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Stop the scapegoating: the truth behind UK Government’s attack on ‘sick note culture’

Read our analysis by experts in Equity’s Social Security and Tax team on the reality behind his words.

On 19 April 2024, the Prime Minister gave a public statement declaring his ‘moral mission’ of reforming ‘welfare’ due to the ‘growing number of people who have become economically inactive since the pandemic.’  He announced a series of measures that will reduce citizens access to state support, including:  

  • A consultation on removing responsibility for issuing sick notes from GPs (deadline 8/7/24).
  • A consultation on changes to Personal Independence Payment (PIP) – the non-means tested benefit that is paid to disabled people. Proposals include changing the eligibility criteria, removing the assessment process for specific health conditions or disabilities, and exploring alternative approaches to ongoing cash support such as one-off grants or vouchers. See Modernising support for independent living: the health and disability green paper - GOV.UK. The consultation closes on 23/07/24. 
  • Acceleration of the move to those on ill health benefit (income related Employment and Support Allowance) to Universal Credit (from Autumn 2024).
  • Increasing the amount that part time workers on Universal Credit need to earn in order to not be treated as a jobseeker and so subject to onerous work seeking related requirements (takes effect 6 May): £892 for individual claimants and £1,437 for couples per month.
  • Legislating to a) remove benefits from those who’ve been claiming for more than 12 months if they don’t comply with conditions set by their work coach and b) extend the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) powers in relation to fraud investigation. 

These changes have been criticised as scapegoating in the run up to the local and general elections.  They have also been described as a ‘full on assault of disabled people.’  

The reality – what Equity members need to know 

The weaker the UK social security safety net, the less incentive there is for employers/engagers to offer all workers better terms and conditions. Therefore a secure state safety net is important for all, and Equity members need to know the following:

What economic inactivity means 

Accessing social security 

Social security ‘fraud’ 

DWP staff   

And finally:  

Equity shares evidence with the United Nations on Disability Rights  

  • The United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) is currently investigating the UK Government.     
  • In 2016, the committee found that “grave or systematic violations” of disabled persons’ rights had taken place because of welfare reforms in the UK since 2010. In particular, it found that welfare reform had “disproportionally and adversely” affected the rights of people with disabilities.
  • In March 2024, Equity members and staff shared evidence with the committee, alongside many other UK wide Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations and Trade Unions.
  • The UN committee questioned the UK government at a public session on 18/03/24. A recording can be found here.  

In relation to welfare reform, UK Rapporteur Professor Rosemary Kayes stated: 

"We find evidence of regression in the standards and principles of the CRPD. We see a reform agenda that is framed in a political narrative that demonizes disabled people, including proposals to cut disability benefits to reward working people by cutting taxes. Which tells disabled people they are underserving citizens. And this is coupled with an onerous and complex social benefit system that is the basis for trauma and preventable mental distress."

The UN report has now been published - read more about it on our website.

Need advice on social security rights? 

If you need advice on your social security rights, contact Equity’s Social Security and Tax Advice service. Check out our online advice resources. You can call the Social Security and Tax Advice helpline on 0207 670 0223 (Monday and Thursday 10am-1pm and 2-5pm) or email helpline@equity.org.uk.   

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