A number of steps have been taken to reduce levels of unemployment among disabled people since 2001.
In July 2001 the new deal for disabled people was launched. This is a programme of advice and practical support, which helps people move from disability and health-related benefits into paid employment. The programme is delivered through a network of 'job brokers' offering different services, which can be tailored to a customer's individual needs.
December 2007 saw the introduction of Pathways to Work in the West Yorkshire district, which includes the Leeds, West constituency. This programme helps claimants of incapacity benefits or employment and support allowance get work by offering individual support and access to a wide range of help, including work-focused interviews.
The public consultation “Helping People Achieve their Full Potential: Improving Specialist Disability Employment Services” was launched on 3 December 2007 to help shape the future of specialist disability employment provision. The new programme, Work Choice, which replaces existing specialist disability employment programmes, will be introduced in October 2010.
Employment and support allowance replaced incapacity benefits for new customers nationally on 27 October 2008. Employment and support allowance has a greater work-focus than its predecessors. It also has a more modern and robust medical assessment, which helps to identify the help that people need to ensure they can fulfil their potential.
Access to Work is a specialist disability programme that helps disabled people overcome work-related obstacles. It is flexible, easy to access and shows high levels of satisfaction from disabled people and their employers. The Access to Work base budget has been increased from £15 million in 1994-95 to £81 million in 2009-10 and will continue to grow to £138 million by 2013-14. We are also working to improve the programme to ensure it helps people with mental health conditions more effectively.
The refreshed jobseeker's allowance regime and flexible new deal will go live in Leeds in April 2010. This is designed to offer personalised and more intensive support to customers, including those with disabilities, to help overcome barriers to work.
More generally, all jobseekers have full access to Jobcentre Plus vacancy services to enhance their employment opportunities. We recognise that some disabled customers may have a more limited availability and scope to find and carry out certain types of work. Therefore, at the start of their claim customers are asked to tell their adviser about any disabilities that might have such an impact, and can restrict their work search activity and availability for work if those restrictions are reasonable, given their condition.
Customers with a disability can volunteer to be fast-tracked to the six month stage of jobseeker's allowance, subject to the Jobcentre Plus personal advisers agreement. This allows disabled people to access additional intensive support earlier in their claim.
Disability employment advisers are available to provide specialist support to people facing employment barriers because of a disability. They can advise customers about a range of specialised support available, and provide advice on job retention if a person is concerned about losing their job because of their disability. They are supported by work psychologists and various external disability specialists.