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People with Disabilities: Employment Support

Volume 673: debated on Monday 9 March 2020

The Government are committed to seeing 1 million more disabled people in work between 2017 and 2027. We support disabled people to return to work through our work coaches and disability employment advisers. This is achieved through programmes such as the Work and Health programme, Access to Work and the new intensive personalised employment support programme.

I welcome the news that 16,000 employers have signed up to participate in the Disability Confident scheme, which is a fantastic initiative that helps employers to unlock the talent of workers with disabilities and is changing attitudes for the better. What plans does my hon. Friend have to expand the scheme further and encourage more businesses to sign up?

I am pleased to report that as of last month we are at 17,353. We use Disability Confident to empower employers of all sizes to share best practice. Only last week, I met all the Health and Work programme providers to look at how they can work with those businesses that have signed up for Disability Confident to offer more opportunities for disabled people.

I thank the Minister for his response. What is being done to support ex-forces personnel, who may have physical or mental disabilities, into employment, perhaps even through the auspices of bringing the armed forces covenant into statute?

I thank my hon. Friend for that important question. The Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince), who is the Minister for Welfare Delivery, has been doing a huge amount of work in leading on that issue. We are making sure that we offer resettlement support; support from our armed forces champions, for which posts there is a £6 million package of support; and early access to the Work and Health programme. The Office for Veterans’ Affairs is committed to putting the armed forces covenant on a statutory footing and it will have our full support.

We all want to see more disabled people supported into work, but it is also vital that they receive the support that they are entitled to through employment and support allowance and personal independence payments. It has recently been reported that vulnerable and disabled people who have appealed against decisions to deny them those benefits are being pressured to accept unrecorded telephone deals that pay thousands of pounds less than they may be legally entitled to. The Minister’s Department is accused of telling some people that the offer would be withdrawn if they did not accept it within minutes. How can that practice possibly be acceptable?

I thank the hon. Member for raising that issue, which was covered in the media. It is not something that should be happening. We have changed the mandatory reconsideration process so that we can try to support claimants who are challenging a decision to gather the additional written and oral evidence at that stage, rather than their having to wait for the lengthy independent appeal process. Stakeholders and charities are extremely supportive of that process, which is new and making a significant difference, but I am disappointed to hear that in some cases it has not been of the standard that it should be. We will review that.

The trouble with many people who have had brain injuries, particularly traumatic brain injuries, is that the nature of their condition is such that it varies considerably from day to day, week to week. They can suffer from phenomenal lassitude, making it almost impossible for them to get out of bed—not out of laziness, but because their brain and their body will not work in that way. How can we make sure that everybody who is working for the DWP, whether they are assessing a person for a benefit or trying to help them into work, fully understands brain injury?

I thank the hon. Member who has been a long-standing campaigner in this very important area. We work with claimants, charities and stakeholders in all areas to improve the training and awareness that all our health professionals and frontline staff have, and this is a very important area of work.