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Multiple Sclerosis Sufferers

Volume 534: debated on Monday 24 October 2011

The Government are committed to ensuring that individuals with conditions such as multiple sclerosis have the support that they need to find, and remain in, work. A comprehensive range of work support for individuals with serious fluctuating conditions is provided through the Work programme, Work Choice and Access to Work.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. May I convey the wishes of my constituents in the local MS society for there to be better ways forward than those provided under the previous Government?

I agree that the work of the Multiple Sclerosis Society is to be applauded, and I am sure that the Lancaster, Morecambe and district branch will join many other organisations in welcoming the measures in the Welfare Reform Bill, which is currently in the other place, including universal credit. Those measures will address the unacceptable imbalances inherent in the current welfare system, to ensure that people suffering from fluctuating conditions such as MS cannot be written off to a lifetime of dependency in future.

Department for Work and Pensions research on disability living allowance in work has indicated that those receiving DLA are, on average, more severely impaired than others and have a greater likelihood of multiple disabilities, including mental health conditions. Additionally, they are disadvantaged in the labour market because of the types of their impairment, and carry the greatest employment disadvantage.

The new personal independence payment assessment has been criticised by 23 leading disability organisations as being too medicalised and not taking into account the social and environmental barriers that disadvantage disabled people in the jobs market. Will the Minister share with us just how many disabled people she expects to get back into work as a result of her DLA proposals, given that the only figure that we have on the record is that the Government want to make a 20% cut to the DLA budget?

I am somewhat surprised that the right hon. Lady tries to link disability living allowance to returning to work, given that in the past she has held the position that I hold now. It is absolutely clear that DLA, and indeed the PIP, which will take over from it, are not linked to work. I should think we would want to make that clear to people who are listening to these questions.

A recent report by the Work Foundation found that up to 44% of people in the UK with MS retire early due to their condition, a higher percentage than the European average of just 35%. What plans does the Minister have to support individuals with MS to stay in the work force once they are in employment?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I know that he does a lot of work in this area, and I welcome his contribution. He will be aware that through the Sayce recommendations, we are specifically considering how we can increase the role of Access to Work. That could have a particularly positive impact on people with MS. We already have a budget of some £105 million supporting about 35,000 people through Access to Work, and the Sayce recommendations indicate that the number could be doubled if there is a reprioritisation of how Government money is used.