People with mobility and mental health problems will be asked to work from home or lose benefits as part of what a UK government minister described today as doing “their duty”.
The policy will be set out on Wednesday as part of the autumn statement amid a drive by Rishi Sunak to make changes to the welfare system, which he described on Monday as “unsustainable”.
Hundreds of thousands of people will be told to look for work that they can do from home or face having their benefits cut by £4,680 a year, under plans that were first reported by the Times.
Laura Trott, chief secretary to the Treasury, told Sky News: “Of course there should be support for people to help them into work but ultimately there is a duty on citizens if they are able to go out to work they should. Those who can work and contribute should contribute.”
Earlier, she told Times Radio the government’s plans were “not just about forcing people out”. She added: “It’s saying we’re going to put the right mechanisms around you to help you with that. But ultimately, you have to engage with that, and that is an obligation on you as a citizen to do this. And if you don’t do this, we will look at sanctions.”
There was strong criticism from charities. Ayla Ozmen, the director of policy and campaigns at the anti-poverty charity Z2K, described the plans as “rushed and ill-thought-out”.
“There is no evidence to support the idea that there are fully remote jobs available that are suitable for these groups,” she said.
“This is simply a cut for those of us who become seriously ill or disabled in the future and need the support of social security, and risks worsening people’s health and pushing them further from work.”
Sarah White, the head of policy at the national disability charity Sense, said: “Everyone should be able to work if they want to and can, but this latest government move looks sets to punish disabled people, adding more anxiety on to disabled households that are already struggling.”
Details of the policy will be set out by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) after consultations by the government some months ago about work capability assessment (WCA).
Trott also went further than Sunak or Jeremy Hunt when asked if the autumn statement would go beyond business tax cuts. Asked if the chancellor would be cutting taxes for individuals, she told the BBC’s Today programme: “That is where the focus is.”
“In broad narrative terms this is a big moment for us, for people at home, because inflation has halved. We know how difficult it has been and it will mean important things for the household budget.”
Charities have already warned that DWP plans to tighten health-related benefits – which are provided to more than 3 million working-age adults in the UK – could cause “huge anxiety” and mean “sanctions” for disabled people.
Campaigners have also said that welfare changes could lead to many losing out on almost £400 a month in support. Tony Wilson, the director of the Institute for Employment Studies, told the Guardian in September that extra support to help disabled people into work should not come with such stringent conditions.
Speaking on Monday in London about the plans to make changes to benefits, the prime minister said : “We believe in the inherent dignity of a good job. And we believe that work, not welfare, is the best route out of poverty.”
“Yet right now, around 2 million people of working age are not working at all. That is a national scandal and an enormous waste of human potential. So, we must do more to support those who can work to do so.
The number of people on health-related benefits has risen by a quarter since the eve of the Covid pandemic. Most of these are in the limited capability for work-related activity (LCWRA) group, who receive the additional £390.06 a month.