Rishi Sunak pledges welfare reform as he hits new lows in the polls

Rishi Sunak will pledge to end Britain’s “sick note culture” as he seeks to bring his party back from a 40-year polling low amid further sleaze allegations.

In a speech later today the Prime Minister will unveil a range of reforms to the welfare system aimed at tackling the rise of economic inactivity in the UK.

It aims to tackle concerns that people are being unnecessarily written off work and put on welfare, as part of five key reforms to modernise the welfare state.

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Areas such as Barnsley in Yorkshire have some of the highest levels of economic inactivity due to long-term sickness in the country.

Rishi Sunak speaking during Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) in the House of Commons.Rishi Sunak speaking during Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) in the House of Commons.
Rishi Sunak speaking during Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) in the House of Commons.

NHS data suggests that around 10 million notes signing people off as “not fit for work” were issued last year.

Mr Sunak is expected to announce a review of the current system to replace it with one that focuses on what people can do with support, rather than what they can’t.

Ministers will also consider taking the responsibility for this away from GPs in order to ease their workload, meaning that specialist work and professionals will do the assessments, with a call for evidence expected later today.

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“We don’t just need to change the sick note, we need to change the sick note culture so the default becomes what work you can do – not what you can’t,” Mr Sunak is expected to say.

Over half of the 2.8 million people who are economically inactive due to long-term sickness reported that they had depression, bad nerves or anxiety.

Downing Street said that people having anxiety of depression as their main condition was driving an unsustainable increase in welfare spending through disability benefits

The speech, seen as an attempt to revitalise Mr Sunak’s premiership and economic credentials ahead of next month’s local elections and the general election later in the year, comes as his party hits a record low in the opinion polls.

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Research by Ipsos suggests that the Conservatives have dropped to 19 points in the national polls, 25 points behind Labour and only 6 points ahead of Reform UK.

The pollster said that it constituted the Tories’ lowest ever polling across 45 years of surveys.

Separate polling by J.L. Partners found that the average age that British voters become more likely to vote Conservative than Labour has risen from 39 at the last election to 70 years old.

The research comes as the Conservatives were this week embroiled in another sleaze scandal in Lancashire, as Mark Menzies, the Tory MP for Fylde, lost the party whip and was suspended as one of Mr Sunak’s trade envoys following an investigation by The Times.

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The paper reported that he had used political donations to cover medical expenses and pay off “bad people” who had locked him in a flat and demanded thousands of pounds for his release.

Mr Menzies disputes the allegations, and the Conservative Party has said it is looking into the claims and takes them seriously.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called for police involvement, telling broadcasters on Thursday: “There are obviously a lot of unanswered questions in relation to these allegations, not least why it seems the Conservative Party took so long to act and whether they’ve reported this to the police, who, it seems to me, should be involved in this.”

The allegations come as the Conservatives attempted to make their own allegations of misconduct stick against Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, who is reportedly being investigated by a dozen police officers amid allegations of impropriety over her housing situation.