Disability benefits reforms hope to encourage more people into employment as charities express concern

Disabled people could get more help to work from home as part of plans to reduce the numbers claiming sickness benefits, the work and pensions secretary has said.

Mel Stride said the new plans could see those with health conditions that have kept them out of work “given the right support and opportunities to move off benefits and into the labor market”.

But disability charities have criticized the changes, warning they could force people into work when they are not well enough.

Mr Stride said the government was considering changes to the work capacity assessment, the test which aims to determine how much a disability or illness limits someone's ability to work.

The work and pensions secretary said the assessment did not reflect how someone with a disability or health condition might be able to work from home.

He said the new plans would take into account that people with mobility impairments or who suffer from stress in the workplace “have better access to employment opportunities from an increase in flexible working and home working”.

He added that the changes would not affect those at the end of life or with severe learning difficulties or disabilities.

Mr Stride said a consultation on the changes would last eight weeks and the government hoped they would be in place by 2025.

He told the Commons: “We know that many people on out-of-work benefits because of a health condition want to work and, helped by modern working practices, could do so while managing their condition effectively.

“We have seen a huge change in the world of work in recent years, a huge change that has been accelerated by the pandemic.

“This has opened up more opportunities for people with disabilities and people with health problems to start, stay and succeed in work.”

Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride

(PA file)

But disability campaigners have warned that the plans, which are part of a post-pandemic push to encourage more people with long-term conditions and disabilities into the workplace, could force sick people back to work and cause stress to people with disabilities.

James Taylor, executive director of strategy at disability equality charity Scope, urged ministers to ensure new employment support for disabled people is “flexible and voluntary”.

He said: “We are concerned that these proposals will end up forcing huge numbers of disabled people to look for work when they are not well enough, making them sicker. If they don't meet strict requirements, their benefits will stop. In the hands of a cost-of-living crisis, this could be devastating.”

Sarah White, head of policy at national disability charity Sense, meanwhile warned the plans could “cause huge stress to disabled people up and down the country”.

“We are seriously concerned that if the Government overhauls its assessment process without providing any additional support, then disabled people will simply be put under more pressure to find work, without the support they need to do so.” he said.

In the Commons, shadow work and pensions secretary Liz Kendall described the proposals as “teasing at the edges of a failed system”.

He said: “If you run the NHS into the ground for 13 years and let waiting lists for physical and mental health skyrocket, if you fail to reform social care to help people who care for their loved ones and if your only aim is to try and score political points instead of reforming the system to get sick and disabled people who can work the help they really need, you end up with the mess we have today.

“A system that fails sick and disabled people, that fails taxpayers and fails our country as a whole. Britain deserves much better than this.”

Conservative former minister Sir John Redwood said he “strongly” supported the initiative but urged Mr Stride and his officials to “speed it all up” rather than wait until 2025.

He said: “Why is it taking so long? This is something we need to do now to reduce shortages in our workplace and give these people support and hope sooner.”

Mr Stride said he shared Sir John's “enthusiasm” to see the changes take place as soon as possible, adding: “It is true that they will require quite a bit of work around the IT systems and the providers themselves will of course have to integrate the changes that may or may not occur as a result of this consultation'.