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Welfare Reform

Volume 455: debated on Monday 8 January 2007

7. What steps he is taking to ensure that welfare reform does not penalise (a) jobseekers and (b) claimants with mental health problems. (113153)

Our welfare reform policies are about providing people with the skills and support they need to return to work as soon as they are able to do so. Everyone will be treated as an individual and with sensitivity—no one will be forced to work at the expense of their health. The underlying principle of the reform is that rights should be balanced with responsibilities.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. In Hackney South and Shoreditch, we have the second highest number of incapacity benefit claimants of any London constituency, with 63 per cent. under 50, a high number of whom have mental health problems. Recently, I met some of those claimants, who have two main concerns: first, the time scale requirements for coming off welfare and going into work, which many of them want to do; and, secondly, the expertise of front-line staff at Jobcentre Plus. Can my hon. Friend answer those concerns for me and my constituents?

My hon. Friend makes a valuable point in highlighting the high percentage of people with mental and behavioural conditions who make up the IB case load. The number may not be as high across the country as it is in her constituency, but the current case load is about 40 per cent. We are conscious of the fact that people with fluctuating conditions, such as mental health conditions, need the right advice and support at the right time, as well as recognition that, as my hon. Friend indicated, there will be occasions when a job opportunity may not work. We have to make sure that we reinforce the support we give to those who find themselves in that position.

What practical steps is the Minister taking for co-ordination with the Department of Health and mental health trusts in view of the evidence that has emerged from Lord Layard and others that the introduction of more psychotherapy would greatly increase the ability to work and reduce calls on benefits?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue, as it allows me to say that DWP Ministers and the appropriate Ministers at the Department of Health are working closely on those matters, and not only at ministerial level—our officials recognise the importance of co-ordinating our approach, because we all share the ambition to ensure that as many people as possible, particularly those who have suffered from mental health conditions for a long time, should have the opportunity to move into work.

I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware of the number of scare stories circulating about the implementation of the Welfare Reform Bill and about the Bill’s implications, particularly for people with mental health conditions. Will she take this opportunity to reiterate the fact that no person will be forced to have medical intervention to avoid their benefits being cut?

I am delighted to be given the opportunity to confirm what my hon. Friend has said. My hon. Friend the Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform and I confirmed it in Committee, and I am delighted to do so again on the Floor of the House.