In the Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced a £1,000 a year increase in the work allowances under universal credit, which will provide a £630 boost to working disabled people and families on low incomes. That is in addition to the additional support for claimants in receipt of severe disability premium announced in June.
I thank my hon. Friend for her reply. Will she join me in welcoming the success of the Disability Confident programme, which many employers in both the private and public sectors are embracing with enthusiasm? Is it making a difference to the number of disabled people who are in employment?
I am delighted to echo my hon. Friend’s words. We are determined that every disabled person has the opportunity to fulfil their potential, and Disability Confident has helped many employers recruit and retain talented disabled people. The latest data indicates that there are now 3.9 million disabled people in work, which is an increase of 973,000 since 2013.
Somerset’s economy is characterised by tens of thousands of small businesses and start-ups. How many start-up loans have been granted to people with disabilities, and what steps is the Department taking to help to ensure that those with disabilities across the Wells constituency have the support that they need to start their own small business?
That is an excellent question. The new enterprise allowance supports people to set up a business, and a quarter of the 220,000 new entrepreneurs have a self-declared disability. The personal support package, the Work and Health programme and Access to Work all support self-employed disabled people. A record 33,860 people were supported through Access to Work this year, an increase of 13% on last year.
That may be so, but the charity Scope reports that the disability employment gap has remained stubbornly at 30% for about a decade. Will the Minister make a bold commitment to disabled people up and down the country and reinstate the previous target of halving the disability employment gap?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will, like Scope, welcome data published last week by the Office for National Statistics showing that, for the first time since records were kept, there are more disabled people in work than out of work. We are utterly determined to close that unemployment gap to make sure that the whole nation draws on all the talents of disabled people.
The DWP has repeatedly ignored evidence of the devastating impact of cuts to social security on disabled people. The UN report into extreme poverty found that
“compassion...has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited, and...callous approach”
to social security. The Government have a history of dismissing UN recommendations on disabled people, but the Department now has a chance to end that. Will the Minister finally listen and accept the conclusions of the most recent UN report?
We are putting in place record levels of funding to support people with disabilities. In every single year of this Government we increase our expenditure for people with disabilities. I published a very full response to the previous UN report, and I utterly repudiate the conclusion that this country does not support disabled people. I am determined to make sure that every disabled person in our country has the opportunity to fulfil their potential.
The UN report condemned the Government’s sanctions regime as “debilitating”, “draconian”, “harsh” and “arbitrary”, and urged the Government to conduct an independent review, yet Ministers recently admitted that they broke their promise and failed to carry out such a review. Has the Department learnt its lessons about creating a hostile environment, and will the Minister commit to carrying out an independent review of sanctions and conditionality on disabled people?
The benefit system is there to provide personalised and tailored support for its recipients. There were factual errors in the reporting by the UN rapporteur. For example, on mandatory reconsiderations, he absolutely denied the fact that decisions were overturned, yet 19% of mandatory reconsiderations found in favour of disabled people. We have undertaken a huge number of independent reviews of our benefit system and we do not hesitate in making improvements when they are identified.