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Disabled Jobseekers

Volume 521: debated on Monday 10 January 2011

4. What recent representations he has received on his plans to help disabled jobseekers into work. (32645)

The coalition Government have an ongoing commitment to co-production, which involves disabled people in how our policies develop. The Government also regularly meet charities and voluntary organisations to discuss new policy ideas. For example. Mind, Mencap and the National Autistic Society are working with Professor Harrington as part of the independent review of the work capability assessment. On 2 December 2010, I also announced an independent review into specialist employment support for disabled people led by Liz Sayce, the chief executive of RADAR—the Royal Association for Disability Rights.

I thank the Minister for that response. One of my disabled constituents uses the access to work travel assistance, which has helped him into a full-time job, but he finds the monthly form-filling quite onerous and believes that his case is handled by several different people. Does the Minister have any plans to streamline the system and reduce the burden of paperwork on disabled people, perhaps by putting some of it online?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question and underline the Government’s commitment to access to work. The monthly claim form is kept as simple as possible but we really have to make sure that we are protecting public funds, so we require confirmation that a customer has been in work during the month and any receipts. We must also make sure that we have a confirming signature. Such documents would go straight to one of our payments team and would, I hope, be dealt with quickly, with the payment being made directly into the customer’s bank account. If my hon. Friend’s constituent is having particular problems, I advise her perhaps to seek further help at Jobcentre Plus. We understand the importance of refining the administration of access to work. That is why we have introduced the pre-employment eligibility letter—to give individuals assurance about their eligibility for access to work funding when they are looking for a job, not just after they have secured it.

I thank the Minister for her response and commend the work she is doing in this field. Voluntary organisations in my borough of Bexley are very keen to assist the disabled into work and many are already doing so. What more can the Government do to help utilise the talent and skills of disabled people in the work force?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and I absolutely endorse his wish to have more local organisations involved in helping to get disabled people back into work. I know that through the Work Choice programme that we launched last year we already have Scope and the Shaw Trust actively working in his constituency in providing support for disabled people. I encourage him to ask more of his local organisations to get involved in that and other schemes.

The Minister will be aware that anyone who has come off incapacity benefit to move into work in the past two years was promised a two-year linking period, during which they could return to the benefit at the original rate. The new employment and support allowance conversion regulations, which are due to take effect next month, remove that protection, and those returning to work will be required to return to the ESA at the assessment rate for the first 13 weeks. Will the Minister urgently reconsider those new regulations, and their impact on a small number of benefit claimants who appear to have been affected by the backtracking on a commitment on which many of them had relied?

The hon. Lady brings up a very detailed point, and I should be very pleased to look at it with her separately, but I should underline the fact that in all the changes we are making, we want to make sure that we are judging disabled people on what they can do, not what they cannot, and we want to make sure that more disabled people are able to get back into work. At the moment, 50% of disabled people work, and many more want to, with the right support.

The Minister will be aware that the employment and support allowance has largely superseded incapacity benefit. In week 11, the claimant is assessed by a medical board. What plans does the Minister have to involve a claimant’s GP in future assessments, so that we can ensure that they are more accurate, as opposed to being a snapshot at week 11?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the decision maker will have access to all the medical records of any individual involved in that sort of process.