Incapacity Benefit

Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 28th February 2005.

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Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Opposition Whip (Commons) 2:30 pm, 28th February 2005

If he will make a statement on his policy on the number of new claimants who will be entitled to receive the new higher rate of benefit following incapacity benefit reform.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

We expect the clear majority of new claimants to be on the rehabilitation and support allowance, as most people come on to an incapacity benefit with potentially manageable conditions. Disability and sickness allowance will focus on those with the most severe impairments where the health problem or disability will form a very significant obstacle to getting back to work.

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Opposition Whip (Commons)

What proportion of the current 2.7 million incapacity benefit recipients would be entitled to the new higher-rate disability and sickness allowance if the new rules were applied to them, as they will be in 2008? Does the Minister expect the proportion of new claimants eligible for disability and sickness allowance to be significantly different?

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The distinction will be made using a functional assessment, and the current percentages, if we use the current personal capability assessment as a guide, are about 80 and 20. I do not expect them to be significantly different in future, but the point of the new programme is that it will provide significant extra help for those on rehabilitation and support allowance and for those on disability and sickness allowance, should they wish to take advantage of it. The much more supportive environment and additional help provided by pathways will provide an extra financial incentive so that many of the 1 million people currently on sickness and incapacity benefit who tell us that they want to work will have the chance to do so, and it is about time that they did.

Photo of Tom Harris Tom Harris PPS (Rt Hon John Spellar, Minister of State), Northern Ireland Office

Representing a constituency in a city where one in five of the working-age population claim incapacity benefit, I welcomed the Secretary of State's statement to the House last month in which he outlined the changes. However, I have to say that I am not optimistic that these new incentives alone will encourage enough claimants back into work. We have heard about the carrots, but can my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary tell the House which sticks the Government considered using and why they have not been used?

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I do not think that it is appropriate to talk about using sticks when we are dealing with disabled people. Many such people have been written off largely because the previous Government threw them on to invalidity benefit and abandoned them for years. What they need is help and assistance, not sticks. Through pathways, 90,000 people have so far been helped and 9,000 people have moved into work; and it is easy to forget that 200,000 people have been helped into work by the mainstream new deals. We are learning how to help these people and it is about time that we extended those lessons across the country. That is what Labour intends to do, unlike the Conservative party, which wants simply to privatise—

Photo of Mr Lawrie Quinn Mr Lawrie Quinn PPS (Mr Douglas Alexander, Minister of State), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, PPS (Mr Douglas Alexander, Minister of State), Department of Trade and Industry

May I congratulate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and the staff of the Department for Work and Pensions on the great help that has been afforded to many of my constituents to get them back into work? In an earlier answer, my hon. Friend referred to additional help. Can she say something this afternoon about those rural constituents of mine who have not only mobility problems, but transport problems in getting to work, and therefore need extra help? What assurance can she give them that she will ensure that they have the opportunity to play a full and active part in working life?

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

We want the changes to build on the experience and support that our personal advisers can give to individuals. The importance of various interventions will, as my hon. Friend suggested, vary from place to place. The advisers' discretionary fund enables our staff to make the best use of the money available to provide that assistance according to local conditions. In a rural area, some of the money might be used to ensure that transport is available. Ensuring that our front-line staff have discretion means that the system will be sufficiently flexible to enable people to be helped, whatever part of the country they live in.