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Volume 603: debated on Monday 7 December 2015

The unemployment rate, at 5.3%, has fallen by a third since 2010—[Interruption.] I hear sighs from Labour Members, which shows that they have no interest in employment growth in this country.

The hon. Lady says, “Grow up”. Perhaps Labour Members should put aside the disparaging comments they make every time we speak about employment opportunities and growth in the economy. Unemployment is now at its lowest level for over seven years. In addition, the number of people in work has risen by over 2.1 million since 2010.

Unemployment in my constituency has fallen by 50% since 2010, which has given a lot of security to a lot of people in my constituency. Does she agree that some individuals who might be suffering from long-term mental health conditions want to work, but encounter considerable barriers preventing them from getting back into employment? Does she therefore agree that we need to redouble our efforts to enable those people to get back into work because it is critical to their cure that they do so?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He has drawn attention to two important facts: the fact that unemployment has fallen in his constituency and there are more people in work there, and the barriers—particularly mental health conditions—that prevent people from working. We will be launching a new Work and Health programme, and looking into how we can integrate services to provide the right kind of support to help such people to return to work.

Between June 2011 and June 2015 there were 10,920 referrals to the Work programme in my constituency, 21% of which resulted in jobs. Those figures would improve, and employment would be further reduced, if the assessment of claimants that is carried out at the beginning of the process were more adequate and consistent, and ensured that crucial characteristics such as drug problems were not missed. When will the Government introduce changes to the assessment process?

The Select Committee and many others have said that the Work programme has been one of the most successful employment programmes that the country has seen. Naturally, we constantly review our work in respect of assessments, but we are focusing on targeted support for individuals, because we all want the right outcomes for them. We all want to help them to return to work, and to give them the tailor-made support that they need. Rather than adopting the hon. Lady’s disparaging approach, we are saying that those people need help, and that we will give them help so that they can get back into work.