In this year’s Autumn statement, the Chancellor announced a series of measures designed to “ensure work pays” and help “businesses access the talent they need”. We summarise below the key employment and immigration announcements and the expected timescale for the changes.
Employment: Back to Work Plan
The government’s “Back to Work Plan” took centre stage in the Autumn Statement, with £2.5 billion in funding allocated to tackle sickness-related inactivity and help people look for and stay in work.
The plan is designed to address the record 2.6 million people who are now economically inactive due to long-term sickness and disability, a figure almost half a million higher than before the pandemic.
Significant measures announced include:
Reform of fit notes
A wholesale reform of the fit note process is on the horizon. The government has announced that “Trailblazer trials” will take place in a small number of areas in England to test changes to make referrals to health and employment services easier and improve digital access.
The changes will include trigger points for referrals and a redesigned fit note form, with an emphasis on treatment rather than time off work. A 2024 consultation will delve into broader fit note reforms designed to provide individuals with rapid access to specialised support to facilitate their return to work.
Expansion to Occupational Health (OH) services
In response to the recent “Occupational Health: Working Better” consultation, an expert group will guide the establishment of a voluntary OH framework in England, Scotland, and Wales. This framework will stipulate the minimum OH intervention required to improve employee health, accompanied by efforts to promote best practices among employers.
Mental health support
In a bid to combat the 35% increase in economic inactivity due to mental health between 2019 and 2023, the government has boosted funding for Individual Placement and Support (IPS) for Severe Mental Illness. This service, embedded in community mental health teams, aids individuals in starting and sustaining employment.
Expansion of Universal Support placements
The government has announced that it will double the number of placements available on the Universal Support programme to 100,000. The programme provides support of up to £4,000 per participant and aims to match long-term sick and disabled work seekers with suitable vacancies based on their strengths and preferences.
National Minimum Wage uplift: From 1 April 2024, the NLW will increase by 9.8% to £11.44 per hour, with the age threshold lowered to 21 years.
Reduction in National Insurance Contributions (NICs): With effect from 6 January 2024, the main rate of Class 1 employee NICs will reduce from 12% to 10%.
Pensions: A consultation will take place on a simplified lifetime provider pensions model which would give individuals the right to have one pension pot for life. Employers would be obliged to pay pension contributions into employees’ existing pension when they start a new job.
Apprenticeships funding: A £50 million investment will be made into the development of a two-year apprenticeship pilot designed to examine the barriers to entry for high-value apprenticeships in engineering and other “growth sectors”.
Changes to business visitor visas
From January 2024, the UK’s short-term business visitor visa will be changed to broaden and clarify the activities that can be undertaken in an intra-corporate setting, with wider coverage for the legal services sector and simplified arrangements for those undertaking paid engagements.
The government has also stated that in 2024, it will explore further improvements to the business visitor regime and the potential for enhanced provisions linked to trade negotiations.
Expansion of the Youth Mobility Scheme
The government has stated that it expects to expand the Youth Mobility Scheme in 2024. This temporary visa category allows young people from countries including Japan, South Korea, Canada, New Zealand and Australia to live and work in the UK for up to two years without the need for sponsorship from a UK employer.
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