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Inactive Benefits

Volume 458: debated on Monday 12 March 2007

There are more people in work in the UK than ever before. There are also 900,000 fewer people on out-of-work benefits compared with a decade ago. However, there is more we can do, which is the purpose of the Welfare Reform Bill and, of course, the Freud review.

What is my hon. Friend’s view on the proposals in the Freud report to do more for the existing group of people on long-term incapacity benefit by extending obligations for them to participate in work-related activities, as long as that is supported? The proposals currently cover new claimants only.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. David Freud has suggested an innovative and imaginative way of supporting existing incapacity benefit customers. The core point is that no one should ever be written off, which has happened for so long in our welfare system. One in six current incapacity benefit customers have dependent children, so there is a real opportunity to lift those families out of poverty.

Will the Minister answer the question which the Secretary of State ducked when the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) posed it earlier? Why is it that when the Government claim such success on employment levels and the number of people who are actually in work, the number of people who are inactive but of working age has barely changed over the past decade?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has answered that question on three separate occasions. In case the hon. Lady missed the answer on every one of those occasions, there are 900,000 fewer people on out-of-work benefits than there were when her party was in power. To break it down, that equates to 250 people on every single day for the past decade leaving benefits and entering work to provide for their families, which is real success.

Will my hon. Friend ensure that the quality of the medicals that incapacity benefit claimants must undergo as part of the welfare to work process is very good, because yet another case was raised with me by a constituent over the weekend? My constituent has been unable to work because of a disease so serious that I cannot pronounce it. The doctor who undertook the medical for that young lady failed to recognise any of the well documented and serious symptoms, which means that my constituent must use the appeal process in order to pursue her claim for benefit. Can the medicals that are provided to claimants be improved?

We can improve the medical procedures to support incapacity benefit customers, particularly when we review the personal capability assessment, which is part of the architecture that supports the Welfare Reform Bill. Incapacity benefit assessments have not kept pace with the changing nature of disability in this country—for example, there has been a big increase in those who report a fluctuating mental health condition, and attitudes in society have changed towards people with a learning disability and their role in the place of work. Supporting people with learning disabilities to have a chance to play a meaningful role in the workplace can be an important part of the revision to which my hon. Friend has referred.