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Work Capability Assessments

Volume 776: debated on Tuesday 8 November 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they intend to consult British businesses on the proposals for work capability assessments contained in the work, health and disability Green Paper, Improving Lives.

We are developing our consultation plan to ensure that we engage properly with British business on the proposals for reform, given the key role that it has to play in improving health and work outcomes. We are working with local enterprise partnership networks to reach a range of employers and employer organisations. A particular focus will be on listening to small and medium-sized employers to understand the support they need to better promote the health of their employees.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Last Monday we had two Statements following each other, one on capability assessment and the other on Nissan. The Minister said,

“We need to harness that positive power of business to promote disability awareness”.—[Official Report, 31/10/16; col. 482.]

The Green Paper asks, “How can we encourage employers to recruit disabled people?”. As we know, Nissan is a hugely important employer, employing 35,000 people. Was capability assessment one of the topics on the agenda of the Nissan talks and, if not, do the Government intend to raise it in future?

We relaunched Disability Confident last week and have had a very strong early response to it, with 2,500 employers signing up. Nissan is clearly a major employer in the north-east, and is making a significant investment that represents 7,000 jobs directly and many more in the supply chain. We will be talking to Nissan at the appropriate time on Disability Confident but it was not one of the topics that was discussed between the company and the Business Secretary.

In the very welcome Green Paper, the number of extra staff who will be needed to carry through its laudable aims is striking. How will the Minister’s department ensure that there are enough trained work coaches, disability employment advisers, occupational health and Jobcentre Plus work psychologists and others to roll out this programme?

We do not yet have a formalised programme. We are in the middle of a consultation, as the noble Baroness knows. We will take the results of the consultation very seriously, come to the appropriate conclusions and develop the policies and the means of implementation.

My Lords, is any part of the consultation to consider the appropriateness of maintaining cuts to the employment and support allowance, which, as the Minister will know, is denying some £30 a week to thousands of the most vulnerable households in the country?

We announced earlier this year that there would be no more welfare savings but we would go through with those that had already been announced. The job of the Government is to implement what has been announced, but there will be no more. This Green Paper looks at how we can have a better system of managing health issues with getting people into work. We have got half a million more disabled people into work in the last three years, and we need to keep that trajectory going.

My Lords, many of us do not speak very often, so maybe I could get in for once. I heard the noble Lord speak yesterday, several times. Nissan has been mentioned. I am interested in the Government’s view on directing steel manufacturers in the UK to produce steel for the Nissan cars in Sunderland. Is that discussion taking place?

It is a delight to hear from the noble Lord. We do not have a managed economy of the kind that he may be suggesting. We had talks with Nissan with a very good outcome: Nissan took the decision to go on investing. Clearly, a lot of discussion is going on with the steel industry in this country, given that until recently, steel in the western world was under severe pressure.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that if the scheme is to be a success, work capability assessments must accurately reflect people’s ability to work? In many cases of people I deal with who have fluctuating conditions, assessments do not reflect the ability to work. What are the Minister and the Government doing to improve the situation?

We inherited the work capability assessment, and we have now put it through five independent reviews and developed it considerably. The point at issue in the Green Paper is whether we should combine the assessment of financial need with that of the support that the person needs. That is the main focus of the Green Paper.

My Lords, I declare my interest as vice-president of Mencap. Will the Minister confirm that the needs of those with learning difficulties will be given as much attention as those with health problems or other forms of disability?

Yes. My colleague Penny Mordaunt and I had a conversation on this issue just yesterday. We have slightly more than 1 million people with learning difficulties, with a very low proportion in work— I think the figure is 6%. If we are to start closing the disability employment gap, we have to do something in this area.