In a significant blow to efforts to support disabled individuals in finding employment, the £100 million Work and Health Programme in England and Wales is set to be terminated this autumn, providers have revealed.

This decision comes amidst Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s push to curtail disability benefits, aiming to compel 420,000 sick and disabled individuals into the workforce—a move criticised by charities, who argue it will plunge people into destitution.

The demise of the Work and Health Programme coincides with Prime Ministerial plans to transfer authority to non-medically trained officials to determine employees’ health statuses.

Critics fear that such decisions may prioritise meeting targets over genuine clinical needs, potentially exacerbating challenges for disabled workers.

Charities have condemned Sunak’s proposals as an outright attack on disabled individuals, particularly following his announcement of a consultation regarding the future of the Personal Independence Payment (PIP), a crucial resource for covering additional expenses associated with disabilities or ill health.

A “sicknote culture”

Sunak contends that Britain suffers from a “sicknote culture,” laying blame on what he perceives as an issue of “young people … parked on welfare.” However, data from the Resolution Foundation indicates that the majority of those receiving statutory sick pay are women over 50 working part-time, challenging Sunak’s characterisation.

The Work and Health Programme, initiated in November 2017 with partial EU funding, was designed to facilitate the voluntary integration of disabled individuals into the workforce. By November 2023, the program had assisted 300,000 people, with a notable 31 percent remaining employed after two years—a testament to its efficacy in supporting disabled workers.

Elizabeth Taylor, Chief Executive of the Employment Related Services Association, representing providers of the Work and Health Programme, emphasised the significant gap in support that its termination will create, leaving many disabled individuals without vital assistance in securing employment.

What does the future of disability provision look like?

The closure of the Work and Health Programme has raised concerns about the future of disability provision in the UK, particularly given the lack of alternative programs to fill the void. Gareth Parry, a director at Maximus UK, one of the providers, highlighted the unprecedented absence of specialised disability support since 2000, underscoring the potential ramifications of this decision.

Stephen Timms, Chair of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, echoed these concerns, emphasising the pressing need for continued support for disabled individuals, especially in light of rising health-related benefit claims and labour market shortages.

Sunak’s proposals also include stripping general practitioners (GPs) of their authority to issue sick notes, instead introducing non-clinical “work and health advisors” to conduct assessments.

Delays in disabled people having access to support

However, doubts persist regarding the feasibility and effectiveness of this approach, with fears that it may lead to delays in accessing vital support for those unable to work due to illness or disability.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has defended its broader strategy, emphasising a £2.5 billion Back to Work Plan aimed at breaking down barriers to employment for over a million people, including those with disabilities and long-term health conditions. However, critics argue that the termination of the Work and Health Programme represents a significant setback in efforts to support disabled individuals in the workforce, raising urgent questions about the government’s commitment to inclusivity and support for vulnerable populations.





Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.