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Benefit Payments

Volume 481: debated on Monday 20 October 2008

3. If he will commission research on the effect on benefit payments of provision to patients with rheumatoid arthritis of treatment that enables them to continue in or return to work. (227674)

Although we have no plans for specific research on people with arthritis, the Department of Health and the Medical Research Council carry out a range of research projects concerned with arthritis and other rheumatic disease, and I will work closely with my ministerial colleagues on the work and health agenda.

Is the Minister aware of a recent report finding that diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis are responsible for the loss of 9.5 million working days a year, at a cost to society of more than £7 billion? Has the Minister or his Department had a conversation with the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence to help ensure that the broad costs to society are looked at and that those suffering from this terrible disease are given the necessary drugs and treatment at an early stage so they can carry on working and living normal lives?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. I am sure that she will be aware that Arthritis Care presented a report to MPs in Westminster just a few weeks ago, which expressed concern about people with arthritis—both those in work and those looking for employment. We have, of course, doubled Access to Work, which could be of assistance to that group of people and we have also invested £1.1 billion in pathways to work to assist disabled people to find work. I am certainly happy to discuss this issue and the report I mentioned from Arthritis Care to find other ways to assist these people either to stay in work or to find work.

Rheumatoid arthritis particularly affects people in the workplace. Many people with RA wish to continue normal work, but barriers often prevent them from working as normal. Can the Minister commit to using private and voluntary sector back-to-work programmes in addition to Government ones?

I can certainly commit to ensuring that a range of providers, in the public, private or voluntary sector, operate in the pathways to work programme. It is important to have systems in place to allow entrepreneurs, particularly those in the smaller niche charities, to deal with individuals’ specific concerns and conditions so that we can meet our target of taking 1 million people off incapacity benefit.