UK Autumn Statement Back to Work Plan: Letter to UK Government

Letter from the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice to the Department for Work and Pensions on the changes to work capability assessments and Back to Work plan announced in the Autumn Statement.

From: Shirley-Anne Somerville, Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice

To: Mel Stride, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Dear Mel

Thank you for your letter yesterday, regarding your response to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) consultation. I write in response to that, as well as the changes announced to social security benefits in the Autumn Budget Statement, and the wider proposals set out in the ‘Back to Work’ plan published last week.

I welcome the fact that social security benefits are to be uprated in line with September CPI and that this year you will honour your commitment to increase the state pension in line with the triple lock. Of course this is against the backdrop of over a decade of austerity and the overwhelming evidence that many millions of people, as Joseph Rowntree Foundation recently reported, are struggling to ensure that they have even the essentials needed for survival. It is hugely disappointing therefore that the UK Government have failed to uplift the benefit cap. I call again for you to respond to the overwhelming evidence and introduce an Essentials Guarantee to ensure that everyone can afford the basics needed for survival.

The Scottish Government is carefully considering the proposals set out in the ‘Back to Work’ plan. As you know in Scotland, we have taken a different approach to devolved employability support; our services remain voluntary, and we want the support we provide to be seen as an opportunity, not a threat, with fairness, dignity and respect at its heart.

In delivering our first devolved employability service, Fair Start Scotland, Scottish Government officials had a close working relationship with Job Centre Plus to ensure we were collectively working to provide support for the people of Scotland. Fair Start Scotland will close to new referrals on March 31st 2024, and our employability offer will now be delivered through our ‘No One Left Behind’ approach, and I hope that close working continues. I am aware that officials are already engaged on the detail of this, and I will ask them to also pick up on the detail of the interventions announced in the Autumn Budget Statement as part of these discussions.

As set out in my previous correspondence on the matter I share the concerns of the many stakeholders who have criticised the proposed changes in the recent WCA consultation. Whilst it is welcome that you do not now propose to remove the continence and social engagement descriptors from the limited capability for work-related activity (LCWRA) assessment, I remain deeply concerned about the changes to the activities and descriptors of ‘getting about’ for limited capability for work (LCW), and the mobilising and substantial risk criteria for LCWRA.

In taking this decision you acknowledge but have chosen to disregard the substantial evidence submitted to the consultation demonstrating that jobs that can be carried out wholly or mostly from home remain a relatively small proportion of vacancies and are unlikely to be the types of jobs available to those who may be returning to the job market after a number of years.  The changes you are proposing, including the extension of the sanctions regime, will, as is widely recognised by stakeholders, have very significant additional impact on some of the most vulnerable people in our communities who need our support most. That said, I do recognise and welcome the protection you have extended to those who are currently assessed as LCWRA, in taking away the threat of reassessment, and giving them the reassurance that they can try work without losing their health elements.

I am copying this letter to the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture, and to  the Secretary of State for Scotland.

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