Coalition sets out welfare, work and health reforms

The Conservative-Lib Dem coalition government has been fleshing out the detail of its programme since its election in May, including new welfare reform laws and a pledge to extend the right to ask to work flexibly to all employees.

Within the Queen’s Speech on 25 May, the government unveiled a Welfare Reform Bill to “simplify the benefits system in order to improve work incentives”.

Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan-Smith has proposed replacing all existing welfare-to-work programmes with a single programme, and that all Employment Support Allowance (formerly Incapacity Benefit) claimants be reassessed for their readiness to work.

A Health Bill will also look at how NHS resources are commissioned and allocated.

While not within the legislative programme, the government is committed to “extend the right to request flexible working to all employees, consulting with business on how best to do so”. Currently this right to ask is only available to workers with children aged under 16 (or under 18 if disabled).

It has also pledged the creation of a “new public health service” that would include, among its measures, “revised incentives for GPs to prioritise preventative measures”.

It has pledged to overhaul health and safety laws and within its Coalition Agreement document has promised to provide “extra support for veteran mental health needs”, to reform the Access to Work disability support programme and provide “greater access to talking therapies to reduce long-term costs for the NHS”.

Joining Duncan-Smith at the Department for Work and Pensions (DwP) as ministers are Chris Grayling (employment), Steve Webb (pensions), Maria Miller (disabled people) and Lord Freud (welfare reform).

At the Department of Health, where Andrew Lansley is Secretary of State, the ministers are Simon Burns (who includes the NHS workforce within his portfolio), Paul Burstow (who will cover care services, mental health and disabilities, among others) and Anne Milton (covering public health, nursing and midwifery). In the Lords, Earl Howe will cover NHS commissioning and NICE, among other responsibilities.

Among a range of other moves, Sir Liam Donaldson has stepped down as chief medical officer for England, temporarily to be replaced by Professor Dame Sally Davies, and former health secretary Stephen Dorrell is taking over the chair of the influential Commons’ Health Select Committee.

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