Employment support launched for over a million people

New Back to Work Plan to help up to 1,100,000 people with long-term health conditions, disabilities or long-term unemployment to look for and stay in work

  • Additional support comes alongside tougher sanctions for people who don’t look for work, as part of the next generation of welfare reforms.
  • Includes exploring reforms of the fit note system, expansion of available treatment and employment support, and formal launch of the WorkWell service to help people start, stay and succeed in work.

The Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Mel Stride have unveiled their Back to Work Plan – a package of employment focused support that will help people stay healthy, get off benefits and move into work – as part of the Autumn Statement.

Building on the ambitious £7 billion employment package from Spring Budget the Chancellor is using his Autumn Statement to outline a new Back to Work Plan, which will expand the employment support and treatment available and reform the ways that people with disabilities or health conditions interact with the state.

Getting more people into work and ensuring work pays remains a key priority for the government. It is important for growing the UK economy, managing inflation, controlling spending, and improving living standards. Getting more people into good jobs is also good for those individuals and the best route out of poverty.

The government is boosting four key programmes – NHS Talking Therapies, Individual Placement and Support, Restart and Universal Support – to benefit up to 1.1 million people over the next five years and help those with mental or physical health conditions stay in or find work.

The new WorkWell service as announced at Spring Budget and delivered by the Departments for Work and Pensions and Health and Social Care is also being formally launched today and will support almost 60,000 long-term sick or disabled people to start, stay and succeed in work once rolled out in approximately 15 areas across England. The prospectus that will be launched in the coming weeks will provide information for all Integrated Care Systems across England to develop their localised work and health strategy.

Ministers are also planning to trial reforms to the fit note process to make it easier and quicker for people to get specialised work and health support, with improved triaging and signposting. Since the pandemic the number of people inactive in the UK due to long-term sickness or disability has risen by almost half a million to a record high of 2.6 million, with mental health, musculoskeletal conditions and heart disease being some of the main causes.

Stricter benefit sanctions will also be enforced by the Department for Work and Pensions for people who are able to work but refuse to engage with their Jobcentre or take on work offered to them. Benefit claimants who continue to refuse to engage with the Jobcentre will face having their claim closed. The latest published data shows that there were 300,000 people who had been unemployed for over a year in the three months to July.

The announcement today forms part of wider plans to grow the economy expected in the Autumn Statement on Wednesday 22 November. The Chancellor is set to reveal a raft of changes to get the UK economy growing including getting people back into work.

Chancellor of the Exchequer, 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."

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Mel Stride, said:

"We are rolling out the next generation of welfare reforms to help more people start, stay and succeed in work. We know the positive impact work can have, not just on our finances, but our health and wellbeing too.

"So we are expanding the voluntary support for people with health conditions and disabilities, including our flagship Universal Support programme.

"But our message is clear: if you are fit, if you refuse to work, if you are taking taxpayers for a ride – we will take your benefits away."

The plans announced today set out how the government will tackle long-term unemployment by supporting Universal Credit claimants to find work while strengthening work search requirements for job seekers through all stages of their Universal Credit claim. As a result of these reforms, no claimant should reach 18 months of unemployment in receipt of their full benefits if they have not taken every reasonable step to comply with Jobcentre support.

The plans to tackle long-term unemployment include:

  • Testing Additional Jobcentre Support in England and Scotland – testing how intensive support can help claimants into work who remain unemployed or on low earnings after 7 weeks into their Universal Credit claim.
  • Extending and expanding the Restart scheme in England and Wales for 2 years – expanding tailored, intensive support to people who have been on Universal Credit for more than 6 months rather than 9, helping them to tackle barriers to entering employment through coaching, CV and interview skills, and training. The scheme will be extended for two years until June 2026.
  • Introducing a claimant review point – Universal Credit claimants who are still unemployed after the 12-month Restart programme will take part in a claimant review point: a new process whereby a work coach will decide what further work search conditions or employment pathways would best support a claimant into work. If a claimant refuses to accept these new conditions without good reason, their Universal Credit claim will be closed.
  • Rolling out mandatory work placement trials – through the claimant review point, claimants who have not yet moved into work by the end of Restart will be required to accept a job or to undertake time-limited work experience or other intensive activity to improve their employability prospects. Failure to do so at this stage will lead to immediate sanction, with the full removal of the Universal Credit standard allowance.
  • Stricter sanctions for people who should be looking for work but aren’t – including targeting disengaged claimants by closing the claims of individuals on an open-ended sanction for over six months and solely eligible for the Universal Credit standard allowance, ending their access to additional benefits such as free prescriptions and legal aid; rooting out fraud and error using the government’s Targeted Case Review to review the Universal Credit claims of disengaged claimants on an open-ended sanction for over eight weeks, ensuring they receive the right entitlement; digital tools to track claimants’ attendance at job fairs and interviews.

Plans set out also include expanding key health and employment programmes, to benefit over half a million people over the next five years and help those with mental health conditions stay in or find work:

  • NHS Talking Therapies – increasing the number of people benefitting from courses of mental health treatment by an additional 384,000 people over the next five years and increasing the number of sessions available. NHS Talking Therapies provides evidence based psychological therapies including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), for treatment of mild and moderate mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety disorders.
  • Individual Placement and Support (IPS) – aiming to help an additional 100,000 people with severe mental illness to find and keep jobs over the next five years. IPS is an employment support programme integrated in community mental health services. IPS employment specialists: work with people accessing the service to find them 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; build relationships with employers to negotiate job opportunities.
  • Universal Support in England and Wales – matching 100,000 people per year with existing vacancies and supporting them in their new role, an increase on the 50,000 people outlined at Spring Budget, also helping people with disabilities and from vulnerable groups. Participants will access up to 12 months of personalised ‘place and train’ support. The individual will be supported by a dedicated keyworker 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.
  • WorkWell – The service announced at Spring Budget 2023 is being formally launched to Integrated Care Systems across England and will help support people at risk of falling into long-term unemployment due to 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 approximately 15 pilot areas.

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."

Kate Shoesmith, Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) Deputy Chief Executive, said:

"Today’s announcements will help the Restart scheme keep making a real difference to people’s work and life chances. It contributes to efforts to overcome our labour and skills shortages and to further growing our economy. Bringing public and private employment services together is vital to get people into work and not look back. Our own award-winning Restart scheme, which sees recruiters work with employability services provider Maximus, has helped place 1700 long-term unemployed people into work since 2021."

Additional information

Over next 5 years the following policies will have increased spaces of:

  • Talking Therapies: 384,000 
  • Individual Placement and Support: 100,000 
  • Universal Support: 187,500 

The extension of the Restart Scheme will also result in around 500,000 additional spaces over the two years.

  • The Back to Work Plan includes £2.5 billion of investment over the next five years - including over £300m of additional investment next year – and builds on the £7 billion package announced at this year’s Spring Budget, which included investment targeted at services for mental health, musculoskeletal conditions and cardiovascular disease.
  • The Barnett formula will apply in the normal way for the devolved administrations over the next five years.
  • Fit Note reform. The government will explore reforms of the fit note process to provide individuals whose health affects their ability to work with easy and rapid access to specialised work and health support. Rollout will begin with trailblazer trials in a small number of Integrated Care Boards, offering better triage, signposting and support to those who have received a fit note for a prolonged period of time. This will inform the launch of a consultation on reforms to improve the fit note process, better integrating it with easy and rapid work and health support. Primary care (GP surgeries) will continue to play an important role in supporting working age people where their health presents a barrier to work. But there is often pressure on the time and expertise needed to hold the work and health conversation effectively and direct people to the right support, which is why we are exploring reforms.
  • Sanctions measures. The government is announcing several measures to strengthen the current UC sanctions regime, to incentivise claimants to comply with their work search requirements and move into work.
  • Under the current Universal Credit sanctions regime, claimants subject to an open-ended sanction will have a deduction applied to their standard allowance until they re-comply with their requirements (e.g., attend a meeting with their work coach). If a claimant continues to dis-engage they will remain on the UC system and continue to be sanctioned.
  • The government is announcing two measures to address and penalise disengagement, and incentivise claimants to re-engage with Jobcentre support: closing claims of disengaged claimants after 6 months. Claims will be closed of individuals who are solely eligible for the standard allowance, meaning they are not receiving additional child, housing or disability Universal Credit payments. This means parents claiming the child element and receiving additional benefits like free school meals are not in scope of this measure and will not lose out. This is also the case for disabled claimants in receipt of the disability element of UC and receiving any additional benefits derived from their UC eligibility; investigating positive claims of disengaged claimants after 8-weeks through the existing Targeted Case Review. These claimants have a positive UC award, meaning they are in receipt of additional Universal Credit payments for childcare, housing, or disability. If a claimant is receiving an incorrect UC payment, their award will be corrected retrospectively and closed if appropriate. Suspected cases of fraud are shared with Counter Fraud teams for follow up. 
  • In addition, to improve the existing sanctions process, the government is delivering a new function in the Universal Credit service that allows a work coach to track a claimant’s attendance at DWP organised job interviews or job fairs. This tool will provide work coaches with better evidence on a claimant’s work search activities and ensure that claimants who do not attend mandatory appointments without a good reason, are sanctioned.


HM Treasury
Department for Work and Pensions
Department of Health and Social Care
Victoria Atkins MP
The Rt Hon Mel Stride MP
The Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP