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Incapacity Benefit Recipients

Volume 449: debated on Wednesday 19 July 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what steps the Department of Social Development has taken to assist those receiving incapacity benefits to get back into work in rural areas in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement. (86305)

The Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) helps employers fill vacancies and assists jobseekers to find employment through a network of 35 Jobs and Benefits offices (JBOs) and JobCentres located in towns and cities throughout Northern Ireland.

Within the JBOs, personal advisers carry out ‘work-focused interviews’ to help those on working age benefits, including incapacity benefit (IB), identify any barriers to work and encourage them to address these, assess ‘job-readiness’ and assist clients into work or training programmes or towards other support which will improve their options and capability for work. The process has recently been improved through the introduction of action plans for people who are ill, have a disability or are lone parents.

The Department has been piloting the Pathways to Work initiative in three areas (Ballymoney, Lurgan and Magherafelt) since 3 October 2005 and in Newtownabbey, Enniskillen and Newry since April 2006. The initiative builds on existing provision and offers early, sustained support from specially trained personal advisers with the aim of helping IB recipients consider a return to work. The support package includes innovative health rehabilitation programmes with a work focus, to help clients understand and manage their health condition. New financial incentives include a £40 a week return to work credit to help “make work pay” for those moving into a job paying less than £15,000 per annum.

The pilot will be expanded to a further four offices by the end of 2006, covering 30 per cent. of clients making a fresh claim to incapacity benefit. The choice of pilot locations has taken account of the rural/urban mix and the potential impacts on the client group in rural areas. It is recognised that the costs of attending mandatory interviews are likely to be greater for those living in rural areas so travel costs are paid and interviews are arranged at a time to suit the client.