DWP issues five-point work plan for 700K Universal Credit and ESA claimants

November 29, 2023
A new five-point plan has been launched to address the large number of benefit claimants who are found to be unfit for work and receive sick pay and disability benefits in addition to benefits. The Department for Work and Pensions has announced measures to help more people find work. There are currently 2.6 million people out of work who receive these additional benefits through Universal Credit work-related activity restricted status or Employment Support Allowance support group status. Spending on ESA and Universal Credit sick pay is expected to increase by 13% from £25.9bn in 2023/24 to £29.2bn in 2027/28 if nothing is done to reduce inactivity rates. This equates to more than 3.5 million deaths. That these payments are made. In comparison, in 2013/14 he spent £15.9bn on this support. In a commitment announced ahead of the Autumn Statement and confirmed by the Chancellor, the DWP has committed to "expanding key health and employment programmes to benefit over half a million people over the next five years and help those with mental health conditions stay in or find work." In total, the new action plan aims to address around 700,000 people.

What is the DWP doing to tackle the rise in long-term sickness payments?

The measures that have been announced are:

1. NHS Talking Therapies

The DWP will increase the number of people benefiting from courses of mental health treatment. An additional 384,000 people will be helped over the next five years and the number of sessions will increase. NHS Talking Therapies provides evidence-based psychological therapies including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for the treatment of mild and moderate mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety disorders.

2. Individual Placement and Support

This aims to help an additional 100,000 people with severe mental illness to find and keep jobs over the next five years. IPS is an employment support programme integrated into community mental health services. IPS employment specialists work with people to find employment that matches their aims, interests and skills, and offer continued support once they have found a suitable job. They also integrate with the mental health team to support the individual with any issues that affect their work and recovery, and build relationships with employers to negotiate job opportunities.

3. Universal Support in England and Wales

The Universal Support scheme matches 100,000 people per year with existing vacancies and supports them in their new role, an increase on the 50,000 people outlined in the Spring Budget, including people with disabilities and from vulnerable groups. Participants will be able to access up to 12 months of personalised support where they are supported by a dedicated keyworker to help them find and keep a job. Up to £4,000 of funding is available to provide each person with training, managing their health conditions and offering help to employers to accommodate the person's needs.

4. WorkWell service

The service announced in the Spring Budget is being formally launched to Integrated Care Systems across England to help people at risk of falling into long-term unemployment due to sickness or disability. Integrated Care Systems across England will be supported to develop a localised work and health strategy and then services will be provided in approximately 15 pilot areas.

5. Fit note reform

The Government will explore reforms of the fit note process, in which doctors write people off with signed forms explaining why someone is unable to work. The aim is instead to provide people with easy and rapid access to specialised work and health support if they have been signed off for a prolonged period of time. After that will come a consultation on reforms to improve the entire fit note process so that people are flagged up for help at an early stage rather than being signed off for months or even years. The DWP said: "Primary care (GP surgeries) will continue to play an important role in supporting working-age people where their health presents a barrier to work. But there is often pressure on the time and expertise needed to hold the work and health conversation effectively and direct people to the right support, which is why we are exploring reforms." Separately, the DWP announced a Chance to Work Guarantee under which people can try going to work without losing any of their sickness payments. Other proposals will target those who are deemed fit for work but refuse to engage with their jobcentre or accept roles that are offered to them. Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Victoria Atkins said: "We know that tailored work and health support initiatives can help break down the kinds of barriers that can make finding and staying in a job more difficult for those with mental health conditions. Backing them with further investment means they’re more widely available, enables personalised help and will get thousands back to work by overcoming any issues that may be preventing them from fulfilling their career potential." Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Mel Stride said: "We are rolling out the next generation of welfare reforms to help more people start, stay and succeed in work. We know the positive impact work can have, not just on our finances, but our health and wellbeing too. "So we are expanding the voluntary support for people with health conditions and disabilities, including our flagship Universal Support programme. But our message is clear: if you are fit, if you refuse to work, if you are taking taxpayers for a ride – we will take your benefits away."