• Thursday, May 30, 2024

HEADLINE STORY

Sunak vows to scrap ‘sick note’ culture

The prime minister wants to strip GPs of their power to sign people off work and proposes to entrust it with the specialists if the Tories get re-elected

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (Photo by Adrian Dennis – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

By: Shajil Kumar

PRIME MINISTER Rishi Sunak wants to eliminate the “sick-note culture” which he claims has become a lifestyle choice for some and was taking a heavy toll on the country’s welfare bill.

Sunak wants to strip GPs of their power to sign people off work and said that if the Tories win the general election, “specialist work and health professionals” would be given the job of issuing sick notes. Doctors, charities, and opposition leaders have criticised the prime minister’s remarks.

In a speech to be given at Centre for Social Justice in London, Sunak said a “worrying” proportion of younger potential workers were among a record high of 2.8 million people out of work as of February 2024.

Sunak said the budget for benefits for the working age people with a disability or health condition had ballooned to £69 billion and now outpaced spending on schools.

Two-thirds of incapacity benefit claims are now for mental health problems and Sunak warns of “the risk of over-medicalising the everyday challenges”.

He said not acting would be “irresponsible” when these benefits are projected to rise by more than 50 per cent over the next four years.

The prime minister promised a “new welfare settlement” to tackle “unsustainable” rises in benefit spending. He claimed the system is currently being “undermined” by “subjective and unverifiable claims”.

Sunak said he would try to bring in more objectivity by toughening up the eligibility criteria by demanding “greater medical evidence” in case of mental health conditions.

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 lose their benefits.

A new fraud bill will be introduced to treat benefit fraud like tax fraud, with new powers to make seizures and arrests.

Work and pensions secretary Mel Stride has voiced frustration that the NHS is not doing enough to keep people in work and his department is taking steps to create a national occupational health service.

Sunak too concurred with Stride’s concerns and said that openness about mental health has “gone too far” and resulted in “labelling the normal ups and downs of human life as medical conditions”.

Doctors union the British Medical Association accused Sunak of “hostile rhetoric” while disability charity Scope called the proposed reforms “a full-on assault on disabled people”.

Richard Kramer, chief executive of disability charity Sense, told BBC that the speech had falsely portrayed disabled people “as shirkers” when many want to work but are prevented from doing so by negative attitudes, unfair recruiting practices, and a lack of support and equipment.

“The government’s ongoing onslaught on disabled people is hard to watch, with the prime minister today taking aim at people who are long-term sick in a cruel speech demonising people with ‘sick notes’,” he added.

Professor Kamila Hawthorne, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said fit-note decisions should be focused on a patient’s health, “not meeting government targets for keeping people in work”.

Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey told BBC that Sunak is attempting to “blame the British people for his own government’s failures on the economy and the NHS and it simply won’t wash.”

The Conservatives have trailed the Labour opposition by double-digit margins in opinion polls for nearly two years, amid widespread economic woes, a cost-of-living crisis and Tory infighting.

Related Stories

Videos

Mrunal Thakur on Dhamaka, experience of working with Kartik Aaryan,…
Nushrratt Bharuccha on Chhorii, pressure of comparison with Lapachhapi, upcoming…
Abhimanyu Dassani on Meenakshi Sundareshwar, how his mom Bhagyashree reacted…