Sunak insists he can rescue youth vote as just 14% of 18-25s plan to vote Tory

The prime minister insists that his job market reforms, which will make it harder to claim benefits, will actually help young people more, ITV News' Westminster Multimedia Producer Lewis Denison reports

Rishi Sunak has told ITV News he can rescue the youth vote ahead of this year's general election, after an exclusive poll found just 14% of 18 to 25 year-olds plan to vote Conservative.

But his plan to get people back into work by tightening benefits rules, announced on Friday morning, may not go down well with the hundreds of thousands of young people signed off with mental health issues.

He said some people with mental health conditions may be offered talking therapies or respite care, rather than cash transfers, adding that “people with less severe mental health conditions should be expected to engage with the world of work”.

The prime minister insisted his changes are not solely about cutting costs, claiming "good work can actually improve mental and physical health".

"This is not about making the welfare system less generous to people who face very real extra costs from mental health conditions," he added.

Sunak insists benefits reforms are 'really good for young people'

Our Youth Tracker poll this week found that most young people don't think the government spends enough on people who are unable to work.

Asked by ITV News how they'd react to his crackdown on "sick note culture", the PM said his new policy is "really good" for them.

"Today's policy has been really good for young people because what I want most for young people is to have a fantastic life and a fantastic career.

"I think for most of us, the most important things in our life are our family, but also work. Work gives you a sense of purpose, of dignity, of pride and hope for the future."

Other measures include benefits being stopped if someone does not comply with conditions set by a work coach and a pledge to “tighten” the work capability assessment (WCA).

Mr Sunak said there will be a consultation on proposed changes to a “more objective and rigorous approach” in the benefits system.

He suggested greater medical evidence could be required to substantiate a claim for personal independence payments (PIP), and that some people with mental health conditions may be offered talking therapies or respite care rather than cash transfers.

He said his changes to the welfare system would ensure young people get "the support they need when they're going through tough times, but also recognises the enormous good that work can do".

He added: "I know things have been tough, but today's announcements and reforms build on that so that young people can look forward with confidence and hope for the future."

Just 14% of young people plan to vote Tory - how will Sunak change that?

Mr Sunak insisted his priority of improving the economy would be good for young people but our Youth Tracker poll found 59% of young people think politicians don't care about people "like them".

But, when told just 14% of 18 to 25 year olds say they'll back the Conservatives at the general election, the prime minister explained how he plans to win more young people over.

"By delivering on the things that matter to people," he said.

"And that's why I'm really focused on growing the economy, on making sure that we bring inflation down, easing the burdens on the cost of living, providing jobs and opportunity for everyone, making sure young people have financial security because we don't want to leave them with huge debts to pay off when they're older, which is why controlling borrowing is so important."

He added: "Improving the NHS, cutting waiting lists where we're now making progress and tackling migration. These are all things that matter to the country we're delivering for them. And I know after a tough few years the plan is now working."

It was put to the prime minister, however, that withdrawing support for people out of work with mental health issues may not be the best strategy, given 1.9 million of them are waiting for NHS support.

Responding, he said the government is "investing record amounts into mental health support" and a record number of adults are being treated by the NHS.

But, he added, "I do think it’s right that the welfare system doesn’t over medicalise the every day challenges and worries of life".

The chief executive of mental health charity Mind said she is "deeply disappointed" by the PM's speech, which she said "conjures up the image of a ‘mental health culture’ that has ‘gone too far’.

"This is harmful, inaccurate and contrary to the reality for people up and down the country."

Dr Sarah Hughes added: “To imply that it is easy both to be signed-off work and then to access benefits is deeply damaging.

“It is insulting to the 1.9 million people on a waiting list to get mental health support, and to the GPs whose expert judgment is being called into question.”

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