With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the Green Paper being published today by my Department, together with the Department of Health.
This Government are determined to build a country that works for everyone. That means an economy that serves the interests of ordinary, working people; it means a society where everyone has an opportunity to go as far as their talents can take them, regardless of their background. As part of that, it means creating a country where a disability does not dictate the path that a person is able to take in life.
Under successive Governments, we have made good progress in improving the lives of disabled people. Laws have been changed, old attitudes have been challenged, and understanding has improved. More disabled people are in work—half a million more than just three years ago. That is encouraging, but we need to build on that progress and do more to help disabled people reach their full potential.
It is clear that for many disabled people, the barriers to entering work are still too high, and that people in work who get ill too often fall out of work, lose contact, lose confidence and do not return to work. The impact extends far beyond the individual. Families suffer, the health service faces extra strain, and employers lose valuable skills, but most of all, it is a human tragedy. Potential is left unfulfilled. Lives are lessened. Of course, the health and welfare systems must support those who will never be able to work. It should offer the opportunity of work to all those who can, provide help for those who could, and care for those who cannot. It is the help for those who could that, through this Green Paper, we will transform—first, within the welfare system.
In 2010, we inherited a broken system, where there were too few incentives to move from welfare to work, and one where too many of our fellow citizens were simply taken off the books and forgotten about. Since then, we have brought control and the right values back to the system. I want to recognise my predecessors, particularly my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) for his passion and conviction over the past six years, to make that a reality. Through reforms such as universal credit, we have ensured that work always pays, while ensuring a strong safety net for those who cannot work.
Spending on disabled people will be higher every year of this Parliament than it was in 2010, but we need to continue to review and reform the system based on what we know works. One of those areas is the level of personalised and tailored support that someone gets when they fall out of work. In the past 12 months, half of the people who attended a work capability assessment were deemed too ill to work, or even prepare for work, at that time. They then routinely receive no employment support at all. It is not surprising, then, that each month only 1% of people eligible for employment and support allowance after an assessment leave. For a benefit that was meant to help people back into work, the statistics show that it is not living up to that original aim, so we will build on the success of universal credit and provide more personalised employment support by consulting on further reform of the work capability assessment.
We will also introduce a new personal support package for disabled people, providing better tailored support, including a new health and work conversation between someone on ESA and their work coach, focusing on what they can do, rather than on what they cannot do. We will recruit around 200 community partners into jobcentres, to bring in expertise from the voluntary sector, and we will give young people with limited capability for work the opportunity to get valuable work experience with employers. These are practical steps and support that the welfare system will provide for disabled people.
This Green Paper marks a new era in joint working between the welfare and health systems—between the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department of Health. Recognising that work and meaningful activity can promote good health, we will work with Health Education England, Public Health England and others to make the benefits of work an ingrained part of the training and health workforce approach. We will review statutory sick pay and GP fit notes to support workers back into their jobs faster and for longer. It is also about transforming the way services join up. We will be consulting on how best to do this, as well as boosting existing joint services—for example, we are more than doubling the number of employment advisers placed in talking therapies services. It is right that we focus on such services, as mental health conditions, together with musculoskeletal conditions, are behind many people falling out of work.
This is not a challenge for Government alone so, finally, I want to turn to the role of employers. Employers have so much potential power to bring about change, not just in their recruitment strategies, but in how they support their employees. We need all businesses—small or large; local, national or global—to use that power to deliver change. The fact is that, as well as being good for health, it makes good business sense; sick pay for workers who get ill costs business £9 billion a year.
Businesses are leaders in innovation and transformation. We need to harness that positive power of business to promote disability awareness, so we will create a “Disability Confident” business leaders group to increase employer engagement in looking after the health and wellbeing of their employees, and opening up opportunities to them. Now is the moment for every business to take a proper look at the relationship between work and health, and what that means for their business and productivity.
Over the coming months, we will be talking to disabled people and those who have health conditions. We will be talking to carers, families, professionals and a range of organisations that are so important to getting this right and, like us, want further change. Together, through this Green Paper, and building on our work since 2010, we intend to deliver just that—to improve the way the welfare system responds to real people with health conditions; to see employers stepping up and play their part; to see work as a health outcome; and to see a culture of high ambition and high expectations for the disabled people of this country, because they deserve it.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and advance notice of it. This is again kicking into the long grass the issue of support for disabled people and halving the disability employment gap. He is the third Secretary of State who has promised a plan, yet we have just talk, no action.
During his announcement today, the Secretary of State claimed he was confronting negative “attitudes, prejudices and misunderstandings”. The audacity of the statement is offensive. The Government have been more responsible than anyone for the negative attitude towards disabled people, with their shirkers grand narrative. Only this morning, the Secretary of State himself described disabled people as
“sitting at home living on benefits”.
The consultation itself demonstrates that the Government fail to understand the reality of many disabled people’s lives and the real anxiety those people feel about the coded messages in the consultation, yet further cuts are on the way.
I must challenge the Secretary of State for suggesting that the so-called reforms to social security have helped to make work pay. These claims are derisory. All the evidence shows not only that the introduction of universal credit has been an unmitigated disaster—with seven delays to date, the Major Projects Authority and the National Audit Office expressing concerns regarding the scheme’s governance, and the additional £3 billion the taxpayer is having to pay—but that cuts to work allowances signally fail to make UC help to make work pay. The Resolution Foundation has shown that, on average, 2.5 million working families will be over £2,000 a year worse off, so will the Secretary of State commit to reversing cuts to work allowances and universal credit?
On the Green Paper, if the Secretary of State is committed to helping disabled people into work, why has he cut employment support for disabled people from £700 million to £130 million? Will he commit to providing Access to Work support to more than the 36,500 disabled people who received it last year? Given that 1.3 million disabled people are fit and able to work, that is obviously a tiny proportion.
The Secretary of State referred to a review of statutory sick pay. Can he confirm that it is not a vehicle for further cuts to sick pay? Will he commit to maintaining levels of statutory sick pay, both now and in the future? On the plans to broaden the number of professionals who can provide a fit note—notes currently can be provided only by a general practitioner—will these people be appropriately trained clinicians? Given the Government’s use of so-called healthcare professionals under the work capability assessment, we know that weakening the role of the medical profession in assessment processes is an underhand tactic to force people into work before they are ready.
On changes to the WCA itself, why will the Secretary of State not commit to scrapping this discredited process completely, as I have? As it stands, this dehumanising system does great harm and is nothing more than a vehicle for getting people off flow. Will the Secretary of State explain why only employment and support allowance is included in the statement? What are his intentions for the personal independence payment? How much funding is meant to underpin the health and work programme? Will he commit to reversing the cuts in support for the ESA work-related activity group, as those cuts will do untold harm? Does he accept his own data showing that people on ESA are more likely to die than the population at large, and that some sick and disabled people will never be able to work? As a civilised society, we must ensure that these people are adequately supported and not plunged into poverty, left destitute, or worse.
I am disappointed by the hon. Lady’s tone because she seems to be completely out of touch with those who represent disabled people. Let me read her the words of the chief executive of Scope, Mark Atkinson, who said today:
“Disabled people are twice as likely as the general public to be unemployed. It is right that the Government has recognised this is an injustice that needs to be tackled. We welcome
the Green Paper’s
“publication, which recognises the need for real change and sets out some bold ideas for reform.”
Dr Liam O’Toole of Arthritis Research UK said:
“Today’s Green Paper offers a vital opportunity to better understand and then meet the needs of people with arthritis.”
The Work Foundation said:
“We have consistently advocated that good work and the benefits it brings to individuals, employers and society at large should be recognised as a positive outcome from a health perspective.”
I am afraid that her carping is out of touch with the sector comprising those who most represent disabled people.
Let me deal with some of the detail. The hon. Lady repeated her promise to scrap any kind of assessment system at all for people getting benefits. Let me quote one of my predecessors who, when the work capability assessment was introduced, said, “We want to have a system where virtually everyone who is getting benefits is doing something to prepare for a return to work. The benefits system is not there for people to stay on benefits but to help them get back to work.” I completely agree with that. It was said by Labour Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell in 2008 when introducing the WCA. I am afraid that, again, the hon. Lady is out of touch.
The hon. Lady said a lot about universal credit and described it as a failure. Let me give her the facts about universal credit. Under universal credit, people spend about 50% more time looking for work and move into work faster. For every 100 people who found work under the old jobseeker’s allowance system, 113 universal credit claimants have moved into a job. They are more likely to be looking to increase their hours—86% on universal credit compared with 38% on jobseeker’s allowance. They are more likely to be looking to increase their earnings—77% on universal credit compared with 51% on JSA. [Interruption.] I am afraid that despite all the shouting from a sedentary position, the hon. Lady is simply wrong about the effect of universal credit.
The hon. Lady asked me to make some commitments about Access to Work. Real-terms increases in funding under Access to Work will support an additional 25,000 people each year by 2021. Last year, more than 36,000 people were helped to take up or remain in employment, including 2,800 young people. Access to Work is doing very well for tens of thousands of people with disabilities.
The hon. Lady would also, I hope, welcome our personal support package, which includes the recruitment of about 200 community partners into Jobcentre Plus to bring in expertise from the voluntary sector. One of the key things about this Green Paper is that we will work closely with the voluntary sector and use its expertise to help people with a disability.
The hon. Lady talks about forcing people into work. I hope that underneath some of her rhetoric she recognises the fact—this is now recognised increasingly by medical practitioners and clinicians—that a good job is good for people’s health. Talking about forcing people into work demonstrates the wrong, old-fashioned mindset, and I genuinely hope she has moved on from that.
The hon. Lady asked about statutory sick pay. I assure her that there is nothing in this Green Paper about cutting statutory sick pay. We want to make it easier for people to move back into work, perhaps gradually, meaning that they take a few hours’ work in the early days and months of their getting back into work. The purpose of the useful changes to the fit note, which is given by a properly qualified medical practitioner, is so that the process does not simply write someone off work, but guides them into a system that will help them to get back to work, because in the long run that is the best way to improve their lives, which is what the Green Paper is about.
May I unreservedly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, which builds on and elaborates previous work? I hope, however, that he will consider two issues during the Green Paper consultation. One of the greatest difficulties with the employment and support allowance is the binary choice that lies at the heart of its design, whereby it is deemed either that someone is too sick to work, or that they should work. We know that conditions can vary in many cases. Given that universal credit is now being rolled out, with this system forming part of that, would it be feasible to move away from that binary choice so that someone who moves into work can have that extra allowance before it tapers away? Given that universal credit is critical to this, will he look again at work allowances, particularly for those with limited capability for work, because they need to be increased to their original levels?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his support. He is right about the binary choice that has obtained up to now under ESA and the fact that under the universal credit system, which he introduced, we have the capacity in the welfare system to make our approach much more flexible. That is precisely what the changes to the work capability assessment are designed to achieve—so that people are not simply put in one group or another and then left there. The much more personalised approach will mean that everyone should benefit from the assessment. We will be able to separate out the level of benefit that people should get from the level of support that they need to make the best of their lives. On the question of reversing previous changes in allowances, we have no plans to do so.
May I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement? I am glad that, at last, this long-awaited Green Paper will be published. I broadly welcome the Government’s commitment to reform, to more personalised support, and to consulting widely with disabled people, carers and those who represent them.
We will work constructively with all parties to deliver real progress for disabled people, but we need actions, not just words. The truth is that the burden of austerity that has fallen on sick and disabled people in recent years has caused severe hardship and pushed many people further away from the workplace. Sick and disabled people have been disproportionately sanctioned in the benefits system and disproportionately hit by the bedroom tax. The raising of the bar on personal independence payments has resulted in thousands of sick and disabled people losing their Motability vehicles, which in many cases are their only means of getting to and from work. From next April, sick and disabled people with long-term conditions will be deterred from going back to work, because if they do, but then have a relapse and need to go back on ESA, they will find their income cut by £30 a week. Far too many people who are manifestly too sick to work are still being found fit for work.
Earlier this year, the Government cut the budget for their Work programme from £2 billion to £130 million. Given its performance, I understand why they did that, but we know from more successful schemes to support disabled people into work such as Access to Work, and from voluntary sector initiatives such as the Moving On programme of Action on Hearing Loss, that tailored, personalised support does not come cheap. What additional budget does the Secretary of State envisage will be attached to the Government’s proposals? What discussions has he had with the Treasury ahead of the autumn statement, and will there be Barnett consequentials for Scotland?
I also want to ask the Secretary of State about support for employers. To date, efforts have focused on improving employers’ confidence, which is fine as far as it goes, but that can be fairly nebulous if there are no practical resources to back it up. Employers need concrete support to make this work. Will resources be attached to the rhetoric this time around? Finally, may I plead with the Secretary of State to hold off the impending cuts to the ESA WRAG until such time as the Government have got this right?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her general welcome for the appearance of the Green Paper and her commitment to work constructively on it. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work was in Scotland last week discussing with counterparts what needs to be done. As the hon. Lady might know, I will be there later this week to talk to the Social Security Committee.
The hon. Lady makes a point about resources, and I am able to tell her that there will be additional support for new claimants with limited capability for work. That will be £60 million next year, with the figure rising to £100 million a year by 2020. There will be new money for the third sector—something like £15 million by Christmas this year.
The hon. Lady made a very good point about employers. I agree that we need more than rhetoric, which is why we will be rolling out a small employer offer to support the creation of more job opportunities for disabled people. It will provide support for employers and enable them to apply for a payment of £500 after three months’ employment so that they can provide ongoing support. That kind of practical help, particularly for small businesses, will transform the situation for many people. We know that small businesses are the biggest creators of jobs in this country. We absolutely want them to use the great talent pool of people with disabilities, whose levels of employment are much less than those of people without disabilities.
My right hon. Friend is exactly right to take on this challenge. Does he agree that one of the keys to success in ending the enormous waste of human potential is, for the very first time, to get health services and his Department working together effectively at a community level to ensure that people on long-term sickness benefits get meaningful employment support and effective health intervention? At the moment, the system too often provides neither.
I completely agree with my right hon. Friend, who did good work on the subject during his time in this job. He will see from the Green Paper that we will be carrying out large-scale consultations on precisely the issue that he raises. In specific areas, it is important that we get right the way in which the health system and the welfare system work together. The situation might well be different in various parts of the country, so we will be holding geographically based large-scale trials.
As a former Minister for disabled people, I welcome the Secretary of State’s intention as stated in the Green Paper. Does he agree that the extra-costs benefits are tremendously important in helping people to work? Under PIP, hundreds of people a week are losing their access to Motability cars. Does he realise how important it is for those people to have their car to get to work, and what is he going to do to stop people losing their right to mobility?
Of course, PIP is not a work-related benefit, as the hon. Lady knows. It is a benefit that is designed to meet the extra costs of those who have a disability, and it is sensible that people go through the appropriate assessment for it. As I have said, I completely agree that it is important to ensure that people have access to work, and that is why we are so keen on the Access to Work programme. There will be different ways for people to access work. As I have explained, the real-terms funding for the programme will increase through to 2021. I agree with her that this is an important issue, and we are doing something about it.
Yes, that is exactly at the heart of what we are trying to do, because there have been too many gaps in the system. Health Ministers and I agree that we must get the systems working together much better so that individuals find the journey much more seamless than they ever have.
The hon. Lady makes a reasonable point. GPs will play a significant role in the system, and we want the role they play to be as constructive as possible. We have looked at ways of changing the system so that GPs can be involved earlier. The reason for the consultation on the changes to the fit note is precisely to find a way of making the fit note help the person concerned back into work without adding to the burden on GPs. We want everyone involved in the system to feel they are playing a part in helping someone to get back into work.
I too extend a warm welcome to the Green Paper. Within the next hour, we will launch, with the National Autistic Society, a report entitled “The autism employment gap”, which shows that only 16% of people on the autism spectrum are in full-time employment. That gap is bigger than the disability employment gap. I welcome the personalised support to which my right hon. Friend has referred. Will he say more about how he will tailor it to meet the individual needs of autistic people in particular?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for her kind remarks. I congratulate her on all the work she has done over many years in Parliament for those on the autism spectrum. I am pleased to tell her that we will have 1,100 specialists in autism services in Jobcentre Plus premises. She is quite right that we should never assume that disabled people are in any way homogenous: people have different needs and different requirements. She will know better than anyone that the needs of those on the autism spectrum are specific, and that they therefore need to be dealt with in a personal and specific way.
On the disabled, may I tell the Secretary of State that at my surgery on Saturday I saw a man—he will be 59 in two weeks’ time, and walks with tremendous difficulty on two crutches—who has had his employment and support allowance removed and who, during the time I was speaking to him, broke down in great distress? What sort of situation are we in when a law-abiding person of his age and suffering from disablement goes to his Member of Parliament in such a state of distress that he starts crying? I consider that a shameful situation. The Secretary of State should be aware that it is just one of many, many cases throughout the country. I will certainly write to his Department. With what result, we shall see.
Obviously, if the hon. Gentleman wants to write to us about his constituent he should please do so, because we do not want any wrong decisions to be taken. I will happily look at the individual case, although he will recognise that I cannot possibly comment on it at the moment. The one point on which I would take issue with him is when he says that this is the tip of an iceberg. Actually, the number of successful appeals against ESA judgments has fallen very significantly, from 14% to 5% in recent months, so the figures suggest that the system is getting better at making such judgments.
It is particularly those with mental health conditions who will be helped by the Green Paper, with the more tailored and personalised support. Very often, people with mental health conditions have conditions that come and go, so they may work full time some of the time, part time some of the time and not at all at other times. The changes to benefits—particularly, perhaps, those to statutory sick pay—will make it much easier for such people to stay in touch with work, perhaps working part time for a period. All the evidence suggests that people with mental health conditions are disadvantaged if they are completely detached from the world of work, because their depression may get worse.
I really welcome the Green Paper’s suggestion about the personal support package. It should be a significant improvement on the disastrous Work programme, which was a total failure for disabled people. Will the Secretary of State confirm that providers of such support will be adequately rewarded and incentivised to provide good enough support, because that was the difficulty with the Work programme?
Yes. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her supportive words. I hope she will see the personal support package make a difference. I have already mentioned the 200 community partners that will come in, so we will engage the third sector very actively in this process. We will also extend the journey to employment job clubs to 71 Jobcentre Plus areas—those with the highest number of people receiving ESA—so we are trying new ideas in the areas where we think they will particularly make a difference.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that in order to utilise the talent and enrich the lives of those with disabilities and ongoing health issues, including mental health issues, we need to make further improvements to reduce bureaucracy and personalise employment support for individual needs?
I do. On a day-to-day basis in our constituency work we will all have seen people who are frustrated by the bureaucracy. When my hon. Friend and other Members read the Green Paper they will see an emphasis on making the systems more human and more personal, so that people do not feel that they are being ground down by a very difficult bureaucracy. Bureaucracy always takes a long time to change, but we absolutely want to change it.
It is true that the Work programme has been hopeless for people claiming employment and support allowance, with a pitifully small number of people getting into jobs, as the Secretary of State acknowledged in his statement. By how much does he expect the proposals to increase the proportion of ESA claimants getting into work, and how long will it take to halve the disability employment gap?
It would be premature of me to try to set targets on either of those. The sensible thing is to take practical steps. For example, we are more than doubling the number of disability employment advisers to help with specialist and local expertise for disabled people. Along with everything else I have announced, that will be a significant step forward in halving the disability employment gap. Of course, doing so depends on both ends of it, as the halving of the gap will depend on what the total employment level is, and we are in good shape on that, as 80% of working-age people who do not have a disability are in work. But as the right hon. Gentleman knows, only 48% of those with a disability are in work. I want to make steady progress towards halving the gap, but it may take some time.
Very many—I have spoken to a number of private sector employers who are leading the way in providing the equipment needed. But what happens in the public sector is to some extent more under the Government’s control, so I hope that by the end of this year every Whitehall Department will be signed up as a Disability Confident employer and that in the course of 2017 the rest of the public sector will have followed. The public sector is a very large-scale employer so that will be very helpful.
I broadly welcome the thrust of the Green Paper, but I suggest that there are two things the Secretary of State could do for people with mental health conditions now. One is to ensure that assessors undertaking work capability tests are properly qualified. Secondly, can we stop the small number of people with long-term, enduring mental health conditions, who are never going to work, going round this merry-go-round, which is not good for them or for the taxpayer?
I am grateful for the expertise the hon. Gentleman brings to this. I will take both his points on board. In fact, on his second point, he may have seen that I have already announced that we are going to stop retesting those with a condition that already means that they cannot work and that will only stay the same or get worse. That seems to me a piece of pointless and fundamentally heartless bureaucracy that we can happily get rid of.
I encourage the Secretary of State to apply his very human and welcome fresh pair of eyes to the whole system. Damage will be done to his very good intentions if he proceeds with the cuts to universal credit work allowances and the ESA WRAG. I urge him to personally understand the risks in proceeding with both of those cuts.
As my hon. Friend knows, we have had private discussions on this point, and I have heard her discuss it on a number of public platforms as well. I can only repeat what I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith): although we are not looking for new cuts in the welfare budget or welfare benefits, we have no plans to reverse anything that has already been legislated for.
I welcome the Green Paper in the broadest sense if we can have a dialogue about improving the lives of disabled people, but the point has just been made that we need to ensure that the funding is on the table to protect people going back into work and those who need support. Perhaps two words are missing from the document and the Minister’s statement: “compassion” and “dignity”. Let us hope we get them in the Government’s response.
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman and am grateful for his general support. I absolutely agree that the system should show compassion at all times, and that those who deal with the system should feel that they are being dealt with with dignity, and that it is being preserved. We are at one on that.
I very much welcome today’s announcement. The chief executive of Scope, Mark Atkinson, rightly highlights that the assessment should be the first step for support. Therefore, will the Secretary of State set out how stakeholders and charities can not only shape future policy but help to deliver the expert tailored employment support so needed?
I am grateful for the support from my hon. Friend, who did excellent work when he was the Minister for Disabled People. I am happy to reassure him that there will be localised services, with facilitated pacts done at a local level so that in each individual jobcentre and area the appropriate type of support will be available after an assessment has been made.
I welcome the assurances given by the Secretary of State on statutory sick pay, but does he realise that millions of people in this country are in work but do not qualify for it because they are classed as self-employed? As part of this process, will he agree to consider implementing the relevant recommendations of the Deane review of self-employment?
The hon. Gentleman is right that there are increasing numbers of self-employed people, and we want to ensure that they are treated as fairly as everyone else. Indeed, one of the successes of recent years is the new enterprise allowance, which has allowed nearly 20,000 disabled people to start up businesses. That is about one in five of business start-ups, so it is a significant part of the system, and it means that we are very alive to the needs of self-employed people.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and the announcement of the Green Paper, but will he reassure me that he will also look at making further improvements to the work capability assessment to make it as smooth as possible for claimants, because that will make a big difference?
We have had five different reviews of the work capability assessment in the past six years, and the ideas I am bringing forward today are the latest response. There is no system so good that it cannot be improved, and I would welcome my hon. Friend’s input to make the system even better in future.
The Government’s target of halving the disability employment gap is very welcome. The Green Paper offers £115 million in funding for a new model of employment support. Will the Secretary of State confirm that that figure represents less than 5% of the total cut that disabled people have experienced in disability living allowance and employment and support allowance?
The hon. Gentleman is slightly confusing apples and pears. This is a support programme to get people with a disability back into work. The best route out of poverty for people with a disability, as it is generally, is to have a job. As a society, we have been much less good at allowing and encouraging people with a disability back into work than we have for the general population. The Green Paper is intended to address that problem.
My constituents in Kettering want to know whether the Secretary of State thinks that the film “I, Daniel Blake” is an accurate portrayal of the benefits system. If it is, do the changes he has announced in the Green Paper address the problems raised? If it is not, what are the inaccuracies?
I have not seen the film yet but have seen quite a lot of trailers. [Interruption.] I would point out to my hon. Friend and the hon. Lady on the Opposition Bench who is chuntering from a sedentary position that it is a work of fiction and not a documentary. It bears no relation to the modern benefits system. As I understand it, it is monstrously unfair to jobcentre staff, who are hugely conscientious people doing a job, sometimes in difficult conditions, and doing it very well indeed.
If the Secretary of State believes that the disability appeals system is improving, will he explain why he is investing a further £22 million in recruiting more staff to assist the Department for Work and Pensions in defeating more personal independence payment and work capability assessment claims?
I welcome the Green Paper’s direction of travel. Will its additional, personalised and tailored support for disabled people reach them by April, when they will lose the WRAG payments—which was a condition of support for the ESA cuts for many of my hon. Friends?
I know that my hon. Friend has a deep interest in this area, and, when he reads the Green Paper in full, he will find that there are many measures we can take immediately so that help will flow through in the coming months to many people who have a disability but also have the burning desire to get back into work.
The manifesto of the Secretary of State’s party set out an aim of halving the disability employment gap, but the Government now appear to have watered down that commitment to merely making progress. In his response to my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), the Secretary of State rejected targets, but without setting out milestones and monitoring progress towards them, how will he judge the success of his Government’s actions?
I did not water down the commitment. The original commitment in the manifesto did not have an end date, so I am merely repeating the manifesto commitment. We will publicise all the relevant information so that the House and the public will know the progress we are making. There has been progress in the past few years. The percentage of disabled people employed has gone up in recent years, but I intend to improve on that progress in future.
I very much welcome what the Secretary of State has had to say this afternoon, especially in relation to greater support for those with mental health conditions. What steps does he plan to take to make sure that we engage properly with people affected by such conditions and the organisations that represent them to ensure that we get this right?
As I have said, we are doing large-scale, localised consultations, and that is the way to do it. There is a huge network of 750 jobcentres around the country, so the DWP has the power to get into local areas and know what local conditions are. That is by far the most powerful tool we have to make sure that the services we offer can be appropriately sensitive in every local area.
Despite some changes, the work capability assessment system is fundamentally flawed. Surely reform must ensure that, as well as the system judging whether people are fit for a job, the jobs are available for them. Will the Secretary of State look at whether a new assessment can include the jobs available in a local area as well as the claimant’s condition?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that more jobs are available and being taken in our economy than ever before. General levels of unemployment are very low—4.9% is a rate that would have been unimaginable in previous eras, so we should be proud of that. The key is to make sure that those jobs—I agree with him on this point—can be matched to those who may have a disability or long-term health condition so that they can take advantage of the vibrant jobs market we currently have.