Today’s Autumn budget announcement comes as Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt unveiled the UK Government’s plan to “raise business investment, get more people into work, reduce inflation” and increase the size of the economy.
Disabled people’s organisations have expressed concerns over the Chancellors plans, as he added that disability benefit claimants who do not find a job within 18 months will also be forced to “mandatory” work placements. Those who don’t comply with the new rules will have their benefits cut off.
He added: “If after 18 months of intensive support, job seekers have not found a job, we will roll out a programme requiring them to take part in mandatory work placement. If they choose not to engage with the work search process for six months. We will close their case and stop their benefits.”
Mr Hunt also confirmed that in-work benefits will rise in line with September’s higher inflation figure of 6.7 per cent, after reports suggested he considered using the lower 4.6 per cent inflation figure from October to uplift inflation, in a bid to save £3bn.
On Wednesday Mr Hunt confirmed those claiming the benefits would see their rate increased in line with September’s higher figure, which would give a £470 increase for 5.5 million households next year, stating it is “vital support to those on the very lowest incomes”.
The Chancellor confirmed that changes are to be made to the work capability assessment (WCA) and to the fit note process. Mr Hunt said: “Every year we sign off over 100,000 people onto benefits with no requirement to look for work, because of sickness or disability. That waste of potential is wrong economically and wrong morally.
“So, with the secretary of state for work and pensions, I announced our back to work plan. We will reform the fit note process so that treatment rather than time off becomes the default. We will reform the work capability assessment to reflect greater flexibility and availability of homeworking after the pandemic. And we’ll spend £1.3 billion over the next 5 years to help nearly 700,000 people with health conditions find jobs.”
The Chancellor added that from April 24th: “We will increase the full new state pension by 8.5% to £221.20 a week, worth up to £900 more a year.”
Following the announcement, disabled people’s organisations have reacted to the news and shared their concerns:
Professor Martin Green OBE, Chief Executive of Care England said: “The Autumn Statement placed a huge emphasis on growing our economy. What was overlooked was that the adult social care sector contributes more than £50bn to the economy per annum. The people receiving care and support, the staff and the taxpayers all feel the effects of the instability of our sector. The Government must now invest in social care to truly stabilise a key pillar of our society and economy.
“While the rise in National Living Wage has an undeniably positive impact on those working within adult social care, due consideration must be lent to care providers who will need to grapple with increased workforce costs again, against a backdrop of Local Authority funding struggling to keep pace. Central Government investment has never been more critical, alongside a long-term workforce plan akin to that of the NHS to ensure social care is a desirable sector to join and remain a part of. With more people now expected to return to work, as part of the Government’s economic growth plan, there will be new opportunities for our domestic workforce to grow.”
Beverley Tarka, President of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, said: “The Chancellor has said nothing about investing in social care, so we will want to look at the detail. Social Care transforms lives. Lack of extra funds for adult social care in the Autumn Statement means many older and disabled people will not get timely care, support and safeguards. Some will end up in hospital or be delayed leaving hospital. Lives will be restricted or foreshortened for want of vital care.
“Rising needs, rising costs and a funding squeeze mean nearly half a million people are on care waiting lists. Overburdened unpaid carers are struggling to cope, and low pay and poor conditions means there are not enough care workers. Directors are seeing more requests to help with mental health, carer breakdown and people with care and support needs experiencing domestic abuse. Last year’s extra funding for social care helped but hasn’t resolved the crisis.”
Anastasia Berry, Policy Co-Chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium and Policy Manager at the MS Society, said: “The government’s decision to push ahead with this cynical attack on disability benefits will have a devastating impact on those on the lowest incomes. It will deprive people with severe health problems of £390 a month and push more disabled people into poverty in the middle of a cost of living crisis.
“The government claims a radical shift towards home working since the pandemic can justify removing support for those with mobility issues. But only one in ten jobs advertised this year have offered this option. At the same time, access to health and care support which could keep people in work for longer, including mental health and social care, has become increasingly strained. This approach will have dire consequences for disabled people, including those with MS – a condition which can be debilitating, exhausting and unpredictable, and will only progress over time. The government can, and must, do better by disabled people by scrapping these damaging changes.“
Richard Kramer, Chief Executive of Sense, said: “The government’s autumn statement has given with one hand and taken away with the other, uprating benefits in line with inflation while simultaneously heaping pressure onto disabled people to find work.
“While today’s announcement on benefits doesn’t address the fact that payments are currently too low for many disabled people to live healthy, dignified lives, the government’s intervention has avoided a real-terms cut to benefits. But the government is still just tinkering round the edges. Disabled people up and down the country are in dire straits – recently Sense found that two-thirds of disabled people plan to skip meals to get through this winter financially. Nobody should be in this desperate situation. The government needs to reform the benefits system so that it truly meets disabled people’s needs and recognises the extra costs that come with being disabled.
“The government’s decision to uprate benefits in line with inflation doesn’t detract from the other blows the autumn statement has dealt on disabled people today. Plans to force more people on benefits into work look set to punish disabled people, by putting them under more pressure to find a job without providing the support they need to do so. Ultimately, forcing people to find work without investing in assistive technology in jobcentres, training for assessors, and holding employers to account is just shifting the issues onto disabled people rather than creating lasting change.
“The government’s current rhetoric around work and the benefits system is cruel and unfair. The measures announced by the government today risk making life even harder for disabled households up and down the country – we’d urge the government to reconsider, by introducing measures that support, rather than force, people into work.”
Diane Lightfoot, CEO of Business Disability Forum, said: “We are left concerned and saddened by many of the measures announced for disabled people claiming benefits in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement today and in recent days.
“Many disabled people who want to work struggle to find a job that meets their needs. Disabled people should not be vilified for this. They also need to be assured that they won’t lose their benefits if they try out work and it doesn’t work out.
“On plans for home working, suggesting that disabled people should either work from home or risk losing their benefits is both unrealistic and out-of-touch. Home working is simply not possible or practical in every role, and whilst staff can request to work in a different way, current legislation is still not flexible enough to meet the needs of many disabled workers, including those with fluctuating or progressive conditions. This shows a lack of joined up thinking in Government policy.
“Today’s announcement also fails to take into account that disabled people still face barriers and need adjustments even when they are working from home, not to mention that for some people the social isolation of home working can actually lead to a worsening of their mental health conditions.
“If the Government wants to make work a realistic option for more disabled people then it needs to take a joined up approach with better access to tailored employment support, which is informed by current working practices. We also need a better funded Access to Work scheme, which does not stop funding workplace adjustments for people when an arbitrary cap is reached and a properly resourced NHS which allows people to receive the treatment and procedures they need quickly and before their conditions worsen to the point they can no longer work.”
Tim Nicholls, Head of Influencing and Research at the National Autistic Society, said:“What the Chancellor announced today will do nothing to help address key issues autistic people face: record waits for diagnosis, a chronic lack of local social care services and mental health support, and parents having to fight too long for too little support for autistic students.
“Stricter rules on benefit claimants do not address the root causes of the low employment for autistic people. Whilst some are unable to, most autistic people want to work but there isn’t enough support. Autistic people face the lowest employment rate of disabled adults with just 29% of adults in work.
“Flexible working practices and the opportunity to work from home can be valuable yet not enough of these jobs are available to autistic people and this doesn’t remove all the barriers to employment.
“The Government needs to do more to create an employment system that works for autistic people. The plans announced today will not do that and instead simply add pressure on autistic people who have been left without support for too long.”
Helen Walker, chief executive at Carers UK, said:
“With its focus on tax cuts, it’s bitterly disappointing that the Government has – yet again – failed to acknowledge the devastating impact the lack of funding for health and social care services is having on millions of unpaid carers supporting older and disabled family members.
“Unpaid carers have been bearing the immense physical, mental and financial strain of providing increasing hours of unpaid care with limited support for far too long. Many cannot take breaks and every day, 600 people give up paid work to provide that care, which has disastrous consequences for their finances and the wider economy.
“While the Government has increased benefits in line with the higher rate of inflation and retained the triple lock, carers desperately needed to see a higher rate of Carer’s Allowance and earnings limit. 75% of unpaid carers receiving the allowance are struggling with cost-of-living pressures.
“Today’s Autumn Statement was one of the Government’s last opportunities to deliver for hard-pressed carers in urgent need of support. It must do the right thing for carers and the economy by prioritising long-term, sustainable investment in social care.”
Dan Scorer, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Learning Disability charity Mencap says: “Plans to force more people with a learning disability into work without support, and heightening sanctions is short-sighted, ill thought-out, and risks pushing more people into poverty.
“Hundreds of thousands of people* with a learning disability want to work but they face multiple barriers moving into work – from stigma and prejudice, to inaccessible application forms and lack of adjustments in interviews. The employment support available for people with a learning disability is inadequate and without it many are unable to get a job. The government must ensure there is more tailored support to help people with a learning disability get into work, including better training for work coaches.”
Responding to the Government’s Autumn statement announcement about benefit uprating, Dan Scorer, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Learning Disability charity Mencap says: “While we welcome the increase in benefits in line with inflation, people with a learning disability may still lose out, as many face higher living costs than non-disabled people.**
“Worryingly, more than a third of people with a learning disability we surveyed were not putting on their heating even when it was cold because of energy costs. Everyone should have a warm home this winter. We are urging Government to provide an additional winter payment for people who have higher energy bills because of their disability.”