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Employment and Disabled People

Volume 629: debated on Monday 9 October 2017

The employment rate among disabled people has increased to 49%, and the Government are committed to getting 1 million more disabled people into work over the next 10 years.

In 2015, the Minister said the Government’s aim was to halve the disability employment gap by 2020, and in 2016 the Social Market Foundation said that that meant an extra 1.2 million disabled people in employment, but now the Minister tells us that the ambition is for an extra 1 million disabled people in work within 10 years. Why are Ministers becoming less ambitious for disability employment?

When Labour was in office, it did very well in closing the disability employment gap—by raising the unemployment level among the general population. We will take a different approach. As I have said in this place before, we will look in great detail at the local numbers—for example, the numbers of people with a learning disability coming out of education; that is what we need to get people focused on.

I warmly welcome the latest employment figures, particularly the youth employment figures. We are within touching distance of record youth unemployment. On young disabled people, will the Minister comment on Leonard Cheshire Disability and the great work it does, particularly its Can Do scheme? I think she recently met ambassadors of that scheme.

I thank my hon. Friend for allowing me to pay tribute to Leonard Cheshire. It has launched a number of interesting and effective initiatives, which are very much part of our Work and Health programme.

A constituent suffering from mental health problems who came to my surgery at the weekend has been denied employment and support allowance. Her sister came with her to tell me that my constituent had attempted suicide four days earlier. What is the Department going to do to identify and help vulnerable people like her?

In recent years the Department has introduced a number of measures to ensure that those who carry out assessments for either personal independence payments or ESA have had training so that they can recognise a mental health condition and flag up that condition or any concerns they may have. However, the work capability assessment itself is not working. It was introduced by the Labour party—[Interruption]—with the best intentions, but it has elements that do not work. Given the opportunities that will result from the work and health road map, I hope that Labour will work with us to reform those elements.

I am organising a Disability Confident event in my constituency to try to encourage more employers to take on people with disabilities, and I am grateful to the jobcentre for its support. Would the Minister like to come along so that she can, in person, encourage employees in my constituency to take on more disabled people?

I congratulate my hon. Friend and other Members on both sides of the House who have run Disability Confident events and signed up employers. Our 5,000th employer has just been signed up. If I cannot attend my hon. Friend’s event, I shall be happy to send a video instead.

But I am sure that it is a personal ambition of the hon. Lady to go to her hon. Friend’s constituency. We look forward to getting an update in due course.

May I address my question to the Minister who speaks for a party that has been in power for more than seven years? This morning my constituent, Debbie A, came to tell me that she had failed her ESA assessment, first because she had been told that she could hear her name being called from the waiting room, when in fact she had been told that it was being called by her son, who was sitting next to her; and, secondly, because the report had said that she had been hit by a bus, when in fact she had been hit on a bus. Does not the Minister accept that there are profound systemic problems in the assessment process?

There are things that we can do to improve the assessment process dramatically and also, more critically, to prevent people from having to go through those assessments. The thrust of the health and work consultation paper that we issued this year is to bring about early intervention in healthcare and to use healthcare information to populate the welfare system, and that is what we are trying to do.

What steps are the Government taking to use technology to help their equality agenda, specifically in respect of disabilities?

We have just launched a platform called OpenLab, which brings together those working in technology and disability, and focuses primarily on accessibility issues. It will enable us to publicise problems that we are trying to solve, but will also enable that community to work together to arrive at solutions faster.