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Employment and Support Allowance

Volume 587: debated on Monday 3 November 2014

5. What change there has been in the number of people claiming employment and support allowance over the last two years. (905807)

Based on the latest published national statistics, as at February 2014 there were 2.46 million people on employment and support allowance and incapacity benefits, a fall of 98,000 from February 2012.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Since the incapacity benefits migration started, 250,000 IB claimants have been found fit for work, yet he is now telling us that the total number has fallen by only about 90,000. That might explain why the Office for Budget Responsibility is forecasting that spending on incapacity benefit alone will rise by £3 billion more than the Government expected in 2010. Is it not time that the Minister and his colleagues realised that, despite all the rhetoric, many people are not fit for work and that the necessary support is not there for those who do want to work?

I would point out to the hon. Lady that we have had some problems with the work capability assessment—[Hon. Members: “Ah!”] Before Opposition Members jeer, they should remember that this has happened under the provider that the previous Government appointed. We have taken action to sort the problems out, and Atos has agreed to exit from its contract. From 1 March next year, the new provider that I appointed last week, Maximus, will be taking over and will do a better job.

I welcome the Government’s decision to introduce a new provider. The Minister has just confirmed that it was the previous Government who appointed Atos. Can he explain how the new provision will be materially different from the outgoing arrangements?

Yes, I can. I have taken a close interest in the contracting process, and we have learned from the previous experience. We are confident, given the bid that Maximus put together and the successful contracts that it has operated in Australia, Canada and the United States of America, that it will be able to deliver the assessments competently over the next three years.

Last week, the BBC reported that Ministers were considering cutting employment and support allowance for those in the work-related activity group—that is, those who have been assessed as being too severely disabled or too ill to be ready to work. I was grateful for the Minister’s letter, which I received this morning, assuring me that that did not reflect Government policy. I am sure he will want to place that on the record in the Chamber now. However, Ministers are in trouble with employment and support allowance. Over the course of this Parliament, it is likely to have a cumulative cost of £8 billion more than they had planned. The Office for Budget Responsibility has also sounded the alarm, saying that

“spending would remain higher…because of delays to the work capability assessment programme”,

which puts the Government’s own annually managed expenditure cap at risk. Will the Minister guarantee that there will be no cut, now or in the future, to the benefits on which disabled people rely, in order to pay for the Government’s policy failures?

I am glad that the hon. Lady has referred to the letter I sent her, because it confirms that the BBC report

“does not reflect Government policy.”

It also makes the point that we have seen

“a fall in out of work benefit numbers of 832,000 since 2010—the total is now below 4 million, the lowest figure since 1990”,

that incapacity benefit numbers have fallen by 98,000, and that the spend on incapacity benefits has also fallen by £1 billion in real terms between 2009-10 and 2013-14.

I thank the Minister for his comment that the mooted cut was not Government policy. Can he reassure me and others that it will not become Government policy and that he will not consider making cuts in that area? People who are unwell or disabled often face additional costs to those faced by everyone else.

The hon. Gentleman talks about disabled people having higher costs; he is obviously talking about the personal independence payment, which is the help we give to people to help them to stay or become independent. The BBC report was talking about employment and support allowance, which is an out-of-work benefit.