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Topical Questions

Volume 613: debated on Monday 11 July 2016

On 6 July I appointed Paul Gray to lead a second independent review of PIP. A call for evidence has been published today, seeking evidence from individuals and organisations to inform the review. The review will consider how effectively further evidence is being used to assist the correct claim decision. It will also look at the speed and effectiveness of information gathering, as well as building on recommendations from the first review. I am today announcing the Department’s intention to conduct an evaluation of PIP, with initial findings to be published by early 2017.

To help deliver our manifesto commitment of bringing a million people with disabilities into work, will my right hon. Friend consider extending the current exemption from employer national insurance contributions for apprentices both to additional apprentices and to full-time employees with disabilities, so that, like the US, the Netherlands and Ireland, our tax system benefits employers who see the abilities as well as the disabilities of all our constituents?

When it comes to closing the disability employment gap, I am absolutely clear that no options have been left off the table. We want to look at the widest possible range of solutions, including financial incentives such as our small employment offer, which will support small businesses to increase local job opportunities for disabled people.

In May, after a two-year fight, the Government finally published redacted reports of 49 social security claimants who had died between 2012 and 2014, revealing that 10 of the 49 had died following a sanction, and 40 of the deaths were associated with a suicide or a suspected suicide. Another nine social security claimants have died since 2014. When will the Secretary of State publish the reports into their deaths, or will we have to wait another two years for those as well?

I hear the hon. Lady’s point, but it is important not to infer too many causal links between the factors that she is raising, and she needs to be extremely careful in how she describes those cases at the Dispatch Box. I am happy to discuss the matter with her on another occasion.

T2. What support is my right hon. Friend’s Department offering to those in later middle age and older who are seeking work? (905774)

My hon. Friend raises a very good point. We are doing a number of things in this area. For example, as well as access to a full Jobcentre Plus offer of personalised support, the Department for Work and Pensions introduced older claimant champions in each of the seven Jobcentre Plus groups to work with work coaches within jobcentres to raise the profile of older workers, highlight the benefit of employing older jobseekers and share good practice.

T5. Will the Secretary of State explain to the WASPI women from the north-east, some of whom have already retired in the mistaken belief that they would be receiving their state pension sooner and who live in a region that continues to have the highest level of unemployment in the country, how they are to make ends meet? (905777)

The hon. Lady is well aware that a number of benefits are involved here. The DWP survey in 2012 found that only 6% of the women who were due to retire within 10 years were unaware that the state pension age had increased.

T3. Thanks to the work of this Government, the unemployment rate in Bath is just 1.5%. Does the Minister agree that, as well as providing a steady income, working also provides health benefits, both physical and mental? (905775)

I fully agree that being in work has many benefits beyond the immediate economic security that it brings. It gives us a sense of value and can greatly benefit our mental and physical wellbeing, which is why this Government are championing the transformative role of work. With more people in work than ever before, we are making sure that the whole of society benefits from our growing economy.

T7. With an 87% budget cut by the UK Government in the first year of employability services in Scotland, will the Secretary of State tell us precisely what his Government are doing to support people back into work in Scotland? Perhaps he can take this opportunity to congratulate the Scottish Government on the £20 million of extra support that they have been giving to help people back into work when this Government have been letting down the people of Scotland. (905779)

I totally disagree with the hon. Lady. We are continuing to roll out universal credit across Scotland, and the early results from Scottish jobcentres are very, very positive. As I said earlier, I had a very constructive and useful meeting last week with Angela Constance, the Scottish Minister with welfare responsibilities. I recognise that the Scottish Government have some separate choices and priorities, and we are committed to giving them the powers to take those forward.

T4. Starting a new business is one of the best ways out of worklessness. Will the Secretary of State join me in encouraging entrepreneurial jobseekers from Havant and across the country to apply for the Government’s new enterprise allowance? (905776)

We absolutely do want to support more people to move into self-employment and to help develop the entrepreneurs of the future. The new enterprise allowance has now successfully supported the start-up of nearly 85,000 new businesses and I look forward to visiting my hon. Friend’s constituency to see some of those businesses in action.

T8. For obvious reasons, refugee families and children are not usually required to meet past residence requirements when accessing benefits, so why on earth are the Government trying to overturn a recent tribunal decision so as to deny disabled refugees, including children, access to disability living allowance on the grounds of those very residence criteria? Is that not particularly absurd given that many of them will have been resettled here specifically because they have such a disability? (905780)

T6. As Paralympians from Cardiff, elsewhere in Wales and across the United Kingdom prepare for the Paralympics in Rio, how can we use the Paralympics to change the perception of disabled people, and what are the Government doing to prepare for that? (905778)

I would like to thank you, Mr Speaker, for hosting the announcement of the tennis Paralympic team for Rio. I pay tribute to Channel 4, which will be showing over 700 hours of the Paralympics, with 75% of the presenters having a disability. This is a fantastic opportunity to showcase people’s abilities, and we are all in for a real treat next Friday, when Channel 4 launches its fantastic video promoting the opportunities offered by the Paralympics.

I am extraordinarily grateful to the Minister for giving me my cue. First, let me take this opportunity on behalf of the House warmly to congratulate Gordon Reid on his great success at Wimbledon yesterday. Secondly, I am sure the whole House will want to join me in congratulating most warmly Andy Murray on an outstanding performance in winning his second Wimbledon title and his third grand slam so far.

T10. The disabilities Minister just agreed to meet a Member of Parliament and their constituent regarding an issue they were concerned about, so can I try again with the Pensions Minister? Will he meet me and some of the 10,000 women born in the 1950s who are affected by the pension changes? Will he come to Hull to meet some of these people and hear directly from them? (905782)

I have met the leadership of the WASPI campaign, and I have met my own constituents. The hon. Lady has articulated the views of her constituents, as have many other MPs on a regular basis. I know very well all the facts; the issue here is that Members such as her should not be giving expectations to women, when the position has been made absolutely clear at the Dispatch Box: the Government have no intention of changing their policy.

I thank the disabilities Minister for accepting the recommendations of the review I chaired into learning disability apprenticeships. Will he confirm that he will look into which of those recommendations can now be applied to other hidden impairments, such as hearing loss and sight loss?

I would like to thank my hon. Friend, as his taskforce concluded its work within a month, and we have now secured agreement from my Department and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to open up in the apprenticeship programme greater opportunities for those with a learning disability. I am sure we will be coming to my hon. Friend very soon to help to extend the remit of the taskforce, which I am sure he would be delighted to chair.

The Government are trialling distributed ledger technology, or blockchain, for the payment and spending of claimants’ benefits. It is a fantastic new technology, but the Government’s own report says that it needs a regulatory, ethical and data framework. How do we know that vulnerable benefits claimants are not being forced to share their data without giving proper informed consent?

I thank the hon. Lady for that very interesting question. This technology is very new, and I confess that I am not an expert on it—the person who is is my noble Friend Lord Freud, who is, of course, in the other place. When it comes to security of claimants’ data, we are absolutely committed to the very highest standards of protection. However, in terms of the wider technology issue the hon. Lady refers to, I look forward to discussing it with her in more detail.

Currently, children under three are not eligible for Motability benefits. However, during my time in children’s hospices, I saw first hand how critical transport is for children with life-limiting illnesses, particularly given all the equipment they need. Will my hon. Friend agree to look at the issue again to see whether these young people can get the support they need?

My hon. Friend has been campaigning on this issue for some time, using his first-hand experience. We are acutely aware of the issue, and I would be happy to meet him to discuss further opportunities.

I do not want to upset anybody on the Labour Front Bench by showing passion and anger about the Government’s failure to tackle unscrupulous employers who give no guarantee of employment, no contract, no certainty and no pension—nothing but zero-hours contracts, with people being hired from agencies—but when will the Government take on these rotten employers?

Zero-hours contracts, of course, form only a very small proportion of the overall jobs in the labour market. The thing that is particularly pernicious about zero-hours contracts is the exclusivity clauses—that has been recognised as widespread—and we are the Government who actually took action to deal with that.

In my constituency we have an initiative with the DWP and the Salvation Army food bank whereby when people come into the food bank, the DWP helps them in any way it can by placing an officer there. Would my right hon. Friend like to come to Morecambe to see at first hand how this initiative is working out?

Yes, I would like to go to Morecambe to see that project. I am very clear that something we need to be doing far better, and more of, through our job centres at a local level is integrating with local services, whether they are provided through the Salvation Army or any other charity.