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Supporting Disabled People into Work

Volume 711: debated on Monday 21 March 2022

We are committed to seeing 1 million more disabled people in work by 2027. A wide range of initiatives are available to support disabled people to stay in work or move into work, including contracted employment support, Access to Work, Disability Confident, and initiatives in partnership with the health system.

I am sure the Minister would agree that an important part of preventing the disability employment gap from widening further is the provision of assistive technology for disabled claimants who are applying for jobs. Can the Minister advise the House on whether every jobcentre is equipped with assistive technology for disabled claimants and whether that is supported by appropriate staff training—and if not, why not?

We have 900 disability employment advisers who individually work with claimants to help them to progress. One of the most positive outcomes of the kickstart scheme has been the number of people with neurodiversity or disabilities getting a first start into work because they worked directly with their work coaches to understand what support they needed to get into work. There is also, of course, the Access to Work programme.

This Thursday, the all-party parliamentary group for multiple sclerosis is launching a report on the support that people with MS receive to get into and remain in employment, and to leave employment. According to the report, people with MS are not receiving enough support from their employers to remain in work. On average, 80% of people with a diagnosis have to retire within 15 years of receiving that bad news. Will the Department commit to improving Access to Work by reducing waiting times, ending the payment cap altogether, and helping employees to better support their disabled employees to thrive and remain in work?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising a really important point about employers being able to understand and work with their employees as their health needs change. Employers stepping forward to do more to retain quality staff is absolutely right. She will be pleased to know that we are adapting Access to Work to support hybrid working. We have introduced a new flexible offer, and we are also piloting an adjustment passport to help to smooth transitions into employment. Perhaps we need to look at that in terms of those leaving or having to change their employment. I am sure the Minister for disabled people, the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), who is unwell today, will be keen to hear from the hon. Lady.

Many people who live with disabilities struggle to enter the workplace as they often lack the soft skills and the confidence needed. In my constituency of Southend West, we have a wonderful charity called the Phabulous Café, which provides a training centre for young people with disabilities, learning difficulties and mental health issues to help them gain those essential soft skills. What support do the Government give such charities to help people with disabilities live their lives to the full?

The Phabulous Café is exactly what its name says. I welcome my hon. Friend to her place, as this is my first time responding to her. Support for small charities exists in the form of the work with the Regional Stakeholder Network, which provides charities with a platform to influence policies that directly impact the lives of disabled people. Through the RSN, support is provided for small charities by helping them to navigate the often difficult process of accessing public sector grants and contracts. I am keen to see the Phabulous Café in action soon.