Budget 2023

Budget 2023 Update: What Does It Mean For M.E.?

ME Association Comment

The biggest news coming out of the Budget announcements for disabled people is the confirmation that the Government intends to abolish the Work Capability Assessment (WCA). Other announcements relate to a new voluntary employment scheme, named “Universal Support”; aimed at encouraging disabled people to seek work with potential support of up to £4,000 per individual available; and a £400 million scheme to support those with mental and physical problems to improve their health.

In contrast to this help, sanctions are to be applied “more effectively” for those who are deemed to be capable of work but “choose” not to seek it. Other issues that may be relevant to those with M.E. are changes to minimum expectations for job seekers, the extension of the Energy Support Scheme, the expansion of childcare provisions and extra help for over-50s to retrain.

Ella Smith, Welfare Rights Adviser, The ME Association


Employment Support

Universal Credit Conditionality

Childcare Improvements

Energy Support Scheme Extended

Work Capability Assessment Abolition

Employment Support

A new voluntary employment scheme for disabled people and those with health conditions called ‘Universal Support' will be funded in England and Wales. The government will spend up to £4,000 per person to find them a suitable role and cater to their needs, supporting 50,000 places per year once fully rolled out. The programme will match participants with existing job vacancies and support them into work.

The Chancellor also announced a £406 million plan to tackle the leading health causes keeping people out of work, with investment targeted at services for mental health, musculoskeletal conditions, and cardiovascular disease. This will include access to employment advisors, expanding the number of community hubs that offer health support, digital health support and digital NHS checks.

For over 50s, there will be a new ‘Returnerships’ apprenticeship, which will refine existing skills programmes to make them more accessible to older workers, giving them the skills and support they need to find a recognisable path back into work. There will be an enhanced digital midlife MOT tool and an expansion of DWP’s in person midlife MOTs for 50+ Universal Credit claimants, aiming to reach 40,000 per year.

Univeral Credit Conditionality

For those that claim Universal Credit (UC), it is mandatory to accept conditions in order to receive financial support. The Chancellor announced several changes to conditionality for several groups of people who claim UC. Carers of children aged between 1-12 years old will have their work search and work preparation requirements “strengthened” in order to encourage them to take up paid employment. The minimum number of hours work required for those expected to be in employment is also being raised from 15 hours a week to 18 hours per week.

This could have implications for those who are parents; now expected to work or to work additional hours when they may well struggle with finding childcare. It may also affect those with health conditions who are not currently recognised by the benefits system as having additional needs. If this applies to you, it is very important that you comply with your ‘Claimant Commitment' as otherwise you can be sanctioned.

Claimant Commitments can be amended to reflect your situation so it is vital to make sure that your current circumstances are reflected. You can ask your Work Coach to revisit your Claimant Commitment and they may be able to agree some variation to it. To report a change in your circumstances, such as having a health condition, you need to go to your UC online account and report a change.

It was also announced that the sanctions regime would be revisited in order to make it more “effective” and to free up Work Coach time. The Universal Credit sanctions regime will be strengthened by providing additional training for Work Coaches to apply sanctions effectively, including for claimants who do not look for or take up employment, and automating administrative elements of the sanctions process to reduce error rates. How this will translate into practice is unknown as yet but is of particular concern to those with health issues who may not be currently recognised in the benefits system.

  • The DWP has recently been forced to publish the results of research that overwhelmingly indicated sanctioning benefit claimants does nothing to incentivise them into paid work and actually increases the barriers they face to finding employment.

Childcare Improvements

One bright spot in terms of benefits is that those who have to claim childcare costs via UC will now be able to receive them upfront, rather than paying for them and having to wait to claim them back.

  • The maximum claim has been boosted to £951 for one child and £1,630 for two children – an increase of around 50%, increasing the amount of support for childcare costs (to 83% of the national average full time nursery fees).
  • The overall increase in childcare provision has extended the number of free hours available to parents who work significantly. 30 hours of free childcare for every child over the age of 9 months with working parents by September 2025, where eligibility will match the existing 3-4 year-old 30 hours offer.
  • This will be introduced in phases, with 15 hours of free childcare for working parents of 2-year-olds coming into effect in April 2024 and 15 hours of free childcare for working parents of 9 months – 3 years old in September 2024.
  • Schools and local authorities will be funded to increase the supply of wrap-around care, so that parents of school age children can drop their children off between 8am and 6pm.

Energy Support Scheme Extended

It was widely expected that the Chancellor would extend the Energy Support Scheme with this budget as the cost of subsidising energy has come down more than originally expected. In April, average bills were set to rise to £3,000 per year but the government has agreed to continue to subsidise bills at the current average rate of £2,500 until summer, when the cost is expected to drop below this amount.

It is important to note that although this support is being continued, you may find your energy bills still increase in April until such time as the reduction in wholesale energy prices feeds through to consumers. The government was crediting consumers with £67 a month over the winter months, through the Energy Bills Support Scheme. The final payment for this was made on March 2023 bills and will not be extended. Additional cost of living support previously announced by the government will be made to particular groups, in a similar way to previous cost of living payments.

Work Capability Assessment Abolition

The Chancellor announced that the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) is to be scrapped in a decision that has huge implications for how the benefits system deals with people with health problems. Although this is an eye-catching announcement, it is important to note that this is a change that will not happen immediately and in fact it may not happen at all.

The reason for this is that it requires primary legislation to be voted through and the timescale for this to happen means that it would not be in place until the next parliament. It is entirely possible that there will be another government by this point as it will be after the next general election and the new, incoming government, may have different ideas and priorities.

A lot of the detail on exactly how this change will translate into practice for those on disability-related benefits is not yet available but would be introduced for new UC claims. The current situation with UC claims and the WCA means that those who have Limited Capability for Work (LCW) or Limited Capability for Work Related Activity (LCWRA) have exemptions given for having to seek work via job seeking.

  • New claimants with LCWRA awarded after the WCA will receive an additional LCWRA element in their UC claim. Under the new proposals, both job seeking exemptions and the extra LCWRA element would be scrapped. UC claimants who are in receipt of any PIP component would receive a “Health” element in UC, which would be the same amount as the current LCWRA element.
  • Instead of being given an exemption from job search conditionality, work coaches will be able to agree a “tailored” approach to individuals, dependent on their ability to work. The White Paper that was published has this detail included.

“5. We know that the health and disability benefits system can itself be a barrier to employment because it focuses on what people cannot do, instead of what they can. The current assessment process means you need to be found to have limited capability for work and limited capability to prepare for work to get additional income-related support for a disability or health condition.

“6. This approach encourages people to see themselves as being unable to work and we know it can put people off from trying work or seeking employment support for fear of losing their benefits. We will give people confidence that they will receive support, for as long as it is needed, regardless of whether they are working. By removing the Work Capability Assessment, we will ensure that those who are able to can progress in or towards work, without the worry of being reassessed and losing their benefits.

“158. To achieve our ambition, we are proposing to remove the WCA. This includes the removal of the automatic assignment of people with limited capability for work to the work preparation-only group, and those with LCWRA to the no work-related requirements group.

“159. This change means that in the future there will only be one health and disability functional assessment: the PIP assessment. People in receipt of PIP and UC will receive the new health element. The key change will be in UC, where instead of the WCA, people in receipt of PIP and UC will receive the new UC health element. In place of the WCA, we propose to introduce a new personalised health conditionality approach that will provide more personalised levels of conditionality and employment support, with the aim of helping people to reach their potential and live a more independent life.

“160.  We want to introduce a more tailored approach, to allow work coaches to build a relationship with an individual and determine what, if any, work-related activities an individual can participate in. This also means that where work or work-related-activity is not possible or appropriate for someone, they will not be expected to participate in these activities to receive their benefit entitlement.”

What this effectively means is that there will be no blanket exemptions for work requirements for those with disabilities and that it is up to work coaches to determine what is appropriate for individuals. In addition to this, to be recognised financially as disabled, it is imperative to be also awarded PIP as this will be the only way to assess disability going forward.

By the time these proposals are put into place, it is anticipated that migration from old style “legacy benefits” to the UC system will be complete. However, contribution-based benefits such as New Style ESA are not income related and will not be migrated over. There is no current detail on how this would affect those on ESA, who sit outside of the UC system but also rely on the WCA to recognise their limited capability for work and also their increased financial needs as disabled people.

Ella Smith, 
Welfare Rights Adviser
The ME Association.

Ella Smith - MEA Welfare Benefits Adviser 
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