RISHI Sunak has been accused of trying to “whip up fear” in a bid to win votes after a speech on social security reform stating “we need to change the sick note culture”.

The Prime Minister said he was on a “moral mission of reforming welfare to give everyone who can, the best possible chance of returning to work”.

He made a speech at the Centre for Social Justice, founded by former work and pension secretary and Tory leader, Iain Duncan Smith, the architect of Universal Credit.

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The Prime Minister said the number of people unable to work through ill health has risen since the pandemic, placing a burden on the welfare system.

Sunak said there are “critical questions about eligibility, about who should be entitled to support and what kind of support best matches their needs.”

He announced if the Tories retain power, they would “tighten up” work capability assessments in the next parliament.

He said the government would test shifting responsibility for assessments from GPs to “specialist work and health professionals”.

The speech has been met with anger from anti-poverty campaigners and SNP politicians.

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Peter Kelly, Poverty Alliance director, said: “Rishi Sunak is attempting to whip up fear, stigma and division in order to win votes. That’s deeply cynical.

“He and other political leaders have repeatedly failed to unlock this country’s vast wealth to strengthen our society and build a better future.

“Instead, they have weakened our health service and the other public services that we need for a strong and healthy country.”

He added: “A sick society makes people sick.”

Erica Young, Citizens Advice Scotland’s social justice policy officer, said: “There is a real risk this sort of language can create a culture of fear and put people off seeking any type of support, including the support offered in Scotland based on the principals of dignity, fairness and respect.

“The use of DWP contracted health assessors to determine capacity for work has been linked to suicide, self-harm and severe distress, which must not be replicated in changes to the fit note system”

The SNP meanwhile, said he was blaming the sick and disabled for his own failures.

David Linden Glasgow East MP, the SNP’s Social Justice spokesperson, said: “Rishi Sunak’s disgraceful attempt to blame his party’s appalling record in government on people who are sick and disabled made for grim watching.

“Instead of trying to pass the buck, his government should be boosting investment into the NHS and finding ways to deliver well-paid jobs, which will help to grow the economy and protect people’s health and household budgets.”