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Social Exclusion

Volume 465: debated on Tuesday 23 October 2007

17. Whether the public service agreement for social exclusion is intended to improve access to employment for the most socially excluded adults. (159745)

Helping more of the most excluded adults to obtain a job as well as a home is a key priority across government through the socially excluded adults public service agreement.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. There is a particular difficulty with people who have chronic psychiatric problems. Will she tell the House what action she is taking to get those individuals back into the workplace and to educate employers about the benefits of employing those people?

My hon. Friend has a long track record of speaking up for that group of people, and I share his view that a home and a job are an important part of getting them back on track. I can offer him some good news. Through pathways to work, we are giving people assistance to manage their condition. We are also helping them through the increasingly successful local employment partnerships, involving more than 100 companies such as M&S, Sainsbury’s and Tesco, which want to see such individuals skilled and ready to work and are prepared to offer them work. In addition, there is the recently announced jobs pledge, through which we will work closely with employers to get about 250,000 of the most disadvantaged people into work.

The Minister will be aware that, since 1997, the number of people living in severe poverty has increased by 600,000, that working-age poverty has increased and that the number of young people not in work or full-time education has risen by 20 per cent. Perhaps we should therefore not be surprised that, last week, the Government decided not to publish their usual annual Opportunity for All report. Instead, they simply slipped out the bare indicators on the Department for Work and Pensions website with as little fanfare as possible. Was last Thursday thought to be a particularly good day to bury bad news?

The figures have been published and they are on the website, which is open and available to everyone. I do not recognise the position that the right hon. Gentleman describes. We have more people in work and in decent homes than ever before; we have lifted 600,000 children out of poverty; and we have seen major increases in income and educational achievement. The whole point about the public service agreement is that it is a Government commitment to go even further.

Does my hon. Friend agree that people who suffer from epilepsy are particularly discriminated against in the workplace? Anything that we can do to help people suffering from that dreadful illness would be gratefully received.

I share my hon. Friend’s concern. I would like to emphasise something that I know my hon. Friend supports: we are working closely with employers through a particular programme to overcome the stigma that exists and to encourage understanding of such conditions.

Is my hon. Friend aware that people with learning disabilities and those on the autistic spectrum are often the most excluded from employment, yet when they get into the right work, they can be the most loyal and most effective of workers? What more can we do to help that group of people to identify the right employment opportunities and get into work?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. It is true that those who have been most excluded sometimes have a lot to offer. The challenge for us is not primarily about job opportunities—on any given day, there are some 660,000 vacancies—but the fact that we need to raise the game in skills, training and support that can be tailored to individuals such as those identified by my hon. Friend.