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Mental Health: Support

Volume 621: debated on Monday 20 February 2017

2. What steps the Government are taking to ensure that people with mental health conditions are supported into work. (908757)

We have been seeking views on this through the “Work, Health and Disability” Green Paper. We are also investing £100 million in trialling voluntary employment initiatives to consider what works for this group, including embedding employment advisers within the NHS talking therapy services.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does she agree that local voluntary groups, such as the Talk It Out mental health group in my constituency, do invaluable work to help people to be work-ready, and that we must do more to support them?

I agree that voluntary organisations have huge insight and expertise that we can tap into, and I commend the work of Talk It Out in my hon. Friend’s constituency. We are recruiting 200 community partners throughout the Jobcentre Plus network so that we can ensure we reach all those organisations and benefit from their huge experience and wisdom.

What consideration has been given to providing tax breaks to employers that hire employees with a certified mental health illness, as proposed by the National Autistic Society and others?

My hon. Friend has hit on a theme of the Green Paper. Much work is going on in this area, not only for those with mental illness but for those with a learning disability. One health trial is currently looking at discounting business rates for employers with good mental health practice.

The Government’s laudable aspiration to halve the disability employment gap is completely meaningless without a date being attached to it. What is the Minister’s latest assessment of how long it will take to halve that gap?

The target of halving the disability employment gap is at the same time both hugely ambitious and hugely underwhelming. We should be working to ensure that everyone can reach their full potential. I have asked the Department—the right hon. Gentleman’s office will have been supplied with this information—to look at the local need in all our constituencies. How many people with a learning disability do we need to ensure can get into work? How many people with particular conditions are we focused on? We need to focus on those numbers, not on some arbitrary formula that will change with all sorts of other factors. The labour market survey will still contain all the measures it has contained in the past, but if we are really to crack this issue we need to focus everyone locally on the local numbers.

I agree with the aim that the Minister has outlined, but in my constituency office the overwhelming issue, particularly for those with mental health conditions, is the assessment process for personal independence payments, which is causing individuals real distress and great worry about their future and their ability to support themselves. I welcome the work being done with local partners, because at the moment the system is not working. The sooner the Government realise that, the better.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. We are clearly looking to reform the work capability assessment on employment and support allowance. That affords us some opportunities to look at the PIP assessment process, to which there have already been many improvements. If we can ensure that both those systems are sharing data properly, we should be able to reduce the burden on the claimant.

12. What are the Government doing to raise awareness of the Access to Work programme and the support it can offer to employers who want to make reasonable adjustments for employees with disabilities? (908768)

The Access to Work programme is popular, and is just one of the Government’s schemes to provide support and financial assistance to employers. One way in which we are publicising that is through the Disability Confident scheme, which we relaunched last autumn. Around 4,000 organisations have now signed up to it, and it is one way of ensuring that employers really do understand the support that is there for them, as well as the huge talent and insight that this group of people can bring to their workforce.

Many people with mental health problems pay the bedroom tax. Three months ago, the Government lost three cases in the Supreme Court that had been brought by disabled people over the bedroom tax. How has the Department identified other disabled people who should not be paying that tax, and when will disabled people in Bermondsey and Old Southwark and across the country stop having to pay it?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is a discretionary fund that is administered at a local level. Many local authorities have not accessed the fund. The vast majority of people, including those who are disabled, are exempt from the scheme. If he has examples of cases where that is not happening, he should write to us and let us know.

22. What are the Government doing to draw on the expertise of charities and other third sector organisations to help find the best way to support those most in need into the workplace, as many charities have much experience in supporting those with mental health conditions? (908778)

In addition to the community partners that we are recruiting to ensure that we have local networks plugged into our Jobcentre Plus scheme, we are also looking at opportunities for where that sector can increase the services that it already provides and derive an income from them. One such example is our one-stop-shop hub for employers, which can be a shop window for many of the organisations that already provide support to employers and that want to do more.

Will the Minister say a little more about how ESA and PIP assessments for those with mental illnesses work? I have six cases where mandatory reconsideration letters are identical to the letters providing the original decision. I have four cases—she knows of one of them because she has written to me about it—where the wrong information, about other people, has been cut and pasted into the mandatory reconsideration letter.

Let me point out that only 3% of those decisions are overturned. The vast majority of the assessments are good. The hon. Lady should let me know if she has examples of where that is not the case. One thing I have done to ensure that we get more timely information about where things are going wrong and where standards are not being maintained is to establish a claimant user rep panel, which will go live in the next few weeks. It will be rolled out on a very large scale across the country. In the meantime, she should keep on flagging up the issues that she finds.

Perhaps the Minister could talk a little more about the ESA assessments for those with mental health conditions, with particular regard to regulations 29 and 35 of the Employment and Support Allowance Regulations 2008, as they are causing much distress to disabled people.

We are looking at the assessment process. A huge amount has already been done to ensure that assessors and those in our Jobcentre Plus networks have been trained to recognise the needs of people with a mental health condition and to ensure that what they are doing is fit for purpose. The Green Paper on work and health will provide us with the opportunity to re-evaluate entirely those assessment processes primarily for ESA, but it will also reveal some opportunities for PIP.

People with mental health conditions and autism whom I met recently in Bristol told me of the difficulties they face getting into work. They also told me about the issues relating to PIP, work capability assessments and sanctions. Those in the ESA support group fear that the Green Paper spells out that they will be targeted next after cuts to people on the ESA work-related activity group in April. How does the Minister justify ESA WRAG cuts, cuts to employment support, jobcentre closures and the liberal use of sanctions as helping disabled people into work when there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary?

We are doing more for that group of people, which is why, despite the hon. Lady’s request, I will not be pulling the personalised support package that will take effect in April.