Work and health support scheme to help chronic sick back to work to be piloted

A joined-up work and health support service to help the long-term sick back into work will be piloted in 15 areas of England, Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride has announced.

The WorkWell programme is part of the Government’s sweeping changes to the welfare system, including a review of payments to people with mental health conditions, which prompted accusations of a “full-on assault on disabled people”.

From October, the £64 million pilot will connect people with a health condition or disability to local support services including physiotherapy and counselling to help them stay in or return to work.

The service, launched by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Department for Health and Social Care, will bring together medical assistance and advice on workplace support.

For example, a GP could refer a patient with a bad back to WorkWell, where an adviser may contact their workplace to make adjustments such as flexible working or relocating their office to the ground floor, and help them access physiotherapy.

Areas trialling the service include Birmingham and Solihull, Cambridgeshire, Greater Manchester, Leicester, parts of north London and South Yorkshire.

Mr Stride said: “We are rolling out the next generation of welfare reforms so that thousands more people can gain all the benefits work brings.

“Too many today are falling out of work in a spiral of sickness that harms their finances, their prospects and ultimately their health, where with the right workplace adjustments and help, this needn’t be the case.

“And so we have designed WorkWell, a groundbreaking new service, that will for the first time integrate health and work advice at the local level, as part of our plan to stem the flow into economic inactivity, grow the economy, and change lives for the better.”

Mel Stride
Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride (Aaron Chown/PA)

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said: “Too often, people with disabilities or poor health fall out of work with no support.

“We have a plan to change that and improve lives so everyone has the opportunity to find fulfilling work.

“This service will help tens of thousands of people, who will receive joined-up work and health support, tailored to their individual needs.

“This service, alongside a faster, simpler and fairer health service, will build a healthier workforce, and a stronger economy.”

The service is voluntary, so people could self-refer or be sent to WorkWell through an employer or the community sector.

Ministers also want to see the process of issuing fit notes be integrated with WorkWell, whereby people who request one “have a work and health conversation and are signposted to local employment support services so they can remain in work”, according to the DWP.

Last month, Rishi Sunak announced a proposal to have so-called specialist work and health professionals charged with responsibility for issuing fit notes instead of GPs in a bid to end the “sick note culture”.

The Prime Minister stressed that the system as it stands is letting people down by not being focused enough on the work they might be able to do.

A proposal to reform personal independence payments, a non-means-tested benefit paid to disabled people to help with the extra living costs caused by long-term disability or ill health, was described by disability equality charity Scope as “a full-on assault on disabled people”.

Labour said it will “look closely” at any programme supporting people into work.

The Opposition party’s acting shadow work and pensions secretary Alison McGovern said: “But with a record number of people out of work due to sickness and millions of people on spiralling NHS and mental health waiting lists, we need a long-term plan to fix our NHS and get Britain working, not more pilots skirting around the edges.

“Labour’s plan to get Britain working will drive down NHS waiting lists, reform job centres, make work pay, and support people into good jobs across every part of the country. Change with Labour can’t come soon enough.”