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Jeremy Hunt has suggested people unable to work due to medical conditions or disabilities should be offered treatment so they can return to work.
The Chancellor is set to use his speech to the Conservative Party conference on Monday to announce new changes to benefits sanctions which would see those “disengaged” from job hunting having their payments halted.
Full details on how the new tougher sanctions will work will be set out in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, as well as plans to raise the living wage from £10.42 to £11.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Hunt said one option under consideration was giving those unable to work due to illness treatment for their condition so they can return to work.
He said that he wanted to avoid people with medical conditions being “automatically” signed off and “potentially parking them in a way that is not good for them either”.
“If you’ve got a mental health condition actually social interaction that you will get in a workplace is very important,” he continued.
“What we want to do is to say, could we help them better by giving them treatment first by actually solving the medical condition so that they can remain engaged in the workplace.”
Mr Hunt denied that he was forcing people into work, saying “we are a free society” that “can’t force anyone to do anything”.
He continued: “But we have to answer the exam question as to how we deal with the fact that every year we are putting around 100,000 people onto benefits without any obligation to look for work in an economy where there are about a million vacancies.”
“And in particular, we have 300,000 people who have been out of work without any disability or illness for more than a year. And what we want to do is to have a society where work pays.”
Under plans reportedly being considered by the Government, benefits would be halted for claimants who have been persistently sanctioned, and be barred from making a new claim for a certain period.
In his speech, Hunt will say: “I am incredibly proud to live in a country where, as Churchill said, there’s a ladder everyone can climb but also a safety net below which no one falls.
“But paying for that safety net is a social contract that depends on fairness to those in work alongside compassion to those who are not … since the pandemic, things have being going in the wrong direction. While companies struggle to find workers, around 100,000 people are leaving the labour force every year for a life on benefits.
“As part of that we will look at the way the sanctions regime works. It is a fundamental matter of fairness. Those who won’t even look for work do not deserve the same benefits as people trying hard to do the right thing.”