WBG’s response to Rishi Sunak’s welfare speech

Date Posted: Tuesday 23rd April 2024

disabled womenPublic ServicesSocial SecurityWelfare

On Friday 19 April, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivered a speech on reforms to social security. These included:

  • Tightening Work Capability Assessments increasing the threshold for work (as previously announced);
  • Reforming the process for getting a fit note, taking it out of GPs’ scope of work and creating a new system, with the aim of reducing the number of people signed off work;
  • Increasing the number of hours people in receipt of unemployment related benefits are required to work;
  • Entirely removing work related benefits from people who haven’t met conditions such as accepting a job their work coach deems suitable after 12 months (as previously announced);
  • Reforming Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) to raise the thresholds on the seriousness of conditions for eligibility, and requiring greater medical evidence to make a claim; and
  • Using AI to identify benefit fraud and introduce a bill to increase penalties.

Along with many Disabled people’s organisations, WBG is seriously concerned that these policies would:

  • Push more Disabled people into unsuitable work;
  • Put pressure on people already juggling unpaid care with other responsibilities to increase their paid work; and
  • Push people who are not well enough to work to continue to do so.

All of which have the potential to make people’s physical and mental health worse.

Responding to these announcements, Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson, Director said,

“Paying taxes to contribute to the kind of society that takes care of its population is not a bad thing: a good social security system is a sign of a healthy society. Any one of us could find ourselves needing to claim social security if we become ill, have an accident, lose our job, have a relationship breakdown or have a sick or Disabled child or family member. So, we all have an interest in a system that is there when we need it most including supporting us when we contribute to the economy through work that is unpaid such as caring for children and relatives.

“Women disproportionately rely on social security: they are more likely to be Disabled, to live with chronic ill health, to care for other Disabled relatives and to care for children[1]

“Higher numbers of people now being in need of social security support is the consequence of several factors, not least the decisions of successive governments to underfund our vital social infrastructure, including health services, social care, early education and childcare. Sunak is right about one thing: people do want to work, and for that they need support, treatment, timely medical appointments, and high quality care.

“Disabled people experienced some of the worst impacts of austerity policies and then the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead of further scapegoating and blaming vulnerable groups for economic conditions beyond their control, the Government should look to those who can most afford it to contribute more in taxes, and use the additional funding to strengthen the foundations of our economy through investment in our physical and social infrastructure.”

[1] WBG (2023) Autumn Statement 2023: Social Security and Gender