New moves to get more benefit claimants to find work and impose stricter sanctions if they don't comply have been branded "disastrous." The Department for Work and Pensions plans to help up to 1.1 million people with chronic health conditions, disabilities and long-term unemployment to look for a job.

Since the pandemic, the number of people in the UK who are economically inactive due to long-term sickness or disability has risen by almost half a million to a record high of 2.6 million - and this could rise to 3.5 million in 2027-2028 if nothing is done to tackle the issue.

Those who are claiming Universal Credit can get an extra £390 a month on top of their benefit payment after an assessment finds they are unable to work, while those on ESA can receive up to £129.50 a week for similar reasons, with the DWP currently spending £25.9 billion on these sickness payments.


In a new Back to Work Plan that's been announced and will form part of the Autumn Statement, the DWP says it will now offer additional employment support to help people "stay healthy, get off benefits and move into work." The measures will be backed up with tougher sanctions for people who refuse to engage with jobcentres and look for a job.

New changes to DWP sanctions will mean that 'disengaged claimants' who get extra amounts of Universal Credit for children, housing, or disability will face a 'targeted case review' after eight weeks if they don't do what's expected of them. Claims could then be closed and cases referred to DWP counter-fraud teams if staff believe someone is not entitled to the payments they have been receiving.

In addition, those who are only receiving the standard amount of Universal Credit with no top-ups could see their benefit claims closed down after six months if they don't follow the rules. But campaigners believe the strict action won't work and the DWP should instead be working with disabled people rather than threatening to stop their benefits.

James Taylor, director of strategy at disability equality charity Scope said: "We've had decades of tightening sanctions, and they have never worked in the way the Government says they will work. The work capability assessment is already degrading, stressful and adversarial and has a terrible impact on people's mental health.

"These proposals are likely to force disabled people to look for work even when they aren't well enough. The Government should start with upgrading its back-to-work support, and creating a system that works with disabled people not against them.

"Threatening disabled people with more sanctions will not lead to more disabled people getting into and staying in work. Forcing disabled people into unsuitable jobs and cutting financial support in a cost of living crisis will be disastrous."

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Mel Stride, said: "We are rolling out the next generation of welfare reforms to help more people start, stay and succeed in work. We know the positive impact work can have, not just on our finances, but our health and wellbeing too. So we are expanding the voluntary support for people with health conditions and disabilities, including our flagship Universal Support programme.

"But 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."