People with depression or anxiety could lose sickness benefits, says UK minister | Welfare


People with depression or anxiety could lose access to sickness benefits, the work and pensions secretary has said, as part of major welfare changes that have been described as a “full-on assault on disabled people”.

On Monday morning, Mel Stride announced the plans to overhaul the way disability benefits work and was due to address the Commons on the issue later in the day.

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In a green paper due to be published alongside Stride’s Commons statement, ministers will set out plans to change personal independence payments (Pip), the main disability benefit for adults, through changes to eligibility criteria and assessments.

While he sought to portray the proposals as part of a “grownup conversation” about the best form of welfare provision, he also indicated the focus on the plan was part of a Conservative election strategy designed to put some pressure on Labour a general election in which his party is expected to suffer a heavy defeat.

The plans, which will be consulted on over the coming months, also include proposals to “move away from a fixed cash benefit system”, meaning people with some conditions will no longer receive regular payments, but instead access to treatment if their condition does not involve extra costs.

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Stride batted away suggestions his government had created the problem by failing to adequately provide such care in the first place, saying it was introducing a scheme in which some healthcare support would be provided alongside “work coaches”.

During a BBC Radio 4 Today programme interview on Monday, it was put to Stride that the Tories were picking apart the system they had themselves designed in the hope of starting a “row about welfare scroungers” they hoped might cause a greater political problem for Labour than for them.

“As to Labour, Labour have nothing to say about welfare. In fact, the only thing they’ve been saying about welfare is that they’re very squeamish about sanctions. They don’t think they should be applied in the way that we think, which we believe will cost billions of pounds,” he replied.

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In an interview with the Times, Stride had suggested the proposals would mean people with “milder mental health conditions” would no longer receive financial support. And they follow a speech in which the prime minister announced major changes to the welfare system earlier this month, saying “people with less severe mental health conditions should be expected to engage with the world of work”.

Stride said the system should not be paying people to deal with the “ordinary difficulties of life” and suggested that many voters “deep down” agreed with him.

Describing the changes as “probably the most fundamental reforms in a generation”, he said: “There are those that have perhaps milder mental health conditions, or where perhaps there has been too great a move towards labelling certain behaviours as having certain [medical] conditions attached to them, where actually work is the answer or part of the answer.

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“What we’ve got to avoid is being in a situation where we too readily say: ‘Well, actually, we need you to be on benefits.’”

Stride said a “whole plethora of things”, such as talking therapies, social care packages and respite care, could be used as alternatives to benefit payments.

He added the main reason for the changes was to provide better help and not cut costs, but he acknowledged the cost “has to be one of the considerations”.

James Taylor, the executive director of strategy at disability equity charity Scope, called for an end to the “reckless assault” on disabled people and to fix the “real underlying issues”.

“It’s hard to have any faith that this consultation is about anything other than cutting the benefits bill, no matter the impact,” Taylor said.

“Life costs a lot more for disabled people, including people with mental health conditions. Threatening to take away the low amount of income Pip provides won’t solve the country’s problems.

“The government needs to end this reckless assault on disabled people and focus on how to fix the real underlying issues.”

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