RISHI Sunak has faced major criticism after announcing changes to the welfare system which could make it more difficult for disabled people to access benefits.

In a speech on Friday, Sunak said there will be a consultation on proposed changes to a “more objective and rigorous approach” in the benefits system.

The proposed changes include having so-called specialist work and health professionals in England charged with responsibility for issuing fit notes instead of GPs – in a bid to end the “sick-note culture”.

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Sunak also suggested greater medical evidence could be required to substantiate a claim for personal independence payments (PIP), and that some people with mental health conditions may be offered talking therapies or respite care rather than cash transfers.

He described the Government’s approach as saying “people with less severe mental health conditions should be expected to engage with the world of work”.

The PM warned against “over-medicalising the everyday challenges and worries of life” and said an expected rise in benefits spending in the coming years is “not sustainable”.

He said: “We now spend £69 billion on benefits for people of working age with a disability or health condition.

“That’s more than our entire schools budget, more than our transport budget, more than our policing budget.

“And spending on personal independence payments (PIP) alone is forecast to increase by more than 50% over the next four years.”

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He detailed plans for new legislation to prevent “fraudsters” from exploiting “the natural compassion and generosity of the British people”.

The Prime Minister said: “We are preparing a new fraud Bill for the next parliament, which will align DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) with HMRC (HM Revenue and Customs), so that we treat benefit fraud like tax fraud, with new powers to make seizures and arrest, and we’ll also enable penalties to be applied to a wider set of fraudsters through a new civil penalty.

“Because when people see others in their community gaming the system that their taxes pay, it erodes support for the very principle of the welfare state.”

He rejected suggestions his welfare reforms were lacking in compassion, saying “the exact opposite is true”.

But disability equality charity Scope has questioned whether the announcements are being “driven by bringing costs down rather than how we support disabled people”.

Following the speech in London on Friday, the charity described proposals as feeling “like a full-on assault on disabled people” branding them “dangerous” and saying they risk leaving disabled people “destitute”.

The Scottish Government has been contacted for comment.