Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride said the changes would help bring down the number of people signing off with health problems.
He said they would include tightening the criteria that people are declared unfit to work. The proposed changes come as part of the Government’s wider multi-billion pound plan to tackle inactivity and boost economic growth.
Under the crackdown assessors will consider someone’s ability to work remotely to reflect the rise in flexible jobs. Mr Stride said the proportion of claimants with the highest incapacity benefits with no working requirements has soared from 21 percent in 2011 to 65 percent last year.
He told the Commons that 2.5 million are receiving sickness handouts, and taxpayers are spending £15.9 billion more on them than a decade ago.
Rishi Sunak said: “Work transforms lives – providing not just greater financial security, but also providing purpose that has the power to benefit individuals, their families, and their communities.
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“That’s why we’re doing everything we can to help more people thrive in work – by reflecting the complexity of people’s health needs, helping them take advantage of modern working environments, and connecting them to the best support available.”
The proposals will alter the section of the work capability assessment that judges someone’s ability to travel to work to reflect the potential to work remotely.
Mr Stride said a consultation on the changes would run for eight weeks, and that the Government hopes they could come into force by 2025.
He added: “We are consulting on whether changes should be made to four of the activities and descriptors that determine whether someone can work, or prepare to work, to reflect changes in working practices and better employment support.
“This includes looking at changing, removing or reducing the points for descriptors relating to mobilising, continence, social engagement and getting about.”
Jane Gratton, Deputy Director of Public Policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “Across the country, businesses are crying out for workers to fill job vacancies.”
“Being employed has many positive benefits for people, so it makes sense to help everyone who wants to work to find a good job that meets their needs and personal circumstances.”
“Employers understand this and want to be as flexible as possible to assist. To be effective, it’s crucial that, both sides, have the right support in place for as long as needed to help people find work, stay in work and have fulfilling careers.”
Mr Stride also said the new plans could see those with health conditions which have kept them out of work “given the right support and opportunities to move off benefits and towards the jobs market”.
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The proposals come following a £2 billion investment announced by ministers earlier this year. But disability charities have warned the changes could force people into work when they are not well enough.
James Taylor, executive director of strategy at disability equality charity Scope, urged ministers to ensure new employment support for disabled people is “flexible, and voluntary”.
He said: “We’re worried these proposals will end up forcing huge numbers of disabled people to look for work when they aren’t well enough, making them more ill. If they don’t meet strict conditions, they’ll have their benefits stopped.
“In the grips of a cost-of-living crisis this could be catastrophic.” Sarah White, head of policy at national disability charity Sense, meanwhile warned the plans could “cause huge anxiety for disabled people up and down the country”.
“We’re seriously concerned that if the Government does overhaul its assessment process without putting any additional support in place, then disabled people are just going to be put under more pressure to find work, without having the support they need to do so,” she said.
Conservative former minister Sir John Redwood said he “strongly” supports the initiative but urged Mr Stride and his officials to “speed it all up” rather than wait until 2025.
He said: “Why on Earth is it going to take so long? This is something we need to be doing now to ease our workplace shortages and to give those people earlier support and hope.”
Mr Stride said he shares Sir John’s “keenness” to see changes made as soon as possible, adding: “It is the case they will require quite a lot of work around IT systems and the … providers themselves will of course have to incorporate the changes that may or may not come forward as a result of this consultation.”
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