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The Work Programme

Volume 512: debated on Tuesday 29 June 2010

Today the Government begin the first stage of their reform to deliver a 21st century welfare system.

The coalition Government are committed to fighting poverty, supporting the most vulnerable and helping people break the cycle of benefit dependency that has blighted some communities.

We want to establish a system of employment support that treats people with the dignity they deserve.

As announced in the coalition agreement we will radically simplify the back-to- work system by ending the complexity of the previous decade and replacing current schemes with a new Work programme.

The Work programme will provide a coherent package of support for people out of work, regardless of the barriers they face or the benefits they claim.

The Government will look to investors from the private, public and voluntary sectors to provide this support.

This week we will be releasing an advert setting out the parameters of a commercial framework and encouraging private, public and voluntary sector organisations to bid to be part of it.

Once in the framework organisations will compete to supply employment support.

The framework arrangement means we will be able to contract for employment support in a faster, flexible and more efficient way than the current system allows.

It also means Government can be more responsive to economic conditions and local need, which will enable us to let larger, longer contracts, encouraging greater investment and creating the circumstances for a proper rate of return for investors and meaningful social return for the taxpayer.

The Work programme will also provide help for the thousands on incapacity benefits who are able to work.

There are 2.6 million people claiming incapacity benefits.

The Government are committed to providing unconditional support for very sick and disabled people within that group.

But there are people claiming incapacity benefits that can work, and want to work, with our help they will be able to.

In the autumn, starting in Burnley and Aberdeen, we will ask incapacity benefit claimants to attend a work capability assessment. The rest of the country will follow, with reviews taking place when the normal benefit review is due.

The work capability assessment is designed to measure whether someone is able to work. It also allows us to recognise those who need additional support and ensure they get unconditional help.

To this end, we will take forward recommendations to treat people waiting for or between courses of chemotherapy in the same way as those already receiving it.

We will also extend the criteria for people with severe disability due to mental health conditions, meaning fewer very sick people will be asked to attend an assessment.

We will also establish an independent review as required by the Welfare Reform Act 2007, a concession forced on the previous Government jointly by the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives.

The coalition amendment established an independent review, which Professor Malcolm Harrington has agreed to lead, to scrutinise the assessment process. This will ensure people are treated fairly and assessments are transparent. The report will be completed by the end of the year.

These reforms are not just about getting people who are able to work into a job.

These reforms are the first steps towards tackling one of the key drivers of poverty and breaking the intergenerational cycle of worklessness and disadvantage.

Today the coalition Government take a firm but fair hold of the welfare system. This approach will bring about transformational change in the benefits system, helping people leave benefits and work towards a better quality of life for themselves and their families.

We have produced a guide to the framework and copies are available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.