Social Justice

Disabled people fear 'cruel sanctions' as Spring Budget aims to drive people back to work

Campaigners fear that disabled people could be punished as Jeremy Hunt's Spring Budget aims to drive people into work

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Pushing people back into work could have adverse effects, campaigners have warned. Image: Shutterstock

Campaigners fear disabled people and carers could face “cruel sanctions” following the government’s Spring Budget, much of which was focused on driving people into work. 

The chancellor Jeremy Hunt said the Conservatives believe “work is virtue” and he aims to fill one million vacancies in the economy. 

“There are over seven million adults of working age who are not in work,” he claimed. “That is a potential pool of seven people for every vacancy.”

Hunt said he would “bring forward reforms to remove the barriers that stop people who want to from working”, including more than two million people who are inactive due to disability or long-term sickness. 

His policies included scrapping the work capability assessment, a move that has been welcomed by campaigners, a new voluntary employment scheme called “universal support”,  and applying sanctions “more rigorously” to those who do not follow instructions to return to work.

The government will spend up to £4,000 per person to help them find appropriate jobs and put in place the support they need. It will fund 50,000 places every single year.

Rachelle Earwaker, senior economist at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said: “There are very concerning aspects in the plans set out today. 

“Addressing these issues must not go hand-in-hand with an increase in sanctions, which we know are counter-productive, harmful to people’s finances and health, and drive people into destitution.”

Anastasia Berry, policy co-chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium and policy manager at the MS Society, said the Spring Budget contains some of the biggest changes to disability benefits seen in a decade. She welcomed the scrapping of the “stressful and unnecessary work capability assessment” but added: “Its removal confirms many of disabled people’s worst fears that in future more people will be forced into inappropriate work-related activity or face the threat of losing their financial support.”

Personal independence payments (PIP) will become the only way disabled people receive benefits, but Berry said this is a “broken system which often denies support to those who need it”.

“Without reform, the assessments will leave many terrified about the prospect of losing all their disability benefits in the midst of a cost of living crisis if their claim is unsuccessful,” she added. 



Six million people in need and are on PIP, according to Disability Rights UK. Almost half of these applications are turned down the first time. 

“People with fluctuating health conditions and mental health distress often bear the brunt of these refusals, and the extra stress of having to go to appeal,” Kamran Mallick, the chief executive of Disability Rights UK said. 

“Many disabled people don’t even apply for PIP because they fear they cannot bear the stress of the process. These people will fall through the gaps of the proposed changes.”

Mallick said that if PIP becomes the key to determining whether people can or cannot work, millions will miss out, leading to “more mental health crises, more pressures on the NHS as people’s conditions worsen under stress, more barriers for disabled people who do have capacity to work and more benefit-related deaths”. 

“The government appears to be obsessed with forcing disabled people into more work by using punitive measures,” he said, “either chipping away at benefits, or only offering more if people work more – something many disabled and unwell people cannot do.”

Sarah White, head of policy at charity Sense, agreed. She said: “Disabled households are at breaking point, and it’s disappointing that the government hasn’t recognised this.”

Disabled people face extra costs, such as running specialist equipment such as breathing machines, feeding machines and powered wheelchairs. This drives up energy bills, which are extortionate as it is. While the government is keeping the energy price guarantee at £2,500, White warns it will do little to ease the pressure on disabled people in the cost of living crisis. 

James Taylor, executive director of strategy at disability equality charity Scope, commented on the Spring Budget and said: “The government is redrawing the welfare system in this country, and they’ve made many, many mistakes when they’ve done this in the past. 

“Disabled people and charities have long-called for the separation of benefits and employment support, but to work we need to make sure people are in the right group because sanctions are being ramped up.

“With the welcome scrapping of the Work Capability Assessment, the government must make sure it doesn’t replace one out of touch test with another. We know that you can’t sanction disabled people into work, and it’s reassuring that the Universal Support scheme will be voluntary.”

He added: “The government has got a mountain to climb to win back the trust of disabled people. For far too long, disabled people have been faced with degrading benefits assessments, cruel sanctions and a dearth of tailored support to find suitable jobs.

“Disabled people face major barriers getting into work, such as discrimination from employers and long delays getting the right support. There is much work for the government to do to get this right and rebuild trust.”

Anela Anwar, chief executive of anti-poverty charity Z2K, agreed, saying: “We are deeply concerned that the proposed changes remove vital protections against sanctions for disabled and seriously unwell people, and risk pushing them further into poverty.

“Ministers are right that the current system doesn’t work. But they need to go much further, and commit to fully redesigning disability benefit assessments alongside people with lived experience, with robust safeguards and accountability within DWP to ensure people receive their legal entitlements.”

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