The government has announced a £2.5bn investment programme to encourage people back into work as it seeks to address the UK’s long-term sickness issue.
As well as offering support to people looking for work with illnesses, the new measures will clamp down on those receiving benefits while not looking for jobs.
Among the most important measures, the government will expand the Restart scheme, which offers “intensive support” to jobseekers who are receiving Universal Credit.
The changes will reduce the amount of time at which people can access support, from nine months to six. It estimates this will lead to around 500,000 extra spaces over the next two years.
Hunt will also expand access to four health and employment programmes, particularly targeted at those with mental health conditions.
The programmes include NHS Talking Therapies and Individual Placement and Support, with the government estimating that over half a million people extra people will receive support over the next five years.
In addition, the WellWork scheme, announced in the Spring Budget, is also being formally launched today. The government says it will support almost 60,000 people to stay in work.
“We’re serious about growing our economy and that means we must address the rise in people who aren’t looking for work – especially because we know so many of them want to and with almost a million vacancies in the jobs market the opportunities are there,” Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said.
A number of business groups and think tanks have been calling for action to address the UK’s growing long-term sickness problem. Since the pandemic the number of people inactive in the UK due to long-term sickness or disability has risen by almost half a million to a record high of 2.6m.
Alongside additional measures to support people looking for work, the government is also tightening the criteria on who is available for benefits payments.
Claimants eligible for Universal Credit will have their claim closed if they have had open-ended sanctions for more than six months.
A new claimant review point will also be introduced in which a work coach will determine work search conditions to encourage claimants back into work. If a claimant refuses these conditions, they will stop receiving Universal Credit.
As a result of these reforms, no claimant should reach 18 months of unemployment in receipt of their full benefits if they have not taken every reasonable step to comply with Jobcentre support, the government said.
“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,” Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Mel Stride, said.
Today’s announcements form part of wider plans set to be announced in the Autumn statement. Hunt is expected to eschew major tax cuts, although inheritance tax reportedly could be set for a reduction.