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Disability and Employment

Volume 607: debated on Monday 14 March 2016

This Government are committed to halving the disability employment gap. In the spending review, we announced a real-terms spending increase on supporting disabled people into work. In the last year, 152,000 more disabled people entered employment. Our forthcoming White Paper will set out our plans to support more disabled people into work.

I recently met the Kent Learning Disability Partnership, and the people there with disabilities told me that they are keen to work and welcome the Government’s support for that, but they asked me whether the Government would consider following the example of the NHS and introducing an accessible information standard, because they said they often found the communications from my hon. Friend’s Department too confusing and would like them to be easier to understand.

That is a powerful point. On 14 January I launched a taskforce that included the Royal National Institute of Blind People, the British Deaf Association, Action on Hearing Loss, the National Federation for the Blind, People First, the British Institute of Learning Disabilities, Sense and Mencap to look at that issue and at how, as a Department, we can lead across Government. I would be delighted if my hon. Friend would join that taskforce.

May I urge the Minister to publish the White Paper on employment support for those with disabilities as soon as practically possible? I take note of the Secretary of State’s earlier response that it would be before the summer break, but there has been some slippage on that. Will my hon. Friend outline what provisions the White Paper will contain on integrating employment and health support?

We will shortly be publishing the White Paper, which will set out the reforms for improved support for people with disabilities and long-term health conditions. We will be looking at a number of issues, including ways to engage with employers as part of our commitment to halve the disability employment gap, integration across health and employment, and further localised tailored support. This is an exciting opportunity.

My hon. Friend the Minister will be aware of the superb work that the Salvation Army does in my constituency in helping disabled people get back into employment, and of the fact that I and the jobcentre are about to hold a Disability Confident event. Can my hon. Friend expand on what more his Department can do in Castle Point, not least by engaging with employers to get more of them to take on disabled employees?

I thank my hon. Friend for agreeing to host her own Disability Confident event. More than 50 MPs from all parties are doing that, supporting our work to halve the disability employment gap, and promoting services such as access to work, where we now have funding for an additional 25,000 places on top of the near-record 38,000 that we are currently helping.

Last Friday we heard that an additional £1.2 billion is to be cut from the PIP budget. That translates into £2,000 a year less for more than 60,000 claimants. What method or madness led the Minister to think that cutting support could help PIP claimants into work or to achieve independent living?

We are continuing to make improvements for claimants across the assessment process for PIP. At the end of this Parliament, we will continue to see increased numbers going through the system and benefiting from PIP.

The establishment of a taskforce is occasionally a mechanism for kicking the can down the road, but in this case I give the Minister credit for his good intentions. Will he consider adding the Royal British Legion to the list of consultees, because there is a real issue of disabled ex-servicemen and women having a great deal of difficulty getting into work?

That is an important point, and something we are already doing work on. I would be happy to discuss that further.

The Government have sunk to a new low with this cut to the personal independence payment. As my hon. Friends have said, by 2020 some 640,000 disabled people will have their personal independence payment cut, a third by £2,865 a year and two thirds by £1,400 a year, stripping disabled people of their independence and their dignity. That is on top of the £24 billion cut to 4 million people since 2012. What are the Government’s estimates of how many of those disabled people will be in work, and how many will be unable to work as a consequence of those cuts?

PIP is about the extra costs that those with a disability would face. We made these changes on the back of the independent review published by Paul Gray, in which he highlighted concerns about the use of aids and appliance, the three recent legal judgments, and the fact that in the past 18 months we saw a trebling of the number of claimants who were able to access the benefit purely for aids and appliances. We listened carefully to the extensive consultation, including feedback from the hon. Lady, and for that reason aids and appliances will continue to be taken into account across all eight of the daily living components. We have ruled out the other four measures, and by the end of this Parliament there will be even greater numbers benefiting from the PIP system. [Interruption.]

Well, a Government Member is saying, “Listen to the answer.” Again, I am afraid, it is a non-answer—a hallmark of this dodgy, inept and unjust Government. Let us see whether they can do a bit better with this question.

Social security spending on disabled people as a percentage of GDP is lower now than it was in 1960. The Conservative manifesto for the last general election pledged not to cut social security support for disabled people. How and why have the Government gone back on that commitment, and how much more do they think disabled people will be able to take?

We spend almost double what the Germans spend—about 6% of our Government spending, which is more than we spend on our police and defence budgets combined.