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UK PM Rishi Sunak unveils ‘moral mission’ to get people working

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London, Apr 19 (PTI) British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Friday outlined a package of reforms to deliver on his “moral mission” to get economically inactive people working again and move the country’s so-called “sick note culture" towards a “fit note” one.

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In a major speech on welfare at the Centre for Social Justice in London, the British Indian leader said that state-funded unemployment support should be seen as a "safety net" rather than a "lifestyle choice" and pointed to a worryingly growing number of economically inactive people since the COVID pandemic.

Sunak said the government must significantly control welfare because he feared that the longer someone stays on benefits, the harder it is to get back to work.

Official statistics reveal that more than 500,000 people have been unemployed for six months and well over a quarter of a million unemployed for 12 months, many of them without medical conditions.

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“The role of the welfare state should never be merely to provide financial support, as important as that will always be, but to help people overcome whatever barriers they might face to living an independent, fulfilling life,” said Sunak.

“We must never tolerate barriers that hold people back from making their contribution and from sharing in that sense of self-worth that comes from feeling part of being something bigger than ourselves. That is why this is a moral mission … there is nothing fair about expecting taxpayers to support those who could work but choose not to. It doesn’t have to be like this. We can change. We must change,” he said.

Sunak said the concept of “replacing the sick note with the fit note” is to stop so many people just being signed off as sick.

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“We don’t just need to change the sick note – we need to change the sick note culture, so the default becomes what work you can do – not what you cant! Building on the pilots we’ve already started, we’re going to design a new system where people have easy and rapid access to specialised work and health support,” he said.

As part of the measures, the disability benefits system is set to be reformed to ensure it is more accurately targeted at those who need it most and delivers the right kind of support for people with disabilities and health conditions.

It is intended to crack down on a trend of such payments being awarded to many more working age people for mental health conditions than when it was first introduced over a decade ago.

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“The welfare reforms announced by the Prime Minister today will modernise the support available for those who need it the most, improve the value of the welfare system for taxpayers, and ensure that people are signed up to support back to work, not signed off,” said Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride.

Under plans for the next Parliament after a General Election, if the Conservatives are in government, anyone who has been on taxpayer-funded benefits for 12 months and doesn’t comply with conditions set by their Work Coach – including accepting available work – will have their unemployment claim closed and their benefits removed entirely.

“These ambitious reforms will give people the help they need in their return to and stay in work. We know that people in work often lead happier, healthier lives which is why it’s fundamental to shift attitudes away from sick notes towards fit notes,” added Health Secretary Victoria Atkins.

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Under other plans, those with less severe conditions will be expected to seek employment and a review of the current benefits eligibility system is to be carried out by independent assessors, rather than general practitioners (GPs).

The introduction of a new fraud bill to treat benefit fraud like tax fraud, with new powers to make seizures and arrests, is also proposed.

The Opposition parties accused the government of blaming people for being unwell rather than fixing underlying economic problems. PTI AK NPK NPK

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