Tories unveil plan to tighten sickness benefit rules

Sunak said his reforms represented “a moral mission” as well as a way to help fix the public finances

Tories unveil plan to tighten sickness benefit rules

Rishi Sunak visits a community garden project on the day of a Conservative general election campaign event on June 8, 2024 in Bishop Auckland, UK. (Photo by Phil Noble – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Pramod Thomas

PRIME MINISTER Rishi Sunak’s Tories, facing an election next month, has announced details of its plan to tighten sickness benefit rules, which it said would eventually save £12 billion a year.

Sunak, who has previously said he wants to change welfare rules to counter a rise in people dropping out of the workforce, said his reforms represented “a moral mission” as well as a way to help fix the public finances.

The plan included an increase in mental health services, more stringent assessments of people’s ability to work and tougher rules for people who refuse to take up suitable jobs.

The changes would save taxpayers £12bn a year in welfare spending by the end of the next parliament, which is due to run until 2029, Tories said.

However, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, an independent think tank, said many of the planned changes were already baked into existing fiscal projections.

IFS associate director Tom Waters said the biggest new proposal was one aimed at reducing the number of people able to receive benefits on the basis of a mental health condition.

“Cuts are certainly possible,” he said. “But history suggests that reductions in spending are often much harder to realise than is claimed.”

Spending on welfare benefits for sick and disabled people has risen by £20bn annually since Britain’s last election in 2019 – before the Covid pandemic – to £69bn a year, and a further 10.6 billion-pound rise is expected by 2029, the IFS said.

In contrast to a rise in other major rich nations, labour force participation among working-age Britons has fallen from its pre-pandemic level mainly because of a rise in long-term illness and the number of students.

Sunak has called the national election for July 4. Opinion polls suggest his Tories are on course to suffer a heavy defeat to the opposition centre-left Labour party.

Labour has said it would reduce waiting lists for health treatment to get more people back to work and check the rise in the welfare bill.