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Back to Work Plan

Volume 740: debated on Thursday 16 November 2023

Later today, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and I will announce a new back to work plan. This is a package of employment-focused support that will help people to stay healthy, to move off benefits and to move into work, which will form part of the Chancellor’s autumn statement on 22 November.

The number of people economically inactive due to long-term sickness has risen to a record high of 2.6 million, and the number of people who are on unemployment benefits is expected to grow over the coming years. With almost 1 million vacancies in the economy, it is vital we ensure that every opportunity is given to those who can work.

Our back to work plan will tackle economic inactivity by addressing the rising flow of people out of work due to long-term sickness and enhancing back to work support for the long-term unemployed.

Our back to work plan will not only help disabled people and those with a long-term illness to overcome barriers to work; it will also provide support for people currently employed to take preventive action and help them stay in or return to work quickly. Fast access to the right type of joined-up work and health support can prevent people falling out of work, ensuring they reap the physical, financial and mental benefits of being in work.

To address the rising flow of people out of work, we are formally launching our new WorkWell service, announced at the spring Budget. This will be delivered by my Department, and the Department of Health and Social Care, and will support almost 60,000 long-term sick or disabled people to start, stay and succeed in work through integrated work and health support. A prospectus launched in the coming weeks will provide information for all integrated care systems across England to develop their localised work and health strategies. The service will then be delivered in approximately 15 pilot areas.

Our flagship universal support programme will also be expanded to reach more people. It is a new, voluntary employment programme for economically inactive long-term sick or disabled people who are experiencing additional barriers to employment. Universal support offers individuals up to 12 months of “place and train” support from a dedicated keyworker, helping them to find a suitable role and offering personalised support. In addition, we will explore reforming the fit note process to provide individuals whose health affects their ability to work with easy and rapid access to specialised work and health support.

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care will also introduce measures that reinforce our efforts to join up employment and health support and expand access to mental health services, tackling one of the main reasons for sickness absence. This includes a significant expansion in access to NHS talking therapies and individual placement and support, building on the evidence that these programmes deliver positive health and employment outcomes.

The back to work plan will also support more people on unemployment benefits who are able to work to get back into work. This means earlier, more intensive support for those who find themselves out of work, reducing flows to long-term unemployment. We will provide upskilling, job search support, practical work experience and tailored advice to support claimants to sustain themselves and actively participate in growing our economy. This will include a phased roll-out where we will expect claimants to either take up a job, take up mandatory work placements, or engage in a programme of intensive activity to get them off benefits and into jobs. This also means more intensive contact with claimants and smarter case monitoring to make sure that they are not forgotten and that they do not fall behind in their journey back to work.

There are some unemployed people who resolutely refuse to engage in job-seeking activities and continue to receive benefits. They are able to work, and it is not fair on taxpayers who contribute to our welfare system. For this reason, we are toughening the application of sanctions for those who fail to comply with expectations on job searching. Our welfare system should be a safety net for those genuinely not able to work or only capable of limited work, and provide a springboard for those capable of working to help them back into employment as quickly as possible. As a result of these reforms, no claimant should reach 18 months of unemployment in receipt of their full benefits if they have not taken every reasonable step to comply with jobcentre support.

This package will help up to 1.1 million people over the next five years: rewarding fairness; boosting labour market participation; growing our economy; and just as importantly, changing lives.