The UK government have introduced their new Back to Work Plan, which will start rolling out in late 2024.
Why has the government created the Back to Work Plan?
The percentage of people aged 50 to 64 who are unable to work because of a health condition or disability, or who have retired, has increased since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
In response, the UK government is keen to see more people with long-term conditions return to work and has launched its Back to Work Plan.
The Plan includes several elements that will apply in both England and Wales.
For example, the Restart scheme, which offers support and advice on how to secure sustainable employment, will be extended. The number of places on the Universal Support employment programme for people with a disability or health condition will be doubled to 100,000.
In England alone, the NHS programme for people with mild and moderate mental health conditions, will be expanded.
The government is also considering linking fit notes to access to employment support.
Cause for concern
However, alongside this support, the UK government is introducing other plans that we are concerned about.
From late 2024, in England, Scotland and Wales, if a claimant only receives the standard allowance of universal credit, has been sanctioned and has not engaged with Jobcentre support for over 6 months, their benefit claim will be stopped.
Also from late 2024, universal credit claimants in England and Wales who have completed the Restart scheme, yet remain unemployed after 18 months, may be asked to engage in more intense work search activities.
This may include mandatory work placements. If claimants do not agree with what is asked of them, their benefit claim will be stopped.
In England, where a universal credit claim stops, in most cases, so does access to free prescriptions.
The government has also said it plans to introduce technology that will enable Jobcentre work coaches to track where people on the Restart programme go, compromising claimants’ privacy.
It says this is needed to confirm that claimants attend job interviews and job fairs. And, in another breach of claimants’ privacy, the UK government wants to be able to access claimants' bank accounts, saying this is necessary to combat fraud.
Lack of employer incentives
At the same time, the UK government has said that it will not mandate employers to provide occupational health support to their staff. Instead, it plans to develop a voluntary occupational framework.
And, while the government will provide businesses with tax incentives to encourage them to invest in machinery, it does not intend to provide any employer tax incentives to promote the employment of people with long-term conditions.
What it means for working-age people with Parkinson’s
All of these changes depend on what happens at the next general election, as a new government may not take forward these proposals.
The election must take place before January 2025, although it is widely expected to take place by autumn 2024.
If the policy is implemented, it will come into effect in 2025 and apply to new universal credit claims only. This means that from 2025, working-age people with Parkinson’s who are not working or are working part-time, and have to make a new claim for universal credit, may be affected.
Where a claimant with a long-term condition struggles to complete all the work-related activities they have been asked to do, it is possible to get those activities changed. But this is not automatic and there may still be a loss of income, which is known as a sanction.
Sue Christoforou, Policy Manager at Parkinson’s UK, said:
"If the government wants to support people with conditions like Parkinson’s to work where they can, it must incentivise employers.
"The government could mirror the tax incentives for companies that invest in plant and machinery, by committing to an equivalent tax incentive for those employing people with long-term conditions.
"Or it could legislate for all employers to provide good quality occupational health support. The government has done neither of these things. Instead, it has devised a punitive regime where claimants could lose their entire income, have their privacy compromised and their dignity lost."
Support available to you
If in 2025 people with Parkinson’s do find that they are affected by these proposals, our specialist benefits team is on hand to provide support and advice.
You can get in touch with the team by emailing [email protected] or calling 0808 800 0303.
What do you think?
We want to know what working-age people with Parkinson’s think about these proposals.
Will you be affected? If so, what impact do you think the plans will have?
What else do you think the UK government should be doing to increase the number of people with Parkinson’s who can work, to get and keep a job?