Rishi Sunak vows to ‘end sick note culture’: how does that impact the disabled?

Photo of Rishi Sunak giving a speech in London regarding the disability reform bill
Photo of Rishi Sunak giving a speech in London regarding the disability reform bill (Photo from Alamy)

Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak announced his plans to reform the United Kingdom’s disability benefits system on Monday, April 29.

During his speech, which you can watch here, The Prime Minister says he wishes to overhaul the “one size fits all” approach to the UK benefits system.

He has said that the changes will include abolishing Personal Independence Payments (PIP) for everyone except people suffering from specific long-term illnesses diagnosed by a doctor.

This is believed to be motivated by the stark increase in UK citizens claiming PIP for mental health conditions like anxiety or depression since the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020, as outlined in this GOV.uk release. 

Rishi Sunak believes this overhaul is a “moral mission” to improve the lives of disabled Britons.

Lu Young, 22, who has Type 1 diabetes explains how they feel about this goal to end so-called ‘sick note culture’. “Luckily I have only had one or two instances with my diabetes where I have thought ‘wow I could die right now’ but a lot of people struggle much more than me. I think the UK Government is a joke because there is no support for barely any disabilities, let alone diabetes itself.”

They gave some insight into the experiences of those close to them too: “I have a friend who also struggles with diabetes and she received a letter from the NHS essentially accusing her of falsely claiming to need free prescriptions, which is insane considering how poorly she is.”

Lu has fortunately never had to deal with accusatory letters, but they have also never received any kind of Government assistance due to their disability.

This has led them to have a somewhat jaded view of the way their condition is handled in the real world: “I can normally suck it up and deal with my diabetes, I’m used to my body now, but in the summer I get really bad (hypo) hypoglycaemia because I sweat more and my blood sugars fluctuate.

“I had to take two weeks off University because of how poorly I was, I didn’t go off sick officially nor did I get any sort of sick pay or support for my diabetes and I never have.”

They outlined that they feel as though they have already experienced the reality of what Rishi Sunak is planning to implement before it was ever announced.

As a long-time sufferer of diabetes, Lu has never gone through PIP or any other kind of disability support, but one thing they have relied on throughout their life as a working citizen is the cushioning of sick notes and “Sick-Note Culture.”

Rishi Sunak made it clear in his speech that he wants it to end, going as far as to propose that GPs abilities to provide sick notes may be revoked.

“The fact that Rishi Sunak felt the need to bring up sick notes while giving that speech makes me laugh, because he has clearly never lived in the real world because people need sick notes,” Lu responded.

They feel as though there is not enough of an element of understanding when it comes to the real struggles the disabled and the working classes face in everyday life.

They said: “People can’t be all go 100 per cent every day, especially in working-class culture. There is less money, fewer resources and a more narrow avenue to be completely up and ready to go; he doesn’t know what it’s like to struggle in the same way.

“As well as my diabetes, I have a lot of chronic pain, and there’s a lack of resources for the GPs as it is right now.”

Motivated by the increase in mental health awareness after Lockdown, Rishi Sunak believes that fit people need to go to work.

But Lu offers a more sympathetic stance: “I’m speaking solely from experience with diabetes, but this can be applied to almost any disability I think, we are three times more likely to have mental disorders like anxiety or depression, and for Sunak to introduce this in the middle of a mental health crisis is awful.”

“Taking those sick notes away is not going to better anybody’s work ethic, it is just going to cause more people to quit their jobs and go on Universal Credit because they physically can’t cope. Or people are going to get more and more mentally ill, trapped in the rat race with literally no escape, whether they need it or not.”

“It will follow the formula of ‘I can’t get the help that I need because I can’t afford it, I can’t get the time off of work but I also can’t get a sick note, and then because I can’t get a sick note, I don’t get sick pay and I can’t afford to survive’. People already feel like that, let alone how it will be when this is all implemented.”

While all of the steps of this reform have not yet been carried out, we will have to wait and see what the real end result will be.