Government will use jogging clubs to get long-term sick back to work

Activities such as singing, cooking or gardening will also be offered in new push to cut benefits

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Saturday 30 December 2023 14:48 GMT
Government wants to use jogging to get people back into work
Government wants to use jogging to get people back into work (PA)

Running and gardening clubs will be used by Rishi Sunak’s government in bid to get people on long-term sickness leave back into work.

Doctors, employers, job centres and social workers will be encouraged to suggest therapy and life coaching under new government plans to cut the number of those signed off from work.

And community activities such as jogging, singing, cooking or gardening will also be offered through NHS “social prescribing” initiatives.

Work and pensions secretary Mel Stride and health secretary Victoria Atkins said they hope the new “wellness” scheme will get people back in employment and help them stay there.

They told The Times: “We know the longer someone spends out of work, the harder it becomes for them to find a job.”

The cabinet ministers added: “We also know that one in five of those claiming the highest level of health benefits want to work and feel they could do so with the right support.”

But Mr Stride and Ms Atkins admitted that the scheme was not a “one size fits all” for all the long-term sick who might be capable of work.

Mr Sunak has previously committed to tackling the growing numbers of those claiming sickness benefits, as he and chancellor Jeremy Hunt try to slash the welfare bill and boost the sluggish economic.

Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt are keen to slash the benefits bill (Getty Images)

Since the Covid pandemic, the total number out of work because of long-term sickness or disability has risen to 2.6 million. Currently, there are 2.2 million people claiming Universal Credit with no work requirements.

Mr Hunt used his autumn statement to outline plans for stricter fit-to-work tests in a push to get at least 200,000 people into work.

The new pilots announced by Mr Stride and Ms Atkins will see 15 areas test a service known as “WorkWell” which involves work coaches, physiotherapy and mental health treatment.

Following the trials, the governments hopes to expand the scheme nationally but key elements of it will not take effect until 2025.

Ms Atkins and Mr Stride said: “Where someone could fall out of work and on to long-term sickness benefits, WorkWell is designed to swoop in and provide the support that people need to stay in work, or return as soon as possible.”

Labour’s shadow employment minister Alison McGovern said the scheme is “all too little and it’s far too late”.

The Sunak government plans to scrap the controversial Work Capability Assessment (WCA), used to work out if people are entitled to benefits payments because of sickness or disabilities.

Reforms set to come into force in 2025 will mean hundreds of thousands of people with health problems will be asked to look for jobs that they can do from home.

Labour’s shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said WCA tests were “discouraging people from seeking work” and backed reform. But she argued that the Tories were failing on NHS waiting lists, which had left many unable to work.

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