We have recruited thousands of new work coaches and expanded our jobcentre network through our plan for jobs. That, alongside our successful vaccine roll-out, means that we are seeing more claimants face-to-face in a covid-secure way. We are also delivering additional provision, including job-finding support, job entry targeted support, our £2 billion kickstart scheme and our restart scheme. We have also opened new Department for Work and Pensions youth hubs, expanded the sector-based work academy programme and increased our flexible support fund. Thanks to our work coaches and the plan for jobs, they now have more tools than ever to support claimants back into work.
I welcome the Minister’s response, but my two local jobcentres are seeing a number of people fail to turn up for their appointments with work coaches. That appears to be driven by the lack of sanctions because of the pandemic, so what is my hon. Friend doing to make it easier for jobcentres to use sanctions?
I am proud that our jobcentres have remained open throughout the pandemic to support the most vulnerable customers. Claimant commitments have continued to be tailored to individual circumstances by work coaches since July last year, meaning that sanctions remain at record low levels as we fully consider individual circumstances before deciding whether to apply a sanction.
It is really important that young people who are looking for that first break into employment do not pay the heaviest price from the pandemic. That is why the youth hubs, including the one in Burnley, are so welcome. I thank all the local jobcentre staff for the work they have done to set that up. To encourage young people to go and use it, will the Minister confirm what support they will get when they go into the youth hub, and would she like to join me in visiting the one in Burnley, so that we can get as many people through the door as possible?
I have visited new youth hubs, both physically and virtually, including in Caterham, Rotherham, Liverpool and Winsford, and I would be delighted to join my hon. Friend and the team at Burnley. I know that they are working in partnership with the council, Calico, Burnley Together, the Prince’s Trust, Active Lancashire and Burnley football club. Our youth hubs tailor their support, alongside local partners, to the needs of the community, and that is why they are so important in helping our young people to thrive.
Last Friday, I was very pleased to see a young apprentice at a local Staffordshire engineering business whom I had met previously when she was studying at Stafford College. Will my hon. Friend explain what she is planning to do to help the jobcentre in Stafford and how the Government will provide more employment opportunities for young people in Staffordshire to help to level up the west midlands?
I know that my hon. Friend takes a strong interest in her Jobcentre Plus, as she updated me following her visit. I remind Members that since September 2020, our enhanced DWP youth offer has provided wraparound support for 18 to 24-year-old claimants, providing a 13-week tailored pre-employment course. I am pleased that Stafford JCP is hosting an interactive kickstart event tomorrow; our JCPs do that kind of event and engagement regularly.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for all her team are doing to support people back into work. In conversations with my local jobcentre staff this week, they reported very positive progress. They asked what opportunities there might be to consider extending kickstart-style schemes or incentives, so they are able to help out-of-work adults as well as young people. I wonder if my hon. Friend could help me to answer their question.
I am proud that our plan for jobs supports people, at any age and at any career stage, who are looking for new opportunities through, for example, our sector-based work academy programmes, our enhanced “50 PLUS: Choices” offer, and the new DWP “Train and Progress”, through which people can train for longer into a growing sector using the flexibilities built in within universal credit.
I thank my hon. Friend for her earlier answers. Before this terrible pandemic hit, I had the opportunity to visit my local jobcentre in Clacton. Its staff are enthusiastic and devoted to their work, but that workload has increased dramatically as our hospitality and tourism sectors have been hit. These sectors are vital to the Clacton economy. Is the Minister taking account of our often overlooked and deprived coastal areas as the Government continue their important work of helping people affected by this terrible pandemic back into work?
Understanding the needs of every community is key—[Interruption.] I hear the Secretary of State mention Suffolk Coastal. The success of our jobcentres in understanding the local economy and getting local people back into work is key. Our JCPs change lives every day. One recent success story in Clacton was a customer who recently started a kickstart job in wildlife conservation—I am not sure whether my hon. Friend is joining him there at the moment—as a result of the five-week pre-employment course at the DWP.
Disabled people require support to get back into work. Disability is defined in the Equality Act 2010 as
“a physical or mental impairment”
“has a substantial and long-term adverse effect”
“ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.”
Of the 2 million in the UK with long covid, three in 10 have experienced symptoms lasting longer than a year, including fatigue, difficulty concentrating and shortness of breath. This is resulting in widespread disadvantage and discrimination, and is erecting barriers to employment. Will the Minister commit to recognising long covid as a disability from the point of diagnosis to ensure that workers have support and protection against discrimination in the workplace?
We always tailor personalised support to individual circumstances. I am proud of what we have done throughout the pandemic, particularly at our JCPs, to keep them open and keep people feeling safe, and to support businesses and workers to feel safe. I recently joined a spot check at the Bootle HQ with the CEO of the Health and Safety Executive. We have done over a quarter of a million checks to make sure that people feel safe at work.