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Pathways to Work

Volume 476: debated on Wednesday 21 May 2008

3. If he will make a statement on the implementation of the Pathways to Work Programme in Wales. (205951)

I welcome the pathways to work programme in Wales, which now extends beyond the original pilot areas of south-west Wales and the valleys to include the whole of Wales. Access to this personal support service across Wales is successfully helping those with health problems or disabilities to find and retain jobs.

The centre for disability studies at Wrexham’s new university has identified that the biggest challenge facing individuals who are not in work is the attitude of some employers towards people with disabilities. What more can the Government do to encourage employers in areas with powerful local economies, such as Wrexham, to do more to recognise the abilities of disabled people and to give them more opportunities to work?

I accept my hon. Friend’s point and we are committed to taking steps to help people with health problems and disabilities. I greatly welcome the work of the North East Wales Institute in that regard. Let me tell my hon. Friend and the House that in his constituency, in comparison with August 1999 and last year, there was a 9 per cent. reduction of claims for incapacity benefits. Many of those were disabled people who actually wanted to work and to get into the workplace; in an area like north-east Wales, which is thriving, they want to be able to add their contribution to society.

My right hon. Friend and his Cabinet colleagues will be aware of the concerns expressed by ex-servicemen and women in Wales when they end up on benefits. Will the pathways to work programme in Wales help such men and women as they face those hardships?

It most certainly will. My hon. Friend will understand that since its inception in December last year, the provider base pathways programme has seen more than 310 people finding a job in Wales. Some of them will have been in the category to which my hon. Friend refers and about 120 of them were in north and mid-Wales.

However, the pathways to work scheme in England is formally linked to the Department of Health’s own access to psychological therapies programme. What similar arrangements are in place in Wales for jobless people, particularly for those with mental problems, and what progress has been made in that respect?

The hon. Gentleman is right to refer to the English situation. In Wales, of course, where health is devolved, that is a matter for the Welsh Department of Health and Social Services, as well as the UK Government Department. I will make sure that I talk to Edwina Hart, the Welsh Health Secretary, about the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as a result of the pathways to work programme, incapacity benefit levels are falling in Wales for the first time in a generation? Does not that provide a stark contrast with the miserable record of the Tories, who tripled incapacity levels in Wales and elsewhere in Britain? Would it not be devastating if the Tories ever came back to attack people in Wales again?

Indeed it would. I think that I said in reply to the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) that people in Wales understand what it was like under a Conservative Government. It is not just the politicians who say that, as the chief executive of HSBC bank in Wales, Mr. Alan Jarman, recently said:

“We don’t have mass unemployment or inflation running rampant or interest rates responding to the ERM as we had then.”

Wales is a very different place and it is a better place because of the Labour Government over the last 10 years.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that many of the employment opportunities in Wales are on big industrial and business parks and that the key issue is how we connect people in high unemployment areas and wards to those job opportunities on those parks? Does he also agree that pathways to work, city strategy and Want2Work initiatives by the Government are helping to overcome the barriers of transport, child care and skills?

I do indeed. This Government and the Welsh Assembly Government must work together to ensure that people with particular skills—whether they are disabled or not—can take up jobs in the high-tech industries, especially in industrial and business parks throughout Wales.