Government plans which could reportedly see disability benefits claimants asked to demonstrate what work they might be able to take have been described as “utterly unworkable” by a charity.
Such claimants could continue receiving the payments after they return to employment as part of a drive to get people back into the workforce, according to reports.
Under the reforms, the system used to assess eligibility for the sickness benefits could be scrapped, with ministers describing it as a “perverse incentive to prove how sick you are”, The Times newspaper reported.
It could be replaced with a process that instead asks claimants to demonstrate what work they might be able to take.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman called the reporting “speculative” and said an upcoming White Paper will “shape” the Government’s approach.
Vicki Nash, head of policy, campaigns and public affairs at the mental health charity Mind, said: “Scrapping work capability assessments to replace them with a system which seems to be aimed at forcing people to show how they can return to the workforce is utterly unworkable.
“The majority of people with mental health problems who are benefit recipients and don’t access employment support can’t do so because they need to focus on their health, and are not ready to work.”
She said other claimants feel it is “too risky to trust the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to support them”, adding: “Unless the DWP removes the threat of sanctions, they will continue to struggle getting people who might be able to return to employment to take up support.”
Ms Nash said allowing people to keep some of their benefits as they start work would be “potentially welcome”, but said more detail is needed before it is possible to say if such changes would have a positive effect.
Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride is looking to revamp the benefits system in an effort to boost employment numbers that have not returned to pre-pandemic levels amid labour shortages.
He was asked by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in the autumn to review issues holding back workforce participation.
The PM last week said the Government is looking at a range of measures to tackle inactivity, adding: “We need to look at how our welfare system is operating and is it operating in the way that we would like to make sure that we are supporting and incentivising people who can be, to be in work.”
A white Paper is due to be published by the DWP in the coming months, ahead of the spring Budget.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “You will know that we will publish the health and disability White Paper in the coming months, which follows consultation with disabled people and people with health conditions, which will help shape our approach.”
It has yet to be decided when benefits might be halted after a claimant has got a job, The Times reported, with a system similar to the tapering of universal credit as people earn more under consideration.
On overhauling work capability assessments, a Government source told the paper: “It’s very much not the case that we’d be relaxing assessments so you could be perfectly fit and claiming disability benefits, but it will be more about being supported into work and supported to do the things you can do, rather than incentivised to prove how incapable you are.”
The Times also reported that the Treasury is considering offering tax breaks to people for entering jobs.
James Taylor, director of strategy at the disability equality charity Scope, said: “It’s good to see the Government acknowledge that the benefits system isn’t working for disabled people.
“The work capability assessment isn’t fit for purpose, and high levels of successful appeals against poor decision making continue year after year.
“For too long, disabled people have been forced to fight for support in an adversarial system that causes overwhelming anxiety and stress.
“The Government desperately needs to restore trust in the system and commit to wholesale reform.
“Disabled people need a welfare system that works first time and treats them with fairness, dignity and respect.”