Social Justice

Benefit reforms 'entirely in the wrong direction' to help disabled people into work, DWP warned

Anti-poverty charity Z2K has published new research showing that punitive tactics such as benefits sanctions can make it harder for people to find work

rishi sunak/ disability benefit reforms dwp

Rishi Sunak's government has announced a series of proposals for the disability benefits system. Image: Simon Walker/ No 10 Downing Street

Reforms to the disability benefits system are “entirely in the wrong direction” if the government wants to get people into work, a charity has warned.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has set out out a series of plans to eradicate a so-called “sick-note culture” and push benefit claimants with health conditions into employment.

This includes tightening access to extra universal credit and personal independence payment (PIP), and increased use of conditionality and sanctions to punish claimants deemed not to be looking for work.

Ministers claim that this is a response to the benefits bill rising at an “unsustainable rate” and record numbers of people out of work due to long-term sickness.

Yet new research from anti-poverty charity Z2K has found that punitive tactics used against benefits claimants can have the adverse impact of pushing people further away from work, meaning they are more likely to face poverty and be reliant on welfare and public services in the long-term.

The charity polled people with experience of claiming universal credit while having a health condition or disability. One in three people (33%) said benefit sanctions had made it harder for them to look for work.

Similar proportions said sanctions had a negative impact on their physical and mental health (33% and 30%) and their relationship with their work coach (29%).

Ayla Ozmen, director of policy and campaigns at Z2K said: “The government says it wants to tackle economic inactivity, but its proposals are almost entirely in the wrong direction to achieve this. 

“Unfortunately, we fear these proposals are a cynical attempt by the government to defend itself against criticism from rising numbers on out of work benefits – with little regard for the impact on people’s health or employment prospects.”



Figures published by the DWP show that its planned changes to the work capability assessment (WCA), which are due to come into effect next year, will lead to lower benefits or higher work-search conditions for around 457,000 people by 2028/29.

But the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) predicts the changes will see just 15,400 more people move into paid work in that time. That’s just 3%.

The DWP’s plans also involve Jobcentre staff taking on responsibility for deciding whether someone is well enough to work and removing powers from GPs to give out sick notes.

However, less than two in five claimants polled by Z2K said they felt “very comfortable” discussing their health with a work coach (39%), while more than a quarter (27%) said work coaches tended to make different decisions to each other.

More than half (52%) of respondents felt the Jobcentre placed unrealistic expectations on them when they signed agreements.

Z2K is calling for the DWP to build a more compassionate benefits system by increasing the basic rate of universal credit, scrapping plans to give Jobcentre staff more power to decide whether someone is well enough to work, and introducing a ‘floor’ below which universal credit cannot fall.

Ozmen added: “Seriously ill and disabled people need security, not sanctions. But DWP’s proposals, will open seriously ill and disabled people up to damaging and counter-productive sanctions that just push them further into poverty and further away from work.

“If the government is serious about addressing the drivers of economic inactivity in the benefits system, it should start to take steps in this direction today.”

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