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Government should be supporting people into work – not making disabled people’s lives harder

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The latest government announcement on reforms to financial support for those with ill health or disability is full of misleading rhetoric. The lives of those with ill health or disability are completely misrepresented, and the language the government uses is divisive.

Mel Stride announced the consultation on reform of Personal Independent Payments (PIP). Two immediate observations from us are:   

  • The Government has deliberately confused the purpose of this benefit in order to ramp up its offensive rhetoric. PIP is not an out-of-work benefit: disabled people in full-time employment can be, and are, assessed as eligible for PIP. Eligibility is based on whether someone’s impairment or health conditions affect their day-to-day life and is intended to cover some of the additional costs incurred as a result of being disabled. The assessment does not consider whether you are capable of work- or work-related activity.  

  • The idea that you can claim PIP for mild mental illness is untrue. The criteria for accessing PIP are stringent. You must be suffering from severe mental illness. It is a complex application process and you have to provide medical evidence. 

If the current data is showing rising numbers of those with severe depression and anxiety claiming PIP, you don’t change the eligibility criteria to reduce claimant numbers - instead you should look at the underlying drivers of ill health.    

More than a decade of austerity under the Conservatives has resulted in crumbling public services. NHS waiting lists are at record highs, food insecurity and destitution has increased, and poverty levels are rising. This will inevitably affect physical and mental health. Data shows life expectancy and healthy life expectancy falling, and this is more profound in deprived areas.      

The approach by government is to blame individuals. Only recently the Prime Minister attacked those too sick to work, by saying UK had a sick note culture, yet the data on workplace sickness absence does not suggest any substantial challenges. And again, government conflates two separate areas, sick notes look at short-term illness for those in work and not long-term illness and disability.  It is the rise in long-term sickness and disability which is alarming, not any particular change in workplace sickness absence trends.  

The ideas proposed in the consultation also include the insulting suggestion that disabled people are not to be trusted with spending their benefits on essential support. As it moves away from a fixed cash benefit and proposes to reimburse for extra costs, this also assumes that disabled people have the money to pay up front for this. The consultation also proposes accessing treatments rather than receiving benefits for ill health, yet it is the lack of access to treatment which is exacerbating the increase in ill health.  The long delays are well documented. Just for mental health support there is around 1.9 million people waiting for support in England.

The PIP consultation also adds a further layer of confusion for people not working due to ill health, as the government already set out a plan for health and disability benefits reform last year.  This is proposed for the new Parliament, and includes:    

  • The Work Capability Assessment (WCA) to be abolished and eligibility for the health top-up in Universal Credit (UC) ( in this case the health element) will be passported (i.e. approved) via PIP.  

  • The current UC Limited Capability for Work and Work-Related Activity (LCWRA) element will be replaced with a new UC health element.  

  • Introduce more tailored conversations for claimants with work coaches, to enter suitable employment.  

While we have issues with the validity of WCA decisions, it is supposed to assess people’s ability to work, while PIP clearly does not do this. This proposed change would amount to a huge financial cut to those not well enough to work. The IFS estimates that one million disabled or seriously unwell people who can’t get PIP would lose out by £350 a month. 

Wider problems in the Government’s plan include the proposed introduction of a new personalised health conditionality approach. Disabled people will also face a higher risk of sanctions, as at present people currently identified as being unable to work and prepare for work are protected but could lose this right under the changes.   

Such measures do not consider the structural barriers that stop disabled people from entering the workplace, such as discrimination from employers, a failure to put in place reasonable adjustments, and inaccessible transport. The result will be many disabled people whose health makes it difficult or impossible to carry out work activity without a realistic chance of getting a job, being threatened with sanctions. 

Separately the Government has made changes to descriptors in the WCA to apply from September 2025 for new claimants. As a result, 424,000 fewer people are expected to be assessed as having limited capability for work and work-related activity by 2028 to 2029.  

Across the last 14 years of conservative government there have been consistent attempts to reduce eligibility as means to cut social security entitlements for disabled people or those with ill health. But at the same time the numbers of people out of work because they are disabled or ill have risen to record levels. The answer to rising social security costs is to improve people’s health and ensure those who need it can access treatment and support. Instead of blaming those who are out of work, the government should face up to its failures. 

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