tougher requirements for those who claim them to look for work.
For example, those solely eligible for the standard Universal Credit allowance who refuse to engage with job centre staff or accept work offered to them after six months will have their claims closed. This is will include free prescriptions.
Under the back to work plan, the sick note system will also be changed to assume that people can work. In addition, the Work Capability Assessment will be reformed to reflect the growth of home working jobs since the Covid-19 pandemic.
The news was announced by the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt as part of his Autumn Statement, which sets out the government’s tax and spending plans for the year ahead. He said these new welfare support and sanction measures will get 200,000 more people into workforce.
Disabled charities have condemned the changes saying that they are “cruel and unfair” and heap too much pressure on disabled people by failing to take into account the barriers to employment that disabled people face.
Dan Scorer, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Learning Disability charity Mencap said: “Plans to force more people with a learning disability into work without support, and heightening sanctions is short-sighted, ill thought-out, and risks pushing more people into poverty.
“Hundreds of thousands of people with a learning disability want to work but they face multiple barriers moving into work – from stigma and prejudice, to inaccessible application forms and lack of adjustments in interviews. The employment support available for people with a learning disability is inadequate and without it many are unable to get a job. The government must ensure there is more tailored support to help people with a learning disability get into work, including better training for work coaches.”
The National Autistic Society added that autistic people face the lowest employment rate of disabled adults with just 29% of adults in work and stricter rules on benefit claimants do not address the root causes of this low employment. Flexible working practices and the opportunity to work from home can be valuable yet not enough of these jobs are available to autistic people and this doesn’t remove all the barriers to employment.
With two-thirds of disabled people already planning to skip meals to get through this winter financially, Sense said that no one should be in this desperate situation.
Richard Kramer, Chief Executive, added: “Plans to force more people on benefits into work look set to punish disabled people, by putting them under more pressure to find a job without providing the support they need to do so. Ultimately, forcing people to find work without investing in assistive technology in jobcentres, training for assessors, and holding employers to account is just shifting the issues onto disabled people rather than creating lasting change.
“The government’s current rhetoric around work and the benefits system is cruel and unfair. The measures announced by the government today risk making life even harder for disabled households up and down the country – we’d urge the government to reconsider, by introducing measures that support, rather than force, people into work.”
Under a plan that would need parliamentary approval, Hunt also announced funding of £1.3bn over the next five years to help people with health conditions find jobs and further £1.3bn to help people who have been unemployed for over a year.
Jane Hatton, CEO at Evenbreak, which is a disability job board run by disabled people for disabled people, said that the new approach is based on a number of completely false assumptions. The first, and most important, is that disabled people who don’t work are lazy, and need to be forced into work by the use of harsher and harsher punishments.
She added: “At Evenbreak, we know that many thousands of disabled people are desperate to work, and will apply for many jobs, but be discriminated against because they are disabled. Others are genuinely unable to work because of their condition.
“The government says that work improves people’s wellbeing, but not if you have a severe mental health condition or severe pain or fatigue. In some cases, work can make you significantly worse. Threatening people in those circumstances with destitution is barbaric.
“The other assumption is that there are jobs that disabled people could do working from home. For many, just like non-disabled people, working from home may not be an option, but even if it is, those opportunities are becoming fewer and fewer.”
She added that voters should be aware that over 80% of disabled people acquire their disability as an adult and one in five working age adults have lived experience of disability.