1. What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on progress towards the Government’s employment target for disabled people. (905112)
There are 365,000 more disabled people in work than two years ago. Our ambition to halve the disability employment gap is a key priority of this Government.
Ministers promise that people currently in the work-related activity group will not see their payments reduce, but all new claimants from April 2017 will see such a reduction, including many people who have learning disabilities and need the same support as people currently in the group. How will further cuts in the incomes of disabled people help to get them into work?
First, to be clear, those who would be in the support group will see no changes at all. On the specific area of those with learning disabilities, my Department, jointly with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, has set up a taskforce, which is chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard). We are looking at the best ways of accessing the apprenticeships scheme to help those with learning disabilities to have a greater chance of taking up an opportunity to work.
Will the Minister confirm that there have been detailed conversations about the value of the Access to Work programme and that the Government continue to be committed to it? The scheme was raised with me at the weekend by two disabled working people in my constituency who are concerned that the Government are not committed to it and that they may be let down.
The Access to Work programme is one of the incredibly important levers we are using to meet our commitment to halve the disability employment gap. I am delighted that funding has been increased to provide an additional 25,000 places a year, which builds on our near record number of just short of 37,000 people who benefit from the scheme.
What rationale was there for the Secretary of State for Work and Pension scrapping the White Paper on the health and work programme and punting the issue back to a Green Paper for an indeterminate time? Surely punting it into the long grass will, from a health or disability perspective, harm the chances of people returning to work.
My discussions with stakeholders give a very different view. A Green Paper gives an opportunity for stakeholders with genuine, first-hand real life experience to help shape our future policies and make sure that we do the very best for vulnerable people in society.
The jobcentre disability employment service has a ratio of one adviser providing support per 600 disabled people. That key cause of concern was highlighted by a Work and Pensions Committee inquiry in December 2014. Does the Minister believe that that inadequate ratio is part of the reason the Government are set to fail to reach their employment targets for people with disabilities?
First, 365,000 more disabled people have come into work in the past two years, which we are proud to celebrate, but there will be further work towards our bold ambition to halve the disability employment gap. We recognise that support in jobcentres is important. All job coaches have extensive training and are multi-skilled, but we acknowledge the feedback from the Select Committee report and will be increasing the numbers.