PM’s sick note comments attract criticism

Kingston and Surbiton MP and Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey has criticised Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s speech on “sick note culture”, made on Friday (April 19).

Sunak said that if the Conservatives win the general election this year, he plans to make it harder for patients to get a sick note and plans to have their benefits “removed entirely” if they are still out of work after 12 months after support from a work coach.

Sir Ed said: “This was a desperate speech from a Prime Minister mired in sleaze and scandal.

“Rishi Sunak is attempting to blame the British people for his own government’s failures on the economy and the NHS and it simply won’t wash.”

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of people between 16 and 64 years old who are out of work due to a long-term illness or a chronic condition rose by 0.45% between 2019 and 2022.

This means that there are 2.8 million people of working age in the UK who are unable to work due to long-term illness.

The number of people out of work due to long-term illness has increased among a decrease in economic inactivity overall

According to the Health Foundation, this increase means that another 470,000 people are economically inactive due to long-term health problems since the COVID-19 pandemic.

By September 2023, 12.3% of the population in Kingston aged 16 to 64 were economically inactive in comparison to 21.5% of the population across London.

Sunak’s speech has worried local residents who are out of work due to long-term illness.

Sarah, 27, who wished to go by a pseudonym due to fears around future employment, has been out of work for five years due to cystinuria, a condition that causes chronic kidney stones, along with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) and suspected Chron’s disease.

“My chronic pain gets so bad that I’m bed-bound. I get really severe depression and anxiety,” said Sarah.

Sarah trained to be a nanny when she left school at 16, but the physical demands of the job made it impossible to work in childcare with chronic pain and also as a medical cannabis patient.

Sarah said: “Most of us want to work. If we were supported by the government and the NHS more, I believe less people would be out of work.”

Only 19% of people surveyed believe that benefits are too high in Britain

In response to Sunak’s speech, Sarah said that his aim to cut people off from benefits such as the personal independence payment (PIP) is “utterly ridiculous” and that “the government has it completely wrong”.

“PIP is so hard to get as it is. It is so difficult to get. People should not be living a life where they’re afraid their benefits are going to be cut because they physically cannot work.”

Working Well is an organisation based in Kingston that helps neuro-divergent people and those with mental illnesses get back into work and liaises with employers about reasonable adjustments to the workplace.

Clement Dickson and Rasha Muhi-Eldin, caseworkers for Working Well, point out that it is not always simple to make the workplace accommodating for people with specific health needs.

“The thing is it’s really tricky. For some [employers] it’s about understanding the extent of what a reasonable adjustment can be,” said Dickson.

Since starting at Working Well, Dickson said that he has felt a rise in the amount of people seeking help from the organisation.

“I would say awareness is important, more than anything. Asking people why something is difficult for them to do and having those conversations can go really far,” said Muhi-Eldin.

As of February 2024, long-term sickness is now the main reason for economic inactivity in the UK.

Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, Mims Davies, and Helen Whately, Minister for Care, have said that they plan to introduce their Back to Work Plan in the autumn statement if the Conservatives win the general election.

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Reporter and former editor for the Kingston Courier.

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