New DWP scheme to help long-term sick and disabled people into work due to start in 15 locations

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has announced that a ‘joined-up work and health support service’ to help around 59,000 long-term sick and disabled people back into work will be piloted in 15 areas across England from October. The scheme will not affect people living in Scotland.

The WorkWell programme is part of the UK Government’s plan to reform the welfare system, recently outlined in a newly published Green Paper. Proposals include swapping fixed monthly cash payments of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) for over 5,300 people with ‘lesser mental health issues’ to support through Talking Therapies services. However, the proposed changes, which also include a review of the PIP assessment process and eligibility criteria have been described by leading disability charities as a “full-on assault on disabled people”.

The £64 million WorkWell 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 DWP and the Department for Health and Social Care, will bring together medical assistance and advice on workplace support. It is voluntary, so people could self-refer or be sent to WorkWell through an employer or the community sector.

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

Pilot areas from October

WorkWell pilots will take place within the following areas:

  • Birmingham and Solihull

  • Black Country

  • Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire

  • Cambridgeshire and Peterborough

  • Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly

  • Coventry and Warwickshire

  • Frimley

  • Herefordshire and Worcestershire

  • Greater Manchester

  • Lancashire and South Cumbria

  • Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland

  • North Central London

  • North West London

  • South Yorkshire

  • Surrey Heartlands

Each of the 15 WorkWell pilots will decide the exact support to be made available that’s best suited to the needs of their local area.

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Mel Stride MP, 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.”

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins MP, 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.”

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.

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.”

More details on the WorkWell scheme can be found on the GOV.UK website here.