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Press releases

Rishi Sunak Vows To End "Sick Note Culture" On "Moral Mission" To Reform Welfare

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak making a speech in London on Friday morning (Alamy)

3 min read

Rishi Sunak has vowed to end the “sick note culture” and as he has declared a “moral mission” to reform the welfare system.

The Prime Minister said that “something has gone wrong” in the period since the Covid pandemic, with a “decade’s worth of progress” having been “wiped out” with 850,000 more people having joined the tally of people who are economically inactive due to long term sickness. 

In a speech in London on Friday, he said that the “culture” needs to change so that the “default becomes what work you can do, not what you can’t”. 

He said that ministers would design a “new system where people have easy and rapid access to specialised work and health support to help them back to work from the very first fit note conversation”. 

The responsibility for offering sick notes could be moved away from GPs as Sunak wants to overhaul the system of people being declared “not fit for work” by “default”.

According to new proposals outlined by Downing Street, almost 11 million fit notes were issued last year, of which 94 per cent declared their recipients as “not fit for work”. 

Issuing fit notes could instead become the job of specialist work professionals who will assess somebody’s ability to work and what support they might need to work. 

Figures from the Office for National Statistics indicate that around 2.8million people are out of work and economically inactive as a result of long-term sickness.

According to the statistics, around half of those (53 per cent) have reported having depression, anxiety or bad nerves. 

Sunak pledged to “tighten up the work capability assessment” so that “hundreds of thousands of benefit recipients with less severe conditions ill now be expected to engage with the world of work and will be supported to do so”. 

He also announced a reform of the system for those who are working with support, meaning that “anyone working less than half a full time week. will now have to try and find extra work in return for claiming benefits”. 

“Anyone who doesn't comply with the conditions set by their work coach, such as accepting an available job, will after 12 months have their claim closed and their benefits removed entirely,” Sunak said.

A call for evidence is expected to be opened on Friday, inviting people with experience of the system to share their thoughts on the processes. 

“For me, it is a fundamental duty of Government to make sure the hard work is always rewarded,” Sunak said. 

The CEO of mental health charity Mind Dr Sarah Hughes said that the organisation is “deeply disappointed” that Sunak’s announcement continues a trend in recent rhetoric which conjures up the image of a “mental health culture” that has “gone too far”.

She added: “To imply that it is easy both to be signed-off work and then to access benefits is deeply damaging. It is insulting to the 1.9 million people on a waiting list to get mental health support, and to the GPs whose expert judgement is being called into question.”

Alison McGovern, Labour’s acting shadow work and pensions secretary, accused the government of having “completely failed” on keeping the nation and the economy healthy.

She said: "We've had 14 Tory years, five Tory prime ministers, seven Tory chancellors, and the result is a record number of people locked out of work because they are sick - at terrible cost to them, to business and to the taxpayer paying billions more in spiralling benefits bills.

"Today's announcement proves that this failed Government has run out of ideas, announcing the same minor alteration to fit notes that we've heard them try before. Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak's £46 billion unfunded tax plan to abolish national insurance risks crashing the economy once again.”


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