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Employment (Disabled People)

Volume 531: debated on Monday 18 July 2011

The Government are absolutely committed to ensuring that disabled people have the same opportunities as everybody else to reach their potential in work. The Work programme, Jobcentre Plus, Work Choice and Access to Work provide a range of support to do that. I announced on Monday 11 July the Government’s response to Liz Sayce’s review of specialist disability employment programmes. We have a consultation running until 17 October and I urge everybody to participate in it.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. Will she confirm that the budget for specialist disability employment is being protected and that it will be spent more wisely than it was in the past?

I thank my hon. Friend for that very good question and I can confirm to him absolutely that the budget is being protected. I also urge him to look at Liz Sayce’s report, which suggests that perhaps 35,000 additional disabled people could be supported into work from the same budget. That is something we would like to consult on and look at some more.

I am sure that the Minister will join me in commending the work of the Spinal Injuries Association in Milton Keynes. Indeed, she might like to visit it the next time she is passing by, as a visit there would show that many of its employees are disabled. It gives a clear example of how tailored work programmes are the best way of getting disabled people back into work. Is that an approach that the Government will pursue?

I thank my hon. Friend for drawing my attention to such good work in his constituency. I shall certainly consider trying to visit if I am able to. He is absolutely right that we should focus on the individual rather than on the institution—that is a common theme coming out of the Sayce review.

May I ask the Minister something that the disabled in my constituency ask me? Once the disabled have got jobs, what support and advice will there be for employers so that they can maintain the disabled in those jobs?

We already have in place Access to Work, which provides just the sort of support that my hon. Friend is talking about, but all too often that support is, perhaps, focused on the job rather than on the individual. One of the reforms that the Sayce review is talking about is how we can make sure that Access to Work is focused on the individual and not just on particular jobs. In some instances, however, employers are involved in co-funding, so this issue needs to be looked at with care. We are looking at it in our consultation.

On Thursday I will be visiting the Remploy factory in my constituency and meeting some of the 20 staff who work there. Over the past year they have invested in new equipment and through hard work have won new business. What does the Minister suggest I say to them?

It is excellent that the right hon. Gentleman is visiting his factory and showing staff support, as he clearly is. As he knows, we are consulting, through the Sayce review, about the future of Remploy. We want to make sure that Remploy factories are successful in the future. At present every single one is loss-making, and half the employees in Remploy across the board—I am not sure of the position in his constituency—do not have work to do. That is not an acceptable situation. We need to look for ways of remedying a situation that we inherited and through the Sayce consultation we hope to do that.

Is it not unfortunate that the future of Remploy is once again in the melting pot? May I remind the Minister—we had a conversation about this—that in 2008, the last time people went through voluntary redundancy in Remploy, only a quarter of those made redundant got new jobs? In my own Remploy factory in Aberdare, only one person is at work. Surely it is better to keep disabled people in work, doing jobs that they have done satisfactorily for a long time?

We have indeed had some important conversations about the matter. It is not for me to answer for the record of the previous Government, although I point out to the right hon. Lady that 40% of disabled people who left through the 2008 redundancy scheme retired. The figures that she quotes need to reflect that. I can assure her that we will do everything we can to make sure that people affected by any changes in the future are given the support that they need.

Has the Minister had any discussions with the Department for Social Development in Northern Ireland about some of the excellent initiatives that it is undertaking, particularly in relation to young people coming out of school and college?

We have many conversations with the devolved Administrations. I cannot recall anything about that subject particularly, but I will pick that up later.