Back to Work Plan aims to help people get off benefits, stay healthy and into work

The government has announced a new Back to Work Plan to help up to 1.1m people with long-term health conditions, disabilities or long-term unemployment to look for and stay in work.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and Work and Pensions secretary Mel Stride yesterday [16 November 2023] unveiled their Back to Work Plan – a package of employment-focused support that will “help people stay healthy, get off benefits and move into work”, the government said, as part of the Autumn Statement.

Building on the Spring Budget’s £7bn employment package, the chancellor is using his Autumn Statement to outline a new Back to Work Plan, which will expand the employment support and treatment available and reform the ways that people with disabilities or health conditions interact with the state, the government said.

“Getting more people into work and ensuring work pays remains a key priority for the government. It is important for growing the UK economy, managing inflation, controlling spending and improving living standards. Getting more people into good jobs is also good for those individuals and the best route out of poverty,” the government said in a statement.

The government is boosting four key programmes – NHS Talking Therapies, Individual Placement and Support, Restart and Universal Support – to benefit up to 1.1m people over the next five years and help those with mental or physical health conditions stay in or find work.

The new WorkWell service, as announced at the Spring Budget and delivered by the Departments for Work and Pensions and Health and Social Care, was also formally launched on 16 November to “support almost 60,000 long-term sick or disabled people to start, stay and succeed in work” once rolled out in around 15 areas across England. The prospectus that will be launched in the coming weeks will provide information for all Integrated Care Systems across England to develop their localised work and health strategy, the government said.

Ministers are also planning to trial reforms to the fit note process to make it easier and quicker for people to get specialised work and health support, with improved triaging and signposting. 

Stricter benefit sanctions will also be enforced by the DWP for people who are able to work but refuse to engage with their Jobcentre or take on work offered to them. Benefit claimants who continue to refuse to engage with the Jobcentre will face having their claim closed. The latest published data shows that there were 300,000 people who had been unemployed for over a year in the three months to July.

The announcement yesterday forms part of wider plans to grow the economy expected in the Autumn Statement on Wednesday 22 November. The chancellor is set to reveal “a raft of changes to get the UK economy growing including getting people back into work”, the government said.

“Our message is clear,” Stride said. “If you are fit, if you refuse to work, if you are taking taxpayers for a ride – we will take your benefits away.”

Plans set out also include expanding key health and employment programmes, to benefit over half a million people over the next five years and help those with mental health conditions stay in or find work. These include: NHS Talking Therapies; Individual Placement and Support (IPS); Universal Support in England and Wales; and WorkWell.

Victoria Atkins, secretary for health and social care, said: “We know that tailored work and health support initiatives can help break down the kinds of barriers that can make finding and staying in a job more difficult for those with mental health conditions.

“Backing them with further investment means they’re more widely available, enables personalised help and will get thousands back to work by overcoming any issues that may be preventing them from fulfilling their career potential.”

Kate Shoesmith, Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) deputy CEO, said: “Today’s announcements will help the Restart scheme keep making a real difference to people’s work and life chances. It contributes to efforts to overcome our labour and skills shortages and to further growing our economy. 

“Bringing public and private employment services together is vital to get people into work and not look back. Our own award-winning Restart scheme, which sees recruiters work with employability services provider Maximus, has helped place 1,700 long-term unemployed people into work since 2021.”

• For more information, visit the UK Government’s website here.

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