HR and business reaction: government pledges £2.5bn to help people with long-term disabilities find and retain jobs

But experts warn positives of the investment risk being ‘drowned out by divisive rhetoric’

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The government has announced new measures aimed at helping 1.1 million people with long-term health conditions or disabilities or who are in long-term unemployment to look for and stay in work.

The £2.5bn Back to Work Plan will be spread over the next five years and builds on a £7bn package announced at this year’s spring budget, which included funds targeted at mental health services, as well as people with musculoskeletal conditions and cardiovascular disease.

But the government has warned the additional support comes alongside “tougher sanctions for people who don’t look for work”, as it looks to put stricter controls on jobseekers’ universal credit claims. 

Secretary of state for health and social care Victoria Atkins said: “We know that tailored work and health support initiatives can help break down the kinds of barriers that can make finding and staying in a job more difficult for those with mental health conditions.

“Backing them with further investment means they’re more widely available, enables personalised help and will get thousands back to work by overcoming any issues that may be preventing them from fulfilling their career potential.”

The reforms include: 

Individual placement and support

Individual placement and support (IPS) aims to support an additional 100,000 people with severe mental illness to find and keep jobs over the next five years. 

The employment support programme will be integrated into community mental health services. IPS employment specialists will work with people accessing the service to help find employment that matches their aims, interests and skills, and offer continued support once they are in post; integrate with the mental health team to support the individual with any issues that affect their work and recovery; and build relationships with employers to negotiate job opportunities.

The government also announced it will increase the number of people benefitting from courses of mental health treatment – including talking therapies – by 384,000 over the next five years.

Universal support

Universal support in England and Wales, which matches people with existing vacancies and supports them in their new role, will be expanded to support 100,000 people, compared to 50,000 originally outlined at the spring budget. The support will also help people with disabilities and from vulnerable groups.

Participants will access up to 12 months of personalised ‘place and train’ support and will be helped by a dedicated key worker who will help the participant find and keep a job, with up to £4,000 of funding available to provide each participant with training, help to manage health conditions or help for employers to make necessary accommodations to the person’s needs.


This service, announced in the spring budget and formally launched last week, aims to support those at risk of falling into long-term unemployment as a result of sickness or disability, through integrated work and health support. 

Integrated care systems across England will be supported to develop a localised work and health strategy, and then services will be provided in 15 pilot areas.


The announcement also includes action by the Department for Work and Pensions to introduce stricter benefits sanctions. It said benefits claimants who “refuse to engage with the Jobcentre will face having their claim closed”. 

It said universal credit claimants will not be able to be in 18 months of unemployment while receiving full benefits “if they have not taken every reasonable step to comply with Jobcentre support”.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said: “We’re serious about growing our economy and that means we must address the rise in people who aren’t looking for work – especially because we know so many of them want to – and with almost a million vacancies in the jobs market the opportunities are there.

“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.”

What do HR professionals and business groups think?

Tony Wilson, director of the Institute for Employment Studies, said the extension of the Restart Scheme by two years as well as the additional investment in IPS and new universal support was “welcome news”. 

But he noted that the “significant investment” risks being “drowned out by divisive rhetoric around ‘coasters’ who want to ‘take taxpayers for a ride’”.

“This sort of language just pushes people away – alienating those who could benefit from support, alienating employers and alienating partners like GPs and voluntary services,” he said.

"With more people out of work than before the pandemic and most of these not required to attend job centres in the first place, we need to make employment support more open, accessible and supportive – based on ‘you can’ rather than ‘you must’.

“Ironically, the substance of today’s announcements arguably get us closer to that point, but the language being used risks pushing us further away.”

Alex Veitch, director of policy and public affairs at the British Chambers of Commerce, said that, to grow the economy, “we must tap into the huge pool of people who want to work but need additional help and support to find suitable jobs”. 

“There are just under a million unfilled vacancies in the UK, and three quarters of businesses tell us they cannot get the staff they need,” he said. “This means firms cannot fulfil order books and are being forced to turn down new work.”

Consequently, the UK is facing a “vicious circle” where the “lack of people holds back growth and reduces opportunities for investment”, he added.   

“Plans to support people suffering ill health could make a real difference, but there must be a focus on getting them into work they want to do,” Veitch continued. “Getting this right could help fill hundreds of thousands of jobs and provide a big boost to the economy.”