Disabled people will face harsh penalties if they fail to comply with government efforts to help them prepare for work, according to a new welfare reform white paper.
Launching a “root and branch reform”, work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith said the government could “not afford to simply continue tinkering around the edges of the welfare system”.
His white paper, Universal Credit: Welfare that Works, includes plans to introduce potential sanctions for disabled people who have been found “not fit for work” but still capable of “work-related activity”.
They may have to take steps to prepare for work, and could lose their work-related benefits temporarily if they fail to comply with the regime.
Claimants of jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) – many of whom will be disabled people found “fit for work” through the controversial work capability assessment – could lose their JSA for a longer period, potentially as long as three years for “the most extreme cases”.
And many JSA claimants will be forced to undertake up to four weeks of unpaid work to help them develop “labour-market discipline”.
The white paper also fleshes out plans for a new universal credit (UC), which will see a range of benefits – including housing benefit, income support, income-based JSA and income-related employment and support allowance (ESA) – replaced by one single payment.
Disability living allowance and contributory ESA are among the non-means-tested benefits that will not be replaced by UC, which will begin to be introduced in 2013.
The UC will provide a basic sum, with extra cash for disabled people, and to take account of children, caring responsibilities, and housing need.
Benefits will be withdrawn “slowly and rationally” from this payment as claimants return to work and increase their working hours. The changes should mean that those returning to work keep 35p of every extra pound they earn.
Disabled people will be among those groups who can earn more – the white paper suggests £7,000 per household a year – before any benefits start to be withdrawn.
Duncan Smith said his reforms would “cut a swathe through the massive complexity of the existing benefit system and make it less bureaucratic to run”.
Maria Miller, speaking at a Disability Alliance conference on the day of the launch, said the current welfare system was “torturously complicated”, and the new UC would mean “everyone who is in a position to work will be better off”.
She said that “many disabled people who want to work and are not able to will be able to get into work, maybe for the first time”, with people with fluctuating conditions particularly benefiting, while the UC would also “make it easier to reduce fraud and error”.