MINISTERS are planning to push disabled people into the workforce with plans to encourage working from home for people previously deemed too ill to seek employment.

Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride announced the planned changes in the Commons on Tuesday afternoon.

He told MPs he intends to reduce from 2.4 million the number of people currently claiming sickness benefits, as part of a £2 billion investment plan announced earlier this year.

The number of people claiming long-term sickness benefits has grown by 40% since 2013 and there has been a notable increase in people claiming this entitlement since the Covid pandemic.

One proposed change is said to be a measure to reform fit-for-work assessments to account for working from home possibilities which have emerged since the pandemic.

This could see people previously deemed too ill to seek jobs forced into looking for work or face sanctions.

People deemed too mentally ill to work could receive coaching to explore work opportunities.

The Scottish Greens said the changes would make the UK's "already utterly brutal and cruel" benefits policy more painful. 

Maggie Chapman, Greens MSP for North East Scotland, said: "We should always ensure that our social security system treats people with dignity and respect. The Tories clearly don't understand what this means.

"The UK benefits system is already utterly brutal and cruel. From the two child limit to universal credit and the sanctions regime, it is a system designed to punish and humiliate people.

"It inflicts needless misery on people and families all over Scotland. It is failing to provide basic decency to so many. And the Tories know exactly what they are doing and what impact it will have. The pain is the point."

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Speaking in the Commons, Stride said: "We know many people who are on out-of-work benefits due to a health condition want to work, and, assisted by modern working practices, they could do so while managing their condition effectively.

“We have seen a huge shift in the world of work in the last few years, a huge change that has accelerated since the pandemic.

“This has opened up more opportunities for disabled people and those with health conditions to start, stay and to succeed in work.”

He added: “The work capability assessment doesn’t reflect how someone with a disability or health condition might be able to work from home, yet we know many disabled people do just that.

“Our plans include taking account of the fact that people with mobility problems or who suffer anxiety within the workplace have better access to employment opportunities from the rise in flexible and home working.”

But the LibDems have said the Government's priorities are wrong and said the growing numbers of people out of work long-term are the fault of the "broken" NHS. 

Christine Jardine, the LibDem MP for Edinburgh West, said: "This is a problem of the Conservative’s own making.

"The pandemic caused intense difficulties for so many and coming out of it the government simply did not have the infrastructure in place to ensure people recovered properly.

“The root cause of this is that the Conservatives have fundamentally broken health services in this country. Waiting lists are at a record high. If people cannot be seen they cannot get the support they need and they cannot get back into work.

“To fix this, you have to fix the NHS. They need to provide a service that is genuinely aimed at getting people the support they need so that they can work.”

Fitness for work assessments see some people judged to have “limited capability for work”, which means the Government recognises their limitations with an entitlement of, on average, £400 a month while they are supported to find work.

The Government wants to move more people into that category from the category of people who are deemed to have “limited capability for work-related activity” – which means those who are given around £800 per month and are not encouraged to find work.

There are around 450,000 in the first group while there are around 2.4m people in the latter.