Press Releases

PRESS RELEASE : New £64 million plan to help people stay in work [May 2024]

The press release issued by the Department for Work and Pensions on 7 May 2024.

‘WorkWell’ pilots to provide tailored support for people in their local area so people can stay and progress in work.

  • 15 areas including Greater Manchester, South Yorkshire, and Cornwall to become part of new £64 million pilot to deliver joined-up work and health support
  • Builds on welfare reform package to tackle inactivity as fit note process to be integrated with WorkWell

A new work and health support service will be rolled out across 15 areas of England as part of the Government’s plan to help people with health conditions back to work, the Work and Pensions Secretary has confirmed today (Tuesday 7 May).

The WorkWell pilots – launched by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) – will connect 59,000 people from October to local support services including physiotherapy and counselling so they can get the tailored help they need to stay in or return to work.

It comes after the Prime Minister announced a sweeping package of welfare reforms to modernise the benefit system and help thousands more people into work, including a review of fit notes to consider how to relieve pressure on GPs and deliver personalised work and health plans that prevent people from falling out of work and onto long-term sickness benefits.

The WorkWell service provides a single, joined-up assessment and gateway into both employment support and health services locally to help people manage their conditions and to identify workplace adjustments or support that would enable them to stay in work or return sooner.

Participants do not need to be claiming any Government benefits and will receive personalised support from a Work and Health Coach to understand their current health and social barriers to work and draw up a plan to help them overcome them. Evidence shows that work is an effective way to improve wellbeing – reducing the risk of depression, improving physical health, and building self-confidence and financial independence.

Work and Pensions Secretary, Mel Stride MP, said:

We are rolling out the next generation of welfare reforms so that thousands more people can gain all the benefits work brings.

Too many today are falling out of work in a spiral of sickness that harms their finances, their prospects and ultimately their health, where with the right workplace adjustments and help, this needn’t be the case.

And so we have designed WorkWell, a groundbreaking new service, that will for the first time integrate health and work advice at the local level, as part of our plan to stem the flow into economic inactivity, grow the economy, and change lives for the better.

Health and Social Care Secretary, Victoria Atkins MP, said:

Too often, people with disabilities or poor health fall out of work with no support.

We have a plan to change that and improve lives so everyone has the opportunity to find fulfilling work. This service will help tens of thousands of people, who will receive joined-up work and health support, tailored to their individual needs.

This service, alongside a faster, simpler and fairer health service, will build a healthier workforce, and a stronger economy.

WorkWell is for anyone with a health condition or disability, including mental health conditions, who wants to work. It is a voluntary service, so people will be able to self-refer, or may be referred to WorkWell through their GP, employer or the community sector.

These professionals will also provide advice on workplace adjustments, such as flexible working or adaptive technology, facilitate conversations with employers on health needs, and provide access to local services such as physiotherapy, employment advice and counselling.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said:

It is fantastic that 15 ICSs can now start to get their WorkWell plans off the ground to provide more intensive, early-intervention support to their populations.

ICS leaders know that with the right support, people living with poor health and long-term conditions can find that good quality work helps prevent them from becoming more unwell. This helps people to live a fuller life, which in turn reduces pressure on health services.

It comes as latest figures show there are currently 2.8 million people who are ‘economically inactive’ due to long-term sickness, a near-record high. The fit note process is often the first step to someone falling out of work and into inactivity and data recently published by the NHS shows almost 11 million fit notes were issued last year, with an overwhelming 94% of those signed “not fit for work”.

A large proportion of these are repeat fit notes which are issued without any advice, resulting in a missed opportunity to help people get the appropriate support they may need to remain in work.

To address this, the Prime Minister announced a review of the fit note system to stop people being written off as “not fit for work” by default and instead design a new system where each fit note conversation focuses on what people can do with the right support in place, rather than what they can’t do.

As part of the call for evidence, we are also testing reforms of the fit note process to integrate it more closely with WorkWell, enabling the people who need it to have a work and health conversation, with a single, joined-up assessment and gateway into local employment support services.

Some WorkWell pilots are in areas of the country with some of the highest number of fit notes issued, like Greater Manchester and the Black Country where a combined total of over one million fit notes were issued last year.

We are also rolling out “fit note trailblazers” in some of the WorkWell pilot areas to ensure people who request a fit note have a work and health conversation and are signposted to local employment support services so they can remain in work. The trailblazers will trial better ways of triaging, signposting, and supporting people looking to receive a fit note and will be used to test a transformed process to help prevent people with long term health conditions falling out of work, including referral to support through their local WorkWell service.

This builds on the record £16 billion worth of mental health support we offered last year, as well an extra 384,000 people accessing NHS Talking Therapies as part of the Government’s £2.5 billion Back to Work Plan. We are delivering the largest expansion in mental health services in a generation with almost £5 billion of extra funding over the past 5 years, and a near doubling of mental health training places to help cut waiting lists.

Covering a third of Integrated Care Boards across England, the success of the pilot will inform the possible future rollout of a national WorkWell service dedicated to stemming the flow of people falling out of work due to ill health where the right adjustments and support could prevent this.

This is a key part of the Government’s £2.5 billion Back to Work Plan, to help up to 1.1 million people with long-term health conditions, disabilities and long-term unemployment to look for and stay in work. In addition to reforming the fit note process and expanding NHS Talking Therapies, the Back to Work Plan includes the launch of Universal Support to match 100,000 people to job vacancies, and expanding the Restart scheme to give people the skills they need to progress.

The Government’s wide-ranging welfare reforms also include changes to the Work Capability Assessment which are expected to reduce the number of people put onto the highest tier of incapacity benefits by 424,000 by 2028/29 – people who will now receive personalised support to prepare for work, while our Chance to Work Guarantee will mean people can try work without fear of losing their benefits.

There is a near record level of people on company payrolls, up by over 200,000 since last year, wages have risen for nine months in a row, and economic inactivity is still lower than in the US, France and Italy.

The rollout of Universal Credit will also be accelerated to move all those left on outdated legacy systems onto a simpler, more dynamic benefit system which eliminates a binary choice between work and welfare. And we will change the rules so that over 180,000 Universal Credit claimants will be given more frequent access to the expertise and guidance of work coaches, as a result of laying regulations to increase the Administrative Earnings Threshold.

Further Information

WorkWell pilots will take place within the following areas:

  1. Birmingham and Solihull
  2. Black Country
  3. Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire
  4. Cambridgeshire and Peterborough
  5. Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly
  6.  Coventry and Warwickshire
  7. Frimley
  8. Herefordshire and Worcestershire
  9. Greater Manchester
  10. Lancashire and South Cumbria
  11. Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland
  12. North Central London
  13. North West London
  14. South Yorkshire
  15. Surrey Heartlands

Each of the 15 WorkWell pilots will decide the exact support to be made available that’s best suited to the needs of their local area.

The total number of Fit Notes issued in each area last year:

Integrated Care Board Total FN issued
(Jan – Dec 2023)
Birmingham and Solihull 334,072
Black Country 310,812
Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire 191,192
Cambridgeshire and Peterborough 137,566
Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly 95,934
Coventry and Warwickshire 243,508
Frimley 112,259
Herefordshire and Worcestershire 150,606
Greater Manchester 744,442
Lancashire and South Cumbria 455,436
Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland 192,650
North Central London 262,733
North West London 348,112
South Yorkshire 322,958
Surrey Heartlands 130,341

An example WorkWell user journey:

  • The user is employed but their chronic back pain and depression means that they have been signed off work and are considering stopping altogether, leaving them financially vulnerable.
  • They are referred to WorkWell by their GP, employer, or local service.
  • They meet with a Work and Health Coach for a work and health assessment to understand their health and social barriers to work and develop a plan to overcome them.
  • They are signposted to in-house WorkWell services – four sessions with a physiotherapist, a meeting with a counsellor, and a meeting with a Human Resource Advisor for employment advice.
  • Their plan also includes referrals to other relevant local services that will enable them to overcome their barriers to work. This includes training opportunities to help them explore new career opportunities; social prescription to a support group tackling loneliness; and speaking to Citizens Advice Bureau for financial advice.
  • Thanks to their plan, they can remain in work and continue to meet with their WorkWell Work and Health Coach, who checks in on their progress and offers further work and health advice as needed.