Column: The case for change with the Minister for Disabled People

In this column, the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, Tom Pursglove MP, discusses the upcoming changes to the benefits system which will see the biggest reform of the system in a decade.

Our Health and Disability White Paper, published in March 2023, set out a case for change that will see a transformation of the benefits system to give more disabled people the confidence and support they need to work.

Published alongside wider measures to boost the economy in this year’s Spring Budget, our White Paper represents the biggest reform to the benefit system in a decade.  

These changes will be significant, and I want to explain what we are doing to ensure ongoing protection for those who cannot currently work, and how we will tailor support to help people who want to enter the workplace, start, stay and succeed in work. 

Research by my department, the DWP, shows that one in five people found to have limited capability for work-related activity, who are on Universal Credit (UC) or in the Employment and Support Allowance Support Group, would like to work at some point in the future, but fewer than one in a hundred move into employment every month. 

This demonstrates the additional challenges disabled people face – and all too often the benefits system has been a barrier to employment, because of the focus on what people cannot do, rather than what they can. This must change.

The White Paper

We originally set out the case for reform in our Green Paper consultation in 2021, when we heard from more than 4,500 disabled people and organisations on the challenges they face accessing benefits, and the proposals we should take forward.

Starting, staying and succeeding in work, can be more difficult for disabled people and people with health conditions, and there is a very real fear of losing benefits by trying employment

A clear message I took from this feedback was that starting, staying and succeeding in work, can be more difficult for disabled people and people with health conditions, and there is a very real fear of losing benefits by trying employment.

With this in mind, we were determined to use the White Paper to rewire the benefits system to give people the confidence to try work, so they can fulfil their potential and live independently.  

Rewiring disability assessments

The headline of our White Paper was that we will remove the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), to remove a financial barrier so that where people are able to work, they can do so without fear of losing their benefits if it doesn’t work out, 

giving people the confidence to move into work. The new Universal Credit Health Element will replace the current Limited Capability for Work and Work-Related Activity (LCWRA) payment.

Our plans to scrap the WCA were widely welcomed by the organisations and charities working with disabled people, who know as well as we do how the current system can sometimes prevent people from trying work. 

I want to reassure people with a disability or health condition who are on UC and in receipt of Personal Independence Payment (PIP), that they will not see a change in the level of support they receive through the benefits system, as we will retain a financial safety net for those on low incomes who need it most.

For the group which receives the LCWRA payment, but not PIP, there will be transitional protection in place to ensure that no one experiences financial loss at the point at which these reforms are enacted. We intend to start phasing in the reforms for new claims from 2026, and do not expect to begin migrating existing claimants over to the new system until 2029 at the earliest.

We know other groups need support, which is why we have already committed to financially protect people who are currently treated as LCWRA due to pregnancy risk, or because they are about to receive, are receiving, or are recovering from treatment for cancer by way of chemotherapy or radiotherapy. 

As we develop our reforms, we will also carefully consider whether other people who currently receive the LCWRA component, but are not currently in receipt of PIP, meet the PIP assessment and eligibility criteria. 

Support on the ground

Alongside changes to the benefits system, a new approach to encourage more disabled people to move into, and progress in, work, will ensure employment support is tailored to claimants’ circumstances, learning from successes like the Individual Placement and Support in Primary Care scheme. 

Support in Jobcentres will be at the heart of this, with one-on-one conversations with a Work Coach used to support customers to think about what they can do, allowing them to build strong relationships based on trust. This also helps Work Coaches determine what, if any, work-related activities the customer can participate in, and in some cases to refer them to employment schemes tailored to their needs, while acknowledging work will not be appropriate for everyone.

People will then be encouraged to try work where they can, and in their own time.

Stronger links with a Jobcentre also means that where someone is not able to work or look for work, they will not be expected to do so in order to receive their benefit entitlement

Stronger links with a Jobcentre also means that where someone is not able to work or look for work, they will not be expected to do so in order to receive their benefit entitlement. 

This is the biggest reform of the welfare system in a decade, and we want to get it right. It is vital that we build confidence and trust in the benefits system when people apply for, or receive, support. As such, we will be rolling out our changes slowly on a new claims-only basis to allow us to test and learn as we go.

I look forward to working with stakeholders, parliamentary colleagues and Enable readers to eventually bring forward the legislation that will enable disabled people and people with health conditions to live independently and access work, and ultimately widening opportunity and improving lives.

Featured image credit: UK Parliament

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