The chancellor delivered his autumn statement setting out the government’s economic plans ahead of the next general election.
While the statement contains some welcome investment in health and employment schemes, we’re concerned about the government’s approach to getting people with long-term conditions back into the workplace.
Disability benefits hit
As part of the Autumn Statement, the government announced a Back to Work Plan designed to move people off Universal Credit.
While the plan includes welcome support for health and employment schemes totalling £7bn, the tougher sanctions on those claiming disability benefits, including the possibility of those facing sanctions having their claims closed entirely, is very worrying.
We could see those sanctioned denied access not just to welfare payments, but associated benefits such as free prescriptions or help with energy bills.
The statement also announced a reform of fit notes, with a focus on treatments, which will place significant undue pressure on people with Parkinson’s both financially and mentally.
Cost of living measures
Given energy costs are continuing to rise, we were also disappointed with the lack of more targeted support for people with Parkinson’s who face higher heating bills.
We’ll continue to call on the government to implement warm home prescriptions via the NHS for people with Parkinson’s who need to keep warm to manage symptoms.
However, the chancellor has made a welcome announcement that the pensions triple lock will be protected. The triple lock is a guarantee that, each year, the state pension will rise by the highest of 3 measures: average earnings, inflation, as measured by the Consumer Prices Index (CPI), or 2.5%.
We’re also pleased to see the chancellor confirm that benefits will be increased by 6.7%, in line with the higher September Consumer Price Index (CPI), rather than the lower October rate, and that Local Housing Allowance will be increased, too.
Sue Christoforou, Policy Manager for Financial Health at Parkinson’s UK said:
“People with Parkinson’s who can work, want to work. But for this to happen, the government must provide adequately-funded employment support and ensure that employers’ provide flexible workplaces and cultures.
“Parkinson’s is a progressive condition, so there will always come a time when a person with the condition can no longer work. Members of our community who are unable to work need to know financial help they need to survive won’t be taken away when they need it most.
"It’s deeply disheartening that the government is taking such a punitive approach to supporting people with long-term conditions like Parkinson’s.”
“And the absence of targeted support for energy bills means people with Parkinson’s face an uncertain winter of financial worry as a result of these harsh measures.”
Health and social care announcements
While we welcomed the publication of a plan for NHS staff numbers in England during the summer, we were disappointed not to hear more detail in the statement about how local health services will be financially supported to implement the proposal.
And with winter around the corner, we believe steps should have been taken to shore up the NHS against winter pressures.
Similarly, there was no update on funding for the overstretched social care system. A recent National Audit Office report found the sector “remains challenged by chronic workforce shortages, long waiting lists for care and fragile provider and local authority finances”.
We’re calling for the government to fund training for health and social care staff in Parkinson’s-related dementia, as part of our Nobody Really Knows Us campaign.
However, we are pleased to see the funding commitments made to innovation, research and development in the statement.
Sam Freeman Carney, Health Policy and Improvement Lead at Parkinson’s UK said:
“The autumn statement was a missed opportunity to set out in full how the workforce plan will be funded. It is important that people with Parkinson’s are reassured that help is coming and access to care will improve.
“We are also disappointed that yet again there is no long term funding commitment for social care. Quality of care needs to improve as does investment in training social care professionals to deliver more tailored services to people living with Parkinson’s and Parkinson’s-related dementia."