Work and Pensions Questions

7th September 2015

Long-term Deteriorating Health Conditions

 
1. Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab): What information his Department holds on the number of people in the work-related activity group who have long-term deteriorating health conditions. [901146]
 
The Minister for Employment (Priti Patel): There is no common medical definition as to what constitutes a long-term deteriorating health condition so no data on this are held within Government. The Department will be publishing data on the number of claimants on employment and support allowance with progressive conditions on Thursday.
 
Emily Thornberry: The answer is, according to the Work and Pensions Committee, about 8,000.
 
Ministers seem to have discovered remarkable healing powers over the summer break. They believe cutting benefits will help people in the work-related group who have been assessed and deemed as being unable to work to suddenly find work. It will give them an incentive, we are told. These are people who have deteriorating conditions such as Parkinson’s and MS which medical experts have said mean they will never be able to work. Which medical condition would the Minister deem might be cured by cutting benefits by £30 a week?
 
Priti Patel: On the contrary, this Government believe in supporting people who are able to work to get back closer to the labour market, and the Government spend about £350 million a year on employment support for those with conditions, in particular disability. I think all Members will be pleased to know that the Budget has also provided new funding from April 2017 for additional support for claimants with limited capability for work, but importantly the principle here is that those who can work and are able to work are supported by this Government in getting closer to the labour market, and we are supporting them through our jobcentres and the initiatives we have across government.
 
David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): Is my hon. Friend aware that deteriorating health conditions can be treated by a large number of complementary therapies, including homeopathy, herbal medicine and acupuncture, and will she look at them?
 
Priti Patel: I thank my hon. Friend for his comments and, as he mentions alternative therapies, I should add that this Government place great emphasis on supporting benefit claimants with a range of conditions and that support can come in the form of treatment such as talking therapies as well as valuable support for those with mental health conditions. It is important to continue to provide support for those who need help, and that is the objective of this Government.
 
Melanie Onn (Great Grimsby) (Lab): I wrote to the Secretary of State over the summer following the news that his Department has been publishing fake quotes which it attributed to benefit claimants who had been sanctioned. As I am yet to receive a response, perhaps the Secretary of State or his team could answer one of my questions today. Has this practice of fabricating people and quotes been used by his Department in other instances? If so, can he provide details of when, and, if not, will he apologise to the British public for misleading them and commit to ensuring the practice is never undertaken again?
 
Mr Speaker: This is purely in relation to deteriorating health conditions.
 
Priti Patel: The answer to the hon. Lady’s question is very clear: that issue has been addressed and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made some very clear statements. I bring the hon. Lady back to the overall question, which is about people with deteriorating health conditions. This Government are committed to supporting the vulnerable and have put in place a great deal of support to help those with deteriorating health conditions manage their conditions and, where they can, get back into work.
 
Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Deteriorating health is one of the main reasons why people are unable to work, but we now know that about 90 people every month over the past three years have died within a short time after having been assessed as fit for work and losing their social security benefits. Does the Minister accept that the assessment process for determining whether someone is fit for work is simply not fit for purpose?
 
Priti Patel: Let me be clear that the Department recently published fully quality-assured age-standardised mortality statistics, in line with Office for National Statistics requirements and to national statistics standard. It is wrong to state that people have died while claiming an out-of-work benefit and, for the record, it is impossible and completely wrong to draw any causality from the statistics. Any attempt to extrapolate anything beyond those figures is wrong, and two national newspapers that tried to do that have just published an apology for their incorrect reporting of the statistics.
 
Dr Whiteford: I do think Ministers need to take their head out of the sand, because it is clear that they are abdicating responsibility for very sick people. It has also emerged over the summer that almost half the people appealing against sanction decisions—more than 285,000 people—have been successful. I suspect that a large proportion of those people have serious health problems. Will the Minister finally listen to the cross-party calls for a full-scale review of the sanctions regime and commit to that review this afternoon?
 
Priti Patel: We have already had a review. Specifically with regard to the statistics, the trend is that the number of people dying, as a proportion of the population, is going down. I bring the House back to my point that any attempt to extrapolate anything beyond the figures is completely wrong.
 
Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): On Second Reading of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, the Secretary of State said that if someone is in the work-related activity group, they should be
 
“capable of doing some work very soon.”—[Official Report, 20 July 2015; Vol. 598, c. 1260.]
 
But in July 2014, the Select Committee on Work and Pensions said that 80,000 people had been placed in the WRAG with a prognosis that a change in their condition was unlikely in the long term. Does the Minister agree that those people should not be in the WRAG?
 
Priti Patel: Of course, all claimants in the WRAG are assessed, and that assessment determines that they should be in that group. Importantly, people in that group who need more support to prepare for work receive employment and support allowance. I emphasise that that support helps them to prepare to go back to work, whether in the short or medium term. Importantly, claimants are asked to participate in activities that are both appropriate and reasonable for each individual claimant.
 
Kate Green: But 80,000 people who are not expected to get better have been placed in the WRAG, including 8,000 with degenerative conditions, which by definition mean they will become less well. Cutting £30 a week from such people’s benefit will not make them better or help them work; surely it will just make them poorer.
 
Priti Patel: I reiterate what has been said previously: no one will lose out in financial support. [Interruption.] This is for those who are already on the benefit. Importantly, those in the WRAG will be given support to prepare for a return to work in the short or medium term. It is wrong to assume that their condition will automatically deteriorate. Everyone who participates in that group will have the appropriate support, and the expectation on them is both appropriate and reasonable for the individual claimant, with their circumstances taken into account.
 
 

Work Capability Assessments

 
9. Louise Haigh (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of the effect of work capability assessments on disabled people. [901155]
 
The Minister for Employment (Priti Patel): We are committed to continuously improving the work capability assessment process for all people. That is why since Labour introduced it in 2008 we have conducted a Department-led review, an evidence-based review and five independent reviews.
 
Louise Haigh: Contrary to the Minister’s earlier remarks, figures finally released by the Department over the summer showed that 2,380 people died after being declared fit for work—more than four times the death rate of the general population. In a harrowing case, a constituent of mine reported to me that she frequently considered committing suicide, both before and after being found fit for work. Does the Minister not feel that it is therefore high time to review the work capability assessment and that thousands of people are being wrongly defined as fit for work?
 
Priti Patel: Once again let me say that any attempt to extrapolate anything from those figures is simply wrong. It is impossible to draw any causality from those statistics. Organisations have commented on this and Full Fact, which is widely known, has said that similar comments to those made by the hon. Lady, which have been widely reported, are simply wrong. We should not infer from the data that there is any causality, and the trends are down.
 
Natalie McGarry (Glasgow East) (SNP): I am sure that most people in the House will remember the Secretary of State’s Easterhouse epiphany. When will he reply to my invitation to visit my constituency to meet the people of Easterhouse again to listen to them about the effects of his punishing policies on their lives?
 
Priti Patel: Ministers in the Department and the Secretary of State will be very happy to visit the hon. Lady’s constituency and, importantly, speak about the Government’s record in supporting people in getting back to work.
 
 

Support for Young People Seeking Work

 
10. Mr Alan Mak (Havant) (Con): What support his Department provides to young people seeking work. [901156]
 
12. Dr James Davies (Vale of Clwyd) (Con): What support his Department provides to young people seeking work. [901158]
 
14. Nigel Huddleston (Mid Worcestershire) (Con): What support his Department provides to young people seeking work. [901160]
 
The Minister for Employment (Priti Patel): Tackling youth unemployment is a priority for this Government. We are determined that young people should not slip into a life on benefit. The Department for Work and Pensions provides a broad range of additional support for young people over and above the standard Jobcentre Plus offer, and that support is tailored to their needs.
 
Mr Mak: I thank the Minister for that answer. There have been nearly 4,000 new apprenticeship starts since 2010 in my constituency, where the economy is strong and growing. Does she agree that this Government’s efforts to increase both the number and the quality of apprenticeships is critical to improving Britain’s competitiveness in the world and to getting Britain back to work with more jobs and improving pay?
 
Priti Patel: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Interestingly, notwithstanding the Government’s well-known track record on apprenticeships and the number of people across the country who have benefited from our apprenticeship scheme, the subject was discussed at the G20 last week, and other countries are now looking at our scheme to see the positive benefits it has had on our young people.
 
Dr James Davies: The Minister might be aware of the Change100 scheme run by Leonard Cheshire Disability, which delivers paid work experience placements for young disabled graduates at major employers. Does she agree that such initiatives have an important role to play in helping to ensure that we reduce the disability employment gap?
 
Priti Patel: I am fully aware of the excellent work that Leonard Cheshire Disability, along with many other organisations, does to help young disabled people take up employment. The Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), has discussed with many organisations, including the Shaw Trust and Whizz-Kidz, how they plan to do more in that area. It is right that we should all do more to support young disabled people to secure employment.
 
Nigel Huddleston: I have been approached by several young people in my constituency who have learning and reading difficulties, and they tell me that they find the process of applying for benefit, and the form-filling involved in seeking jobs, very complex. What specific actions is the Department taking to assist young people in these challenges?
 
Priti Patel: My hon. Friend is right. For a start, all young people are screened at the beginning of their claim process to identify any barriers and the kind of support they need. Importantly, we provide options other than online and paper-based ones, such as telephone support or face-to-face interviews. If he would like me to look at any specific cases, I will be happy to discuss them with him.
 
Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Minister agree that what all our young people deserve is high-quality training and high-quality apprenticeships? Is she aware that young people suffering from autism face a particular struggle in getting into the labour market and staying there, even though they might be very talented indeed? What is she doing to help them?
 
Priti Patel: The hon. Gentleman makes a very valid point, and he is right that this is about supporting individuals. The Government have a raft of measures, schemes and initiatives to support young people. For those who face certain challenges, such as autism, we are working with employers to help them provide those young people with opportunities for sustained employment. 
 
We have many programmes, such as Access to Work, which specifically support individuals who face challenges in the workplace. We are developing our relationships with employers so that more and more of them are coming on board to support young people in having fulfilling careers.
 
Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab): Last week I visited the Newport and District Group Training Association in my constituency, which provides higher national diplomas and higher national certificates, which bridge the gap between school and the workplace. I was told that what they want more than anything is a UK Government who are committed to those qualifications and to funding them. Is that a guarantee the Minister can give?
 
Priti Patel: This Government are absolutely committed to supporting young people. Bridging the gap between school and the world of work can be challenging. Our policies and measures across Government—not just in the Department for Work and Pensions, but in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Education—fully support that transition. Importantly, the DWP is about to roll out a Jobcentre Plus programme in schools, and we are also doing much more with employers to support the transition into the world of work.
 
 

Topical Questions

 
T8. [901193] Matthew Pennycook (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): The planned reduction in support of £30 a week for those in the employment support allowance work- related activity group is causing considerable anxiety. If I heard the Minister for Employment correctly, she said that no existing claimants will lose financial support. Does that mean that existing claimants reassessed after April 2017 will not be designated as new claimants and subject to that £30 reduction?
 
The Minister for Employment (Priti Patel): As I said, there will be no cash losers among existing claimants. Obviously, the details of this will be outlined as we go through the Welfare Reform and Work Bill in Committee.
 
 
T9. [901194] Lucy Allan (Telford) (Con): I note what the Minister has said about the excellent progress in reducing youth unemployment numbers, which is really welcome. What has the Department done specifically to focus on reducing the numbers of young people who are not in education, employment or training, given the very specific challenges that those people face?
 
Priti Patel: My hon. Friend is correct. This Government have had a very strong track record in supporting young people in getting back into work. As I said earlier, this area was discussed at the recent G20. We have now joined an international commitment to do even more because we are ambitious for our young people. We have agreed to have a target for doing more by reducing the number of NEETs by 15% by 2025. We are committed to that. She will be interested to know that our international counterparts are also interested in what the United Kingdom has done and achieved.
 
 
T10. [901195] Neil Gray (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP): What assessment has been made of the impact of cuts to ESA for those with mental health conditions?
 
Priti Patel: I did not quite hear the hon. Gentleman’s question, but I think he was alluding to ESA. Ten days ago, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave a speech that basically outlined that we will continue to support those on ESA with the right interventions to help them get back to work.
 
 
Mims Davies (Eastleigh) (Con): I welcome all that the Government have done to increase youth employment, including the remarkable achievement of Eastleigh College, working alongside local employers and stakeholders. Will the Minister investigate having a separate disability living allowance application for those with mental disabilities, such as severe autism, as highlighted by my constituent Cheryl Derrick on behalf of her son?
 
Priti Patel: I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She is absolutely right about the Government’s achievement in supporting young people back into work. I would be very happy to discuss her particular case with her and to pick up on the points she made.
 
 
 

 

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