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Saturday May 18, 2024

UK’s Sunak proposes tougher rules to combat ‘sick note culture’

Sunak sought to appeal to core Conservative voters by warning the current welfare bill was fiscally unsustainable

By Reuters
April 20, 2024
British PM Rishi Sunak. — AFP/File
British PM Rishi Sunak. — AFP/File

LONDON: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Friday the government would look to tighten rules for long-term sick leave in a bid to reverse a rise in the number of Britons who have permanently dropped out of the workforce.

Labour force participation among working-age Britons is its lowest since 2015, mainly due to a rise in long-term illness and a greater number of students, in contrast to other large, rich nations which have seen increased participation since 2020.

With his eyes firmly on a national election later this year, which polls show he is expected to lose, Sunak sought to appeal to core Conservative voters by warning the current welfare bill was fiscally unsustainable, and arguing that a ‘sicknote culture’ around mental health needed to be reined in.

“We need to be more ambitious about helping people back to work and more honest about the risk of over-medicalising the everyday challenges and worries of life,” he said in a speech in London.

Sunak said that, if re-elected, he would go further on welfare reform, including by empowering authorities to treat benefit fraud like tax fraud.

Some 9.4 million Britons aged 16 to 64 - 22 percent of that age group - are neither working nor unemployed, up from 8.55 million just before the pandemic, according to official data. Of those, 2.8 million are long-term sick and 206,000 are temporarily ill.

The opposition Labour Party, which has a double-digit lead in polls, said the Conservatives had failed to deliver either a healthy nation or a healthy economy and its own policies would tackle the root causes by driving down healthcare waiting lists.