Gov refuses to say which conditions no longer qualify for benefits under reforms

Gov refuses to say which conditions no longer qualify for benefits under reforms

The Work and Pensions Secretary has refused to set out which health conditions will no longer result in access to sickness benefits, as part of the Government’s major welfare reforms.

In a statement to the Commons, Mel Stride set out plans to overhaul the way disability benefits work, with proposals aimed at providing a “fair and compassionate” system with “bespoke” support.

In a Green Paper published alongside Mr Stride’s statement, ministers proposed to reform personal independence payments (Pip), the main disability benefit, through changes to eligibility criteria and assessments.

The plans, which will be consulted on over the coming months, also include proposals to “move away from a fixed cash benefit system”, meaning people with some conditions will no longer receive regular payments but rather improved access to treatment if their condition does not involve extra costs.

Mr Stride told the Commons on Monday: “This Government’s priority is to make sure that our welfare system is fair and compassionate. Fair on the taxpayer, by ensuring that people of working age who can work, do work, and fair on those who are in most need of the state’s help.”

He added that the consultation will be “exploring whether people with specific health conditions and disabilities can be taken out of Pip assessments all together”.

Mr Stride continued: “We are also consulting on whether we should make fundamental changes to the way we provide support to disabled people and people with a health condition.

“We know that any additional cost arising form a disability or health condition, which Pip is intended to help with can vary significantly and is unique to the individual circumstances.”

He argued that changes to the current “one-size fits all” system will offer “bespoke support tailored to individual needs”.

Acting shadow work and pensions secretary Alison McGovern accused Mr Stride of talking out of both sides of his mouth.

She said: “In recent weeks, the Secretary of State has decided to speak out of both sides of his mouth. On the one hand he says ‘I am grateful for today’s more open approach to mental health’, and with the same breath he tells us ‘there is danger that this has gone too far’.

“He wants it both ways, he thinks that openness about mental health is good but then says the very thing that brings back the stigma.

“Every time (Mr Stride) speaks, he makes it less likely that people will be open about their mental health.”

Ms Govern added: “He says some health conditions can be taken out of Pip assessments, which conditions are we talking about?”

Mr Stride replied that questions raised by Ms McGovern will be included in the consultation.

Welfare reform
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said that ‘what we shouldn’t be doing is medicalising the everyday challenges and anxieties of life’ (Yui Mok/PA)

Conservative MP Ruth Edwards (Rushcliffe) fought back tears as she recalled how she was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in spring 2019.

She said: “I was extremely ill with it and I couldn’t work for several months so I know first-hand how debilitating it can be. But I also know that with treatment and support you can lead a fulfilling career and a normal life and it’s extremely rewarding.”

Ms Edwards said she would have been “devastated” to be out of the workforce long-term, as she sought assurances about how the proposed reforms will help anxiety sufferers get the treatment and support they need to “take back their lives”.

In an interview with ITV News, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that “what we shouldn’t be doing is medicalising the everyday challenges and anxieties of life”.

He added: “Just because someone is grappling with some of these things, if they are less severe, they should be expected to engage in the world of work. A) because that’s fair. But also, as I said, ’cause I do believe that is fundamentally good for them as well.”

Mr Stride suggested to the Times that people with “milder mental health conditions” would no longer receive financial support. But added that talking therapies, social care packages and respite care, could be used as alternatives.

Conservative MP Nigel Mills, a member of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, questioned if Mel Stride was suggesting people would have to submit “invoices to prove the amount of support they need” or if he was looking at more tiers of award.

Mr Stride replied: “I think we should explore whether that approach we have at the moment is the best one in terms of outcomes.

“We have much to learn from the experiences of other countries around the world who have a similar benefit but go about the organisation and application of that benefit in a different way.

“New Zealand, for example, does indeed make payments based on invoices submitted for equipment by those who are receiving the benefit; Norway, for example doesn’t have assessments in the way that we do, they rely more on medical evidence provided by medical practitioners.”

The number of monthly Pip awards for mental health disorders has doubled since 2019, from 2,200 to 5,300, in line with an increase in overall Pip awards which have also doubled to 33,000 a month.

James Taylor, the executive director of strategy at disability equity charity Scope, called for an end to the “reckless assault” on disabled people and to fix the “real underlying issues”.

“It’s hard to have any faith that this consultation is about anything other than cutting the benefits bill, no matter the impact,” Mr Taylor said.

The Disability Benefits Consortium branded the consultation “cynical and cruel”.

Speaking on behalf of DBC, Ceri Smith head of policy at the MS Society, said: “If the Government truly wants a ‘stronger, healthier and fairer society’, they should start by addressing NHS waiting lists and fixing social care. Instead, this approach will punish disabled people and push even more into poverty.”

The consultation will run for 12 weeks, closing on July 23.