Mel Stride, the secretary of state for work and pensions set out his vision for the future of claimants in a speech to the Conservative Party conference today. It was a speech which some will regard as filled with optimism and others will hear as laden with threats.
When combined with Chancellor’s Jeremy Hunt’s reference to claimants placed in the LCWRA group as “100,000 people [who] are leaving the labour market every year for a life on benefits”, the threat seems loud and clear.
Update 04.10.23 : prime minister Rishi Sunak has also now launched an attack on claimants in the LCWRA group, see below.
Stride spoke of making far more demands on claimants at risk of long-term unemployment, with more frequent work-focused requirements and firm sanctions.
He praised the ‘heroes’ who work in Jobcentres but said they need private sector style incentives to get more people into work.
He talked about the pain it causes him personally to think of sick and disabled people being denied the opportunity to work.
He explained that there is to be reform of sickness and disability benefits assessments and a revolution in the support provided to move more disabled claimants into work.
Finally, he spoke of human beings freed to be the best they can be by being supported back into work.
Firm sanctions and private sector style bonuses
Stride told the conference that government faces new challenges:
Just as the world of work is rapidly changing, so the ways in which we help people into work must change too.
So we are trialling a far more demanding approach with claimants at particular risk of becoming long-term unemployed.
This includes far more frequent work-focused requirements, with firm sanctions for those who fail to fulfil their commitments, and more support for those who need it.
And we’ve been testing new incentive schemes for our best performing Job Centre teams. Recognising and rewarding those heroes who go above and beyond to improve the lives of others.
The sort of approach that is common practice in successful parts of the private sector. And if its good enough for the private sector then it should be good enough for the public sector too.
Assessment reform and revolutionary support
He went on to talk about “the number of people who are inactive due to ill health or disability” and underlined the government’s intention to reform sickness and disability benefits assessments:
Having a job isn’t just good for your finances – it’s good for your mental and physical wellbeing too.
And it pains me to think there are so many people being left on benefits who want to work and who could be thriving in work. It’s a waste of human potential . . .
So we are reforming our sickness and disability benefit assessments for the first time in over a decade, to take account of the modern workplace.
That is going hand-in-hand with a revolution in the employment support we’re providing for people with health problems and disabilities.
That’s why at the last Budget we unveiled £2 billion of investment, including a game-changing new programme, Universal Support, which will place people into work, with a personal adviser providing wraparound support for up to a year while they find their feet.
We know it’s an approach that works because we have already been delivering it, including a trailblazing scheme in the West Midlands, Thrive Into Work, led by their excellent Conservative Mayor, Andy Street.
I have seen first-hand how they are integrating healthcare and employment support.
And as we roll out Universal Support, we will be changing lives right across the country, so whatever your situation, if you can work you will be supported to do so.
And if you are on benefits and able to work, you will be expected to do so.
Human beings made free by work
Stride concluded with what he clearly considered to be a rousing vision of a future in which many more sick and disabled claimants will be given the gift of work:
Low unemployment. Improving economic activity. Rising employment.
These achievements don’t happen by accident. They result from the endeavours of millions of people right up and down our country and from the tireless work of those at DWP day in day out, who make the gift of work a reality for thousands of men and women.
And that, Conference, is what we will continue to do.
For every person supported back into work, there’s a human being who is better off.
A human being freed to be the best that they can be.
A society made alive and whole.
That is truly something to inspire.
Conference, we are getting Britain working.
Life on benefits
Earlier in the day, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt was much more blunt in his disapproval of claimants who, rather than working, choose “a life on benefits” by being assessed by the DWP as too ill or disabled to be able to manage even work-related activities.
He told the conference:
I’m proud to live in a country where, as Churchill said, there’s a ladder everyone can climb but also a safety net below which no one falls.
That safety net is paid from tax. And that social contract depends on fairness to those in work alongside compassion to those who are not.
That means work must pay… and we’re making sure it does. From last year, for the first time ever, you can earn £1,000 a month without paying a penny of tax or national insurance.
But despite that even when companies are struggling to find of workers, around 100,000 people are leaving the labour market every year for a life on benefits.
Mel Stride gets this 100% which is why he’s replacing the Work Capability Assessment.
And we’re going to look at the way the sanctions regime works. It isn’t fair that someone who refuses to look seriously for a job gets the same as someone trying their best.
Are people three times sicker today?
Finally, in his own speech to conference on Wednesday, Rishi Sunak cast doubt on whether claimants in the LCWRA group really are unable to work:
We must end the national scandal…
…where our benefits system declares that more than two million people of working age are incapable of actually doing any.
That’s not Conservative, that’s not compassionate—that must change.
In 2011, one in five of those doing a work capability assessment were deemed unfit to work.
But the latest figure now stands at 65 per cent.
Are people three times sicker today than they were a decade ago?
No, of course not.
It’s not good for our economy…
…it is not fair on taxpayers who have to pick up the bill…
…and it’s a tragedy for those two million people being written off.
I refuse to accept this and that is why we are going to change the rules so that those who can work, do work.
It's not too late to respond
For anyone who doubted that the Conservatives were serious about slashing the work capability assessment to make it much harder to be found to have LCWRA, these speeches should provide absolute certainty.
And, until 30 October, it’s not too late to tell them what you think of their plans by taking part in the consultation.
You can also visit our WCA Changes Latest News page for updates on what's happening to the WCA.