Minister suggests people should get ‘better paid jobs’ to handle rising costs 

Citizens told they have ‘duty’ to work as government mulls benefits system changes

Tomorrow’s autumn statement is set to include measures to get hundreds of thousands of people with mobility and mental health problems into work as part of a bid to reduce benefits expenditure.

Under plans to be announced in the autumn statement, to be revealed on Wednesday, these individuals face having their benefits reduced by £4,680 a year.

According to a report in The Times, it is part of a wider government plan to tackle a decline in workforce participation since the Covid pandemic.

In a speech to an audience of local business and community leaders yesterday, Rishi Sunak said the welfare system was not “sustainable”.

Asked about a possible squeeze on welfare payments in the autumn statement, the prime minister said: “Our view on the welfare system is that it should be compassionate, it should be fair and it should be sustainable. …

“With over 2 million people of working age who are not currently working, that isn’t a good situation. It’s not sustainable for the country, for taxpayers. It’s not fair. But it’s also not compassionate to write people off”, he added.

Speaking to Sky News this morning, chief secretary to the Treasury and former work and pensions minister Laura Trott was asked if such a policy was uncaring. 

She replied: “I think that if you can work, as a principle, you should work. And that is what the government believes, that’s been the thrust of all of our policies.

“Of course, there should be support for people to help them into work or to help them with issues that they’re facing. But ultimately there is a duty on citizens that if they are able to go out to work, that’s what they should do.”

Trott said it will be the Department of Work and Pensions who will decide whether someone is fit to work. “You’ve got some brilliant civil servants there who are working very hard to make sure our welfare system is supporting those who need support”, she said.

“But those who can work, can contribute, should contribute. And that is the principle that we must keep throughout all of this.”

In his full comments on plans to overhaul the benefits system in his speech in north London yesterday, Sunak said: “We believe in the inherent dignity of a good job. And we believe that work, not welfare, is the best route out of poverty.

“Yet right now, around two million people of working age are not working at all. That is a national scandal and an enormous waste of human potential. So, we must do more to support those who can work to do so.

“And we will clamp down on welfare fraudsters. Because the system must be fair for the taxpayers who fund it. By doing all of this, by getting people off welfare and into work, we can better support those genuinely in need of a safety net.”

As part of further plans to be announced in the Autumn Statement, welfare claimants who “refuse” to engage with their jobcentre or take work offered to them may lose benefits.

Speaking last Thursday, chancellor Jeremy Hunt said the government wanted to address the “rise in people who aren’t looking for work” to help grow the economy.

“These changes mean there’s help and support for everyone – but for those who refuse it, there are consequences too. Anyone choosing to coast on the hard work of taxpayers will lose their benefits.”

Mel Stride, the work and pensions secretary, said the government was expanding the help available for people with health conditions and disabilities. “But our message is clear: if you are fit, if you refuse to work, if you are taking taxpayers for a ride – we will take your benefits away.” is the UK’s leading digital-only political website, providing comprehensive coverage of UK politics. Subscribe to our daily newsletter here.