Can you issue a papal bull, Mr Speaker, stating that we do not have to say happy new year—but happy new year anyway?
That is very welcome. We do not need to take up unnecessary time, but I appreciate the spirit of the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion.
I shall not say happy new year again, Mr Speaker.
Evidence shows that being in the right work is good for health, and that being out of work can have a detrimental effect on health. That was why I launched the “Work, health and disability” Green Paper jointly with the Secretary of State for Health. The Green Paper expresses our intention of working with healthcare professionals to help people into employment, and our current consultations ask how we can best achieve that goal.
Helen Stokes-Lampard, the chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, has rightly spoken about the burden of work on GPs. Notwithstanding that, what analysis has my right hon. Friend carried out of the effectiveness of fit notes in getting people back to work?
I am keen to improve their effectiveness in that regard, and I also take my hon. Friend’s point about the pressure on GPs. In the consultation document we consider the possibility of extending the issuing of fit notes to other healthcare professionals, and I shall be interested to see what response we receive, not just from those who receive the fit notes but from the professionals involved.
I strongly support my right hon. Friend in respect of this specific policy. Does he agree, however, that as the consultants—as it were—to whom patients are referred will be work coaches, it is critical that those people receive training that will enable them to deal with the hardest cases among those who are unemployed, particularly those with pressing mental health problems?
I agree with my hon. Friend and am grateful for his support. I am happy to reassure him that all work coaches will complete specific training for their role, including a course that combines the knowledge, skills and behaviour that they will need to deal with the people with whom they work, particularly those with mental health conditions. Obviously, work coaches will need specific skills to handle the many issues that will arise from such conditions.
Obviously I do not know the details of the individual case, but if the hon. Gentleman writes to me or the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, we will look at it. I can assure him, however, that in the vast majority of cases, work coaches do their best and work very hard to help people to make the most of their lives, and to get into employment. That is at the heart of what we do.
After the big cut in employment and support allowance takes place in April and the new Work and Health programme is established, will the Department be spending more or less on employment support for ESA claimants than is currently the case under the Work programme and Work Choice?
I am happy to assure the right hon. Gentleman that as part of the changes there is an extra £330 million support programme for those in that group. We will target support more effectively to ensure that as many of them as possible can get back into work.