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Work and Health Programme

Volume 603: debated on Monday 7 December 2015

3. Whether he plans for benefit sanctions to be applicable to people referred to the proposed work and health programme. (902561)

The Department is developing new provision to support people with health conditions and disabilities and those who are very long-term unemployed. We are currently developing the design of the programme, including the conditionality that will be a feature of it.

A survey by mental health charity Mind revealed that a shocking 83% of employment and support allowance claimants referred to the Work programme found that it made their mental health state worse. Will the Government’s new Work and Health programme end the utterly shameful sanctions regime which often leaves those with mental illnesses less likely to access work?

I am sure the hon. Lady will also recognise that more than 60% of individuals who are on the employment and support allowance say that they want to work as well. That is why we will launch the new Work and Health programme, to look at how we can deliver vital employment support, which I am sure the hon. Lady and all other Members will welcome, to those individuals who are furthest away from the labour market but who want to work. We will do that in conjunction with our stakeholders and better target the accompanying support to get them back into work. Additional funding was made available in the summer Budget for support for those who are furthest away from the labour market, particularly those with health conditions.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is incumbent on anyone who suggests scrapping the existing sanctions scheme to propose an effective alternative, because there has to be some means of ensuring compliance with the rules?

Of course, my hon. Friend raises a valid point about what the Labour party is now clearly saying, despite the fact that sanctions have been in place for a considerable time, including under previous Labour Governments. The purpose of sanctions is to support claimants and to encourage them back to work. Let us also remember that the sanctions are there for claimants to comply with reasonable requirements, which are developed with the claimant as well as the work coach.

In the Work programme, extra help has been given to jobseekers who have been out of work for 12 months, but under the new programme it will not be until two years have passed. Will Jobcentre Plus get extra resources to support people who have been out of work for between one and two years, given that the Work programme’s successor will not be doing that?

The new programme will be accompanied by a structural reform that will better target support for those individuals who are furthest away from the labour market. On top of that, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has emphasised again today, universal credit in particular will provide support and engagement for those individuals who are furthest away from the labour market but who are looking for work. Alongside that, the new Work and Health programme will integrate services, particularly for those with mental health conditions or health barriers, to help them get closer to the labour market and back into work.

Shockingly, a number of people have died after being sanctioned and we are still waiting for the Government to publish the data on them. We do know, however, following the recent publication of an academic report, that between 2010 and 2013 the Government’s work capability assessment process was associated with an additional 590 suicides. Given that Maximus, the company the Government contracted to deliver work capability assessments, has reported

“not being able to meet certain performance metrics”,

when will the Secretary of State admit not only that his work capability assessment reforms are a danger to claimants’ health, but that they are not fit for purpose and need a complete overhaul?

Let me remind the hon. Lady that it was her party in government that introduced the work capability assessment—[Interruption.] Let me also point out, as she makes remarks from a sedentary position, that we have brought in a number of reforms, of which she and all other Members will be aware. We are very clear that sanctions are constantly under review, hence the five reviews we have had. Finally, on the data the hon. Lady has just presented to the House, she cannot justifiably or credibly extrapolate those figures and apply them to sanctions and this Government’s policies, because they are completely incorrect.