I know that my right hon. Friend is a champion for job creation in Essex, where our jobcentres are working with a range of employers and partners to address recruitment on an ongoing basis. For example, last Wednesday, Essex jobcentres hosted a recruitment event at Stansted airport to match constituents of hers, and of my right hon. Friends the Members for Saffron Walden (Kemi Badenoch) and for Braintree (James Cleverly), and of my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince), to dozens of catering, hospitality and logistics-based jobs.
Essex is a powerhouse on jobs and employment, but there is always more to do and businesses are saying that they are finding barriers to creating more jobs. Will the Minister give an update on how he is working across government to create a labour market strategy to help enable businesses to recruit, to lower taxes and burdens for businesses, and, in particular, to make it easier for small businesses in counties such as Essex to start employing more people and to recruit?
I endorse pretty much everything that my right hon. Friend says. Clearly, we are working with other Departments to ensure that we are doing everything possible to address recruitment. For example, on a recent visit I saw the T-levels being pioneered at South Essex College; I have seen the apprenticeships that are being driven forward locally; and, recently, in Witham, the “midlife MOT” took place in the middle of last month to address older workers. However, there is more to do and we are certainly trying to do it across Departments.
In Essex, as in many other parts of the UK, the number of people off work because of chronic illness is significantly higher now than it was before the pandemic. Forcing sick people into work is not an appropriate way of dealing with that, so will the Minister confirm that work capability assessments will be reasonable and will consider all aspects of the individual’s life in assessing whether they really are fit for work?