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People with Disabilities: Employment

Volume 662: debated on Monday 1 July 2019

We support disabled people into work through initiatives like the Work and Health programme, the Personal Support Package, and the new Intensive Personalised Employment Support programme launching at the end of 2019. Access to Work approved support for nearly 34,000 disabled workers last year, and we engage with employers through the Disability Confident campaign.

The 19% disability employment gap in Cheadle highlights our untapped talent and the challenge facing the Government in getting a further 1 million disabled people into work over the next eight years. Greater flexibility in working hours, managing time and accommodating medical appointments are just some of the ways to close the gap, but there is clearly more to be done. Does my hon. Friend agree that employers should be encouraged to think creatively about how to make work more accommodating to disabled people?

My hon. Friend is spot on. I was at Employability Day on Friday, celebrating, meeting disabled people who had got into work and, crucially, meeting employers who had often made very small changes. The key message was that it is a win-win. The 950,000 more disabled people who we have got into work are making a real difference to businesses that have taken those steps.

I recently met the charity Root Experience at Chichester library, where it was launching a book called “Hidden Stories”. The book puts a spotlight on hidden disabilities such as epilepsy or autism and how they impact people on a day-to-day basis. Would my hon. Friend be happy to receive a copy of the book? What steps is the DWP taking to promote education and awareness of hidden disabilities in the workplace?

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting that fantastic book. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Robert Buckland) and I recently went to Swindon Council library and were handed a copy of this excellent book. It is currently sitting on the back seat of my car. It is a brilliant edition, and I hope that as many MPs as possible can see this proactive and constructive way to champion opportunities that people with hidden disabilities can offer.

I am sure the Minister will agree that we want all our pupils to stay in full-time education until they are 18, including those with special needs and disabilities. However, at 16 these pupils face the change of moving from disability living allowance to personal independence payment. That is out of step with changes faced by other children. For example, other children aged 16 in full-time education are able to continue to claim free prescriptions, free eye tests and free dental checks, but children with special needs and disabilities have to face this change in benefits at 16. This is extremely stressful—it is stressful enough for these children to be going on to college, let alone having to change benefits. Will the Minister look at changing that, so that children in full-time education at 16 do not change benefits until they finish?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that important point. I recognise the points that she made, but it is a balance. The decision to do this has been in place for a long time, to allow for everything in be in place for when they get to 18, but I am happy to meet her to discuss this further.

Can the Minister explain the very long delays in the limited work capability assessment to qualify for the working element of universal credit, and why disabled people who are trying to work are being penalised because of the apparent inefficiency of the contractor, Maximus?

Under universal credit, from the initial conversation with a work coach, individual claimants—including those with disabilities—can get support. We continue to make improvements to the work capability assessment, following the five independent reviews. Over 100 different recommendations have been taken on board. I work very closely with stakeholders, as do all the ministerial team. We look to continue to improve the process.

Support for disabled people in work should be a top priority for this Government, but on several occasions I have raised with Ministers a fundamental flaw under universal credit for disabled people in work, which is that to qualify for in-work support, such as the work allowance, one must be found unfit for work under the work capability assessment. That contrasts with legacy social security, where someone qualifies for in-work support by being in receipt of DLA or PIP. Does the Minister agree that this is absurd, and will he commit today to rectifying this illogical and damaging policy?

I will commit to continuing to do everything we can to ensure that all people with disabilities and long-term health conditions have the maximum chance to get into work. I am very proud of the fact that over the last five years alone, 950,000 more disabled people are in work, and we continue to make good progress towards our target of a further 1 million disabled people in work by 2027.