*** ----> Sunak vows to end 'sick note culture' as UK election looms | THE DAILY TRIBUNE | KINGDOM OF BAHRAIN

Sunak vows to end 'sick note culture' as UK election looms

AFP | London                                                        

The Daily Tribune – www.newsofbahrain.com

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak unveiled planned welfare reforms Friday to end Britain's "sick note culture", in an apparent pitch to keep his beleaguered Conservatives in power at an election due this year.

Sunak said the reforms were needed to tackle an unprecedented rise in economic inactivity and ensure benefits are better targeted, but they were immediately criticised by doctors and charities.

Just months out from an expected general election, the issue of people allegedly not working is traditionally safe political territory for Sunak's embattled pro-business party that likes to depict its rivals as big-spenders.

The Conservatives have trailed the Labour opposition by double-digit margins in opinion polls for nearly two years, amid widespread economic woes, a cost-of-living crisis and Tory infighting.

"We need to change the sick note culture so that the default becomes what work you can do, not what you can't," Sunak told an audience in London.

Official statistics show the proportion of people not working in the UK due to chronic illnesses has soared this decade, with analysts warning it is putting pressure on the economy.

There are currently 2.8 million people who are "economically inactive" due to long-term sickness, a near-record high.

Sunak said the budget for benefits for working age people with a disability or health condition had ballooned to £69 billion ($86 billion) and now outpaced spending on schools.

He noted recent National Health Service figures showing 11 million so-called fit notes were issued last year, with 94 percent of recipients designated unfit to work.

Sunak outlined five areas of reform, including being "more ambitious in assessing people's potential for work" and  doing more to stop workers becoming welfare recipients.

That will include a review of how medical notes designating people unfit for work are issued, which could see responsibility for them shifted from doctors to "specialist work and health professionals".

He vowed to change other rules so that anyone working less than half a full-time week must try to find extra work in return for claiming benefits.

The UK leader also announced a consultation on how to be "more precise" about the type and severity of mental health conditions that are eligible for financial support.

Lastly, he pledged new legislation to treat benefit fraud like tax fraud.

Doctors union the British Medical Association accused Sunak of "hostile rhetoric" while disability charity Scope called the proposed reforms "a full-on assault on disabled people".