Sunak says reforming welfare is ‘moral mission’ as he pledges to cut rising costs of benefits

Politics

The Tories will put benefit reforms at the heart of their election campaign on Sunday as Rishi Sunak seeks to turn things around following a difficult week.

The party is promising to cut the cost of welfare to the tune of £12bn by the end of the next parliament through measures aimed at helping people back into work.

The plan includes a £700m investment in NHS mental health treatment to ensure 500,000 more people can access talking therapies by 2030.

It also includes previously announced measures, such as removing benefits for people not taking jobs after 12 months.

The number of working age people who are economically inactive has soared to record highs following the pandemic.

The trend is thought to be driven mainly by those who have taken early retirement and people with long-term health conditions waiting for treatment on the NHS.

But the Conservative Party has said the 40% increase of people out of work – from two million to 2.8 million since COVID – is unsustainable.

It claims the cost of providing benefits for working age people with health conditions could rise as high as £90bn by the end of the next parliament.

A recent study found people in their 20s are more likely to be off work with ill health than employees twice their age, with poor mental health driving the increase.

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April: What do Tories and Labour say about benefits?

The access to talking therapies is a 50% increase on the already planned expansion of 384,000 announced at the 2023 Autumn Statement.

As well this, the Tories say they will reform the disability benefits system and target it at those most in need, tightening the criteria for work capability assessments.

The plans also include passing on the responsibility for issuing sick notes from GPs to specialist work and health professionals.

The Conservatives also promise to toughen benefit sanction rules, speed up the rollout of universal credit, and clamp down on benefit fraudsters.

Read More:
Back to work welfare reforms ‘demonise disabled people’
More than a fifth of working-age adults ‘not looking for work’

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “Reforming welfare is a moral mission. Work is a source of dignity, purpose and hope and I want everyone to be able to overcome whatever barriers they might face to living independent, fulfilling lives.

“That’s why we have announced a significant increase in mental health provision, as well as changes to ensure those who can work, do work.”

The government put back to work welfare reforms at the heart of its autumn statement in November – with charities criticising them at the time for “demonising disabled people”.


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Mr Sunak has since doubled down on the pledge, recently calling for an end to “sick note culture” and saying he wants to shift the focus to “what people can do with the right support in place, rather than what they can’t do”.

The latest announcement comes after a difficult week that saw the prime minister embroiled in a row about his early exit from an international D-Day commemoration event.

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Labour, which is focusing Sunday’s campaign on prison overcrowding, criticised the “reheated pledges” from the Tories.

A spokesperson for Sir Keir Starmer’s party said: “This is the latest desperate announcement from Rishi Sunak, who has once again plucked numbers out of thin air in an attempt to disguise the fact that he has caused a spiralling benefits bill.

“These reheated pledges, old policies and vague promises will not get Britain healthy or benefits under control, and do nothing to solve the fact that £10bn of taxpayers’ money was lost to benefit fraud just last year.”

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