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Access to Work

Volume 742: debated on Monday 18 December 2023

Access to Work remains in high demand. We are increasing the number of staff processing Access to Work claims, and prioritising renewal applications for those with a job start within four weeks. We are improving the service through increased digitisation to improve the time from application through to decision.

I thank the Minister for her answer. Back in September, I asked the then Minister about the impact of long waiting times for Access to Work assessments on the neurodiverse, and I would like to press further on the impact of long waits for assessments in the NHS. What analysis has been done, and does the Minister appreciate the cost to the economy of not making the right adjustments to unlock such unused potential?

I thank the hon. Member for his point. I, too, pressed the previous Minister on this matter, and I shall be pressing myself going forward. In fact, we met and fed in work involving Thriiver in my constituency, and we have been working with stakeholders, partners and employer organisations to make sure this link is joined up. We are determined that Access to Work will continue to be fit for purpose, and that we will deliver a modern and efficient digital service. Our new online portal is part of that. I think it is key to hear the experiences and to link up with other Departments.

I welcome my hon. Friend to her new expanded role in the Department for Work and Pensions. The last time I raised Access to Work with her, it was about a particular blockage in my constituency, and I thank her for resolving that. She will know as well as I do that one of the biggest challenges for young disabled people is the transition into work. What reassurance can she give me that she is prioritising the applications of young people, so that when they move into their first job, that is not impeded by too slow a reaction from Access to Work?

I thank my right hon. Friend, and I hope I am the Minister for getting things done in this brief, as I have been in all my other briefs in my almost five years at the DWP. I will be leaning very much into those details. I will be very clear with the House that the focus on youth transitions is really important for the sector and for the individual people we are talking about. I agree with my right hon. Friend, and I will be looking into that in the new year.

It is a pleasure to welcome the new Minister to her post. After a week of no news, I was starting to worry that the Prime Minister was not going to appoint anyone. I think she is aware of the huge Access to Work backlog her predecessor failed to tackle. Over the last year, it has reduced by only 942, with a staggering 24,339 still waiting, so hardly a dent has been made. What will she do to speed this up and ensure that thousands of disabled people are not left waiting months to start work?

I thank the hon. Lady for her welcome to this post, and I hope that I have already spelled out my commitment to delivering in this brief. I think that prioritising the process of Access to Work claims, renewals and job starts within four weeks is key, as is making sure that those with mental health support needs get additional support and that those who are deaf or hard of hearing also get that focus and that reach. I assure the hon. Lady that we have increased the number of staff in this space. On my handover from the previous Minister, I would take issue with the hon. Lady about the focus he had on reforming Access to Work and making sure it was fit for purpose, but I am happy to engage with her further.

All we see from this Government are delays: delays processing Access to Work applications; delays publishing the disability action plan; and now delays in appointing the new Minister. When her new role was finally announced, it had been downgraded from Minister of State to Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State. What message does she think that sends to disabled people, and will she push to be made Minister of State like her predecessor?

I thank the hon. Lady for lobbying for my elevation and rank in this House. I am delighted to respond by making it clear to the lobby and to those we are talking about and looking after that that makes no material difference to their day-to-day life. There is no difference in my convening power or in the day-to-day work. Our next cross-Government ministerial disability champions meeting is in the new year. Let me be clear: this is not about rank. We are sent to this House to serve people and to engage and listen, and I will do that whatever the title or rank.