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Jo Rust slams Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement plans to clamp down on benefits

The Chancellor’s plans to limit access to benefits for the long-term unemployed have been met with fierce criticism from a Trades Council figure who feels they will “punish” people suffering with health problems.

In his Autumn Statement on Wednesday, Jeremy Hunt confirmed that welfare will rise in line with inflation at levels of 6.7%.

He did, however, says it is "wrong" that thousands of people are claiming benefits without any requirement to look for work – and therefore introduced what he described as “the biggest set of welfare reforms in a decade”.

Jo Rust, secretary of the Lynn and District Trades Union Council
Jo Rust, secretary of the Lynn and District Trades Union Council

These will include stricter fit-to-work tests in a bid to get 200,000 more people into work across the country.

However, Jo Rust – speaking in her role as secretary of the Lynn and District Trades Union Council – believes clamping down on people suffering with physical and mental health issues is unfair.

Under the Government’s plans, people with mobility and mental health problems will be told to look for work they can carry out at home from 2025 onwards.

Meanwhile, there will be sanctions for those who can work but choose not to – and £2.5billion will be spent on a project to get more people back into employment.

However, Mrs Rust said: “Our welfare system is well overdue for an overhaul and this would have been the perfect opportunity to do so. Instead the Chancellor has used it as a chance to once again punish those who have most suffered under 13 years of Conservative rule.

“Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement, announced yesterday (Wednesday), will see the record 2.5million working age people who have long term health conditions or disabilities that make their participation in the job market unlikely, live in fear of having vital free medication and discounted bus travel withdrawn from them.

“This will lead to worsening health conditions and so an even greater demand on the already stretched NHS. These statements seek to make people with disabilities ‘the other’ as if the state of our country is directly down to the fact they receive welfare payments.

“This is not true. There are many millions of pounds more lost in tax avoidance than in welfare fraud. Only 0.7% of welfare payments are fraudulent, which equates to £1.2bn a year.

“So, while on the face of it I know some will agree with Hunt’s announcement and view it as common sense, I look at it very differently.”

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has said that Mr Hunt’s welfare reforms could increase employment numbers by up to 50,000 over the next five years.

Achieving this will be attempted through methods such as having benefit claimants who fail to find work for more than 18 months carry out work experience placements.

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