What are the Chancellor's 'long overdue' plans to get disabled people back into work?

ITV News Political Correspondent Romilly Weeks reports from Skegness, Lincolnshire

The key theme of Jeremy Hunt's budget was getting people back into work, with a suite of reforms aimed at making employment simpler, especially for disabled people.

The "back to work" budget featured major expansions of free childcare, more generous pension reforms and benefit overhauls.

The government wants to fill the record number of vacancies currently in the British economy by attracting people who retired during the pandemic back to work, making it easier for parents to find affordable childcare, and relaxing rules for disabled people on benefits.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Hunt said half the vacancies in the economy could be filled with people who want to work but are inactive due to sickness or disability.

What has the government announced for disabled people?

The chancellor billed the reforms as the "biggest change to our welfare system in a decade" with the scrapping of the work capability assessment (WCA) to assess eligibility for sickness benefits.The government said it wants to switch the focus to what people can do rather than what they cannot, Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride said in a White Paper published alongside the Budget.

ITV News Business Editor Joel Hills breaks down today's budget and what it means for the government

The current system through the WCA sees people declared unable to work, and if so they are given extra benefits.

Now, instead of the WCA disabled people will be asked what work they think they can do.

The aim is to make sure disabled people feel like they can find work without fear of losing their benefits.

Jeremy Hunt announced the reforms on Thursday. Credit: PA

The government said no one would lose any benefits due to the reforms.

Alongside the scrapping of the WCA, the chancellor launched a new voluntary scheme he said will help disabled people search for work without fear of losing access to benefits.Mr Hunt said the scheme, called Universal Support, will provide up to £4,000 for people living with disabilities every year to help them find appropriate jobs.

He said the scheme is expected to be taken up by around 50,000 people.

The simplification of the benefits system for disabled people means there is now only one test needed to qualify for support, the personal independent payment (PIP) assessment.

The chancellor said now was the right time for the reforms due to the need to fill the huge number of vacancies in the British economy and modern technology making it easier than ever for disabled people to work.

He said remote working has opened up new possibilities and said the new proposals will ensure people on disability benefits can look for work "without fear of losing financial support."

What else was announced for people on benefits?

With all the increased incentives the government also said it was introducing more punishments for people who choose not to accept a reasonable job offer.

New sanctions for Universal Credit recipients will be introduced to pressure on those working less than 18 hours a week to get more work.

Mr Hunt said sanctions will be applied "more rigorously" to those who fail to meet strict work-search requirements.

The chancellor has also allocated £400m in funding to increase the availability of mental health and musculoskeletal resources for workers.

Could disabled people lose out?

After the budget was announced the Resolution Foundation warned without careful implementation 650,000 people could see their benefits cut.

The think tank said someone who does not have a long-term disability would not necessarily qualify for PIP, meaning that despite being too ill to work they could lose out.

They said 650,000 people currently have WCA's in place but do not qualify for PIP, including people recovering from major surgery or cancer.

The government has promised “transitional protection” for existing claimants to “ensure that no one experiences financial loss at the point at which the reform is enacted” – which is likely to be a few years from now.What have disability charities said?

James Taylor, executive director of strategy at disability equality charity Scope, welcomed the ditching of the WCA, but warned there have been “many mistakes” on welfare reform in the past and that concern among those out of work due to disability will remain.

He said the government “must make sure it doesn’t replace one out-of-touch test with another” and insisted that “you can’t sanction disabled people into work”.

Mr Taylor added: “The government has got a mountain to climb to win back the trust of disabled people. For far too long, disabled people have been faced with degrading benefits assessments, cruel sanctions and a dearth of tailored support to find suitable jobs.

“Disabled people face major barriers getting into work, such as discrimination from employers and long delays getting the right support. There is much work for the government to do to get this right and rebuild trust.”

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Sarah White, head of policy at Sense, said: "Everyone is affected by rising costs, but some are affected more than others. Disabled households are at breaking point, and it’s disappointing that the government haven’t recognised this."

She added: "The decision to reconsider the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) is long overdue. Assessments often fail to provide a true reflection of an individual’s capabilities or limitations and the experience is stressful, and at times, traumatic.

"But getting rid of it alone won’t fix a broken system. We need reform and a culture-shift.  

"Whilst many of todays’ announcements have the potential to be positive for disabled people the government needs to make the system fairer today and not in several years’ time."