The Department welcomes the National Audit Office report, which acknowledges the Department’s work to build our evidence base and deliver tailored support through jobcentres with partnership working, including healthcare services that deliver for disabled people. Between 2013 and 2018, disability employment has risen by 930,000, but there is more to do to deliver on our commitment set out in the “Improving Lives” paper. As the Secretary of State announced earlier this month, we will review our goal of 1 million more disabled people in work by 2027 to see if it can be made even more ambitious.
We know that personalised, tailored support and tackling the misconceptions and the barriers that people may face are effective in getting disabled people into work. Our initiatives give claimants the opportunity to access personalised support to help them to move closer to work and to help to achieve cultural change, including through our Disability Confident scheme, supporting employers to provide job opportunities. Since the “Improving Lives” paper was published in 2017, the Department has launched the Work and Health programme, which will support some 220,000 disabled people, and the intensive personalised employment support programme, which will start at the end of this year. Access to Work supported some 33,860 people last year, up 13% to a record high, and more than 11,000 employers have signed up to the Disability Confident campaign.
The Department routinely evaluates its labour market programmes and ensures that the evidence is used to provide the most effective interventions that help people move closer to the labour market. We will continue to build our evidence base by testing a range of initiatives and using this evidence to inform our future strategy. With universal credit, that is transforming the labour market prospects of disabled people, not only through earlier and more intense engagement, but by allowing them to move into and out of work without the fear of losing their benefits or having a new health assessment. This year, we will also introduce new disability employment adviser leader roles to support work coaches to build their skills and capabilities.
In conclusion, stakeholders will be at the heart of our future work. Together we will continue to do all we can to unlock disabled people’s potential.
Mr Speaker, may I start by thanking you for granting today’s urgent question?
Today, the National Audit Office published a damning report evaluating the Government’s progress in supporting disabled people into employment. The NAO concluded that, two years into the Government’s work, health and disability strategy, the Department for Work and Pensions lacks any clear measures or implementation plan to promote the employment of disabled people.
The report found that the number of disabled people out of work has remained stagnant—at 3.7 million—for the last five years, highlighting that the increase in the number of disabled people has not been matched by a decrease in the number who are out of work. The report also found that the Government have yet to evaluate the effectiveness of their employment support programme. Indeed, the head of the NAO has said that the Government
“has yet to make a significant dent” in the number of disabled people out of work. The disability employment gap has stayed at a little above 30% for the last two years. Recently, the Secretary of State announced “a more ambitious plan” to increase the employment target beyond 1 million in the next 10 years. Given the NAO’s conclusions today, how does she expect to deliver that?
The NAO also found that the case load of work coaches is set to double as a result of universal credit. How will the Minister ensure that disabled people do not receive a worse service, and what additional resources will be made available, aside from just disability employment leads?
We all know that the Access to Work scheme is effective, but many employers are unaware of it. Will the Minister commit to expand the scheme and to remove the current cap? The Government’s Disability Confident scheme lacks any credible performance measures to ensure that disabled people get the right support, as well as any quality standards or independent evaluation. Will the Government now commit to getting the scheme independently evaluated? Will they also start to record the number of disabled people who are in work as a result of it?
Finally, it has been two weeks since there was a Minister for Disabled People. When will one be appointed?
The NAO report did welcome our approach to offering tailored and personalised support. We know from speaking to disabled people of all ages that that is something they very much welcome. All of us in society have our own unique challenges and opportunities as we navigate through life and particularly as we seek work. From the many visits I made during my time as the Minister for Disabled People, I know just how powerful the case is for doing everything we can to help disabled people into work, and particularly young disabled people, who want to have exactly the same opportunities as their peers.
The NAO report also welcomed our test-and-learn approach. There is no global, off-the-shelf book that says exactly how we can help every single individual. We have to develop new, innovative ways, and that was welcomed, as was our commitment to continue partnership working, particularly to support local, excellent initiatives that help to unlock people’s potential.
I do not recognise much of what the shadow Minister said, because there are 930,000 more disabled people in work over the last five years. This is real people having the opportunity to work; these are record numbers. Over 400,000 workless disabled people a year move into work. That is a welcome figure. However, we recognise that more needs to be done, which is why the Secretary of State was passionate about saying that we will review that target of 1 million more by 2027, and I will support that.
We are focusing our efforts on personalised and tailored support. We are increasing the number of disability advisers and their training. The personalised support package will unlock local initiatives. The work and health programme is helping 220,000 disabled people. We are doing joined-up working with the Department of Health and Social Care. Our proactive work supporting employers has also helped. I recognise the point about raising awareness of Access to Work, and we do need to do more on that, but we had a record number of people last year—up 13%. The cap has gone from 1.5 times average earnings to twice that amount, at about £57,900. I welcome the cultural change among employers who recognise that, with just a few small changes, it can be a win-win situation. I felt that as an employer, and a number of times when I engaged with businesses of all sizes. Those businesses benefit, as do disabled people, and we will continue to do all we can.
I strongly welcome what my hon. Friend has said. My constituent, Lacey-Rose Saamanthy, a Harlow resident, is deaf and she was recently offered a role at Broomfield Hospital as a catering assistant. However, her offer of employment email did not make it clear that that offer was conditional on a risk assessment, and it was subsequently retracted. To me, that is outrageous. The risk assessment identified a number of risks that Ms Saamanthy believes could easily have been mitigated. Will the Minister explain the role that disabled employees can play in the workplace, and help stop such outrageous discrimination against a deaf person who was offered a job but who then had that offer rescinded?
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend’s work in supporting what I and my hon. Friend Paul Maynard have done to introduce disability apprenticeships. He mentions a terrible case, and disability employment advisers can help to provide constructive advice to employers—particularly small employers that do not have HR departments—and give them confidence to ensure that all people, regardless of their disability, can contribute to those employers.
Although I have enjoyed our debates on this subject over the years, the Minister knows that it should not be him at the Dispatch Box but a new, dedicated disability Minister. The fact that the Prime Minister has not even bothered to replace the Minister for Disabled People after nearly two weeks is a shameful indictment of a Tory Government who have collapsed into crisis and chaos. They are so consumed by their Brexit folly that they are completely ignoring the day job. That is costing the country dearly, and it adds insult to injury for those disabled people who have been left unrepresented and impoverished by Tory policies.
We should not be surprised by the NAO report. Will the Minister explain why his party dropped its ambitious policy at the last election to halve the disability employment gap? We see in the NAO report that the Government’s new watered-down goal of having 1 million more disabled people in work cannot be used to measure the success of those efforts—even the Department for Work and Pensions acknowledges that. What is the Minister’s assessment of the NAO’s conclusion that his Department has no idea of what works when it comes to disability employment support? Why have all the schemes to support disability employment been underspent?
Finally, the NAO report does not cover the interaction between disabled people and the benefit system. Does the Minister see that cutting disability benefit support—as this Government have done with employment and support allowance and universal credit—while not having a clue about what impact their employment programmes are having, is the height of irresponsibility, and a neglect of the needs of disabled people?
I reassure the hon. Gentleman that I am happy to be here answering this urgent question, and I am passionate about this role. As I said, my work in this area, both as a former Minister for Disabled People and today, is particularly guided by meeting young disabled people and their families, and there is a passion and determination for them to have the same opportunities as others. In some cases that involves full-time work; other times it can be as little as one hour a month, but for some people that is life changing, and the Government are committed to that. It is right that the Secretary of State reviews our ambitious target of an extra 1 million disabled people in work, and it is the actual number that counts. Every one of those 930,000 disabled people involved with this scheme in the past five years now has the opportunities that so many others take for granted.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about the sign-up rates of various different packages, but I gently remind him that they are voluntary—we do not want to mandate anything. That said, however, through the personalised support package there is the opportunity to look for local initiatives. All our constituencies have examples of best practice, and through the personalised support of the individual work coach, we can unlock access to those initiatives, linking them to local employers and giving people—particularly those who have been away from the jobs market for a long time—the very best chance. As I said, I have seen the joy of individuals who work for as little as one hour a month, and what a difference that makes to their life.
I know that you, Mr Speaker, regard the report by the all-party group on acquired brain injury, “Time for Change”, as required reading. I hope the Minister will, too. It sets out how hundreds of thousands of Britons across all our constituencies are affected by head injuries, with physiological and psychological effects. Neurorehabilitation can help those people to recover and lead purposeful, meaningful and fulfilled lives, but I have to say that that requires Government Departments working together to bring these hidden disabilities to light and to give people new chances and new lives.
I thank my right hon. Friend. This is a very, very important issue. I know that the former Minister met stakeholders, as have I. My right hon. Friend has been a real champion in raising, in particular, hidden disabilities and long-term health conditions. It is absolutely right that we have joined-up working, which is why we are working so closely with the Department of Health and Social Care through the joint Health and Work Unit. Many claimants need a combination of support to unlock their full potential.
The disability employment gap fell steadily in the years up to 2010. It has since got stuck at a level just above 30%. David Cameron, in the 2015 election campaign, promised to halve it by 2020, a pledge that was quickly abandoned after the 2015 election. What does the Minister now believe will happen to the disability employment gap over the next five years?
The right hon. Gentleman is one of the most constructive and proactive Members of the Opposition pushing on this very important area. When we came to office, disability employment stood at 44.1%. It has now gone to 51.5%. That is up 7.4%, with the gap closing by 3.6%. I expect that trend to continue over the next five years.
I was very pleased to sign up my constituency office to the Disability Confident scheme, because I know, as a former employer in a small business, that there are practical and awareness barriers. Will the Minister update the House on some of the practical measures he is implementing to help employers employ disabled people who really want to work?
I thank my hon. Friend for showing real, tangible commitment to supporting this and to creating new opportunities for disabled people. The Government rightly have to lead on this, but we also need employers to be proactive offering work experience, interviews and, ultimately, jobs. The key message we give to employers is that it will benefit them. We have huge skill gaps in this country and often with just very small changes they can benefit. I am not just preaching as a Minister, but as somebody who ran my own business for 10 years and benefited from making very small changes to get some excellent new members of staff. We will continue to work and to give as much advice and support to businesses as we can.
Labour Members fought very hard in this Chamber to keep the Remploy jobs going. I had a Remploy factory in my constituency, which was a lifeline to so many people. I am sure the Minister has the best intentions, but I have heard these platitudes before. Can the Minister tell us how many Remploy people who lost their jobs are now in work?
I will have to write to the right hon. Lady to give her the exact figures, but the principle we have to look at is giving individuals who are more than two years away from the jobs market, real and intense support to help them get there. At the moment, the best route is through the specialist employment support. Last year, we had 1,520 starts, of which 600 people were able to get at least a placement for 13 weeks, leading to permanent jobs. We need to continue to do everything we can on personalised support and linking up with local employment opportunities.
As a former disabilities Minister—I had other roles within the Department as well; it was not just disabilities, but that was the lead issue—I say to those on the Front Bench, and I hope the Prime Minister is listening, that we should have a Minister for this role as soon as possible. I do not understand why that has not taken place.
Disability Confident is a great success. As parliamentarians, we can push it forward in our own constituencies, as we have in my constituency of Hemel Hempstead, so that people have the confidence to get into work and employers can employ the right people.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely spot on. We can help to raise the awareness of Disability Confident. We can do our own Disability Confident events, and we can write to employers to encourage them to sign up and to work with local organisations that support disabled people to find job opportunities. It should be a real priority for all of us.
The National Audit Office makes it clear that there is no evidence that the £386 million spent on Disability Confident has resulted in a single disabled person getting into work. Would it not be better to devolve that resource and extra responsibilities for employment programmes to local and regional government—such as in Southwark, where we have a Labour council committed to becoming a full employment borough—to allow them to innovate to get more disabled people into work?
To be fair, I think the figures speak for themselves: 930,000 people in the last five years have gained—[Interruption.] However, I accept the thrust of the point about looking at local solutions and empowering local communities, because they know their job market and where the skills gaps are. I accept that principle. We are moving in that direction through the personalised support package so that work coaches can look at local initiatives. There is a lot more work in that area. I very much welcome that question.
One of my constituents who is disabled has written to me, suggesting that this Government are putting less into disability benefits than previous Governments, and my constituent is very concerned that there could be an impact from Brexit. Will my hon. Friend confirm that there is more money going into disability benefits and that the Government will continue to support those with disabilities, no matter what happens regarding Brexit?
Our support for people with disability benefits is now at £55 billion, up £10 billion in real terms since 2010. That is a record high. The amount that we are spending on employment support for those with disabilities is showing a real-terms increase following the spending review and will continue to do so.
I hope that the Minister would agree that this is a bit of a wake-up call, but what the Government have been doing is not all bad and I welcome some of the moves that are happening. As chair of the Westminster Commission on Autism, may I offer more of a partnership? The neuro-diverse community and people on the autism spectrum are differently abled. We have some wonderful organisations such as AchieveAbility and Genius Within that are going out looking for people who are a bit quirky in their thinking, who think differently. The gig economy and some of the techy areas are looking for these people. They are very valuable assets and we need to encourage them. Will the Minister meet some of these people, whom I can introduce him to?
I thank the hon. Gentleman, who has done a huge amount of work in this area. These are the sorts of points that were picked up in the Maynard review. We have worked very closely with a lot of the leading autism charities. They rewrote the training guidance for our frontline staff and fed into the autism toolkit within jobcentres. He is absolutely right: if employers are savvy and look at their skills gaps so that they can match them to the huge amount of talent and potential of people with autism, they will benefit. That is the key message to employers. We are not looking for favours; we are looking for a win-win for the disabled individual and the business.
I recently visited Remploy in my constituency in Arbroath. It does a fantastic job of transforming lives and supporting and getting people with disabilities into work. It had its first placement on a farm in Angus recently. Does the Minister agree that the Government have fantastically ambitious targets and that we should ensure that all industries wish to widen their talent pool?
I thank my hon. Friend for championing this cause in her constituency. She highlights the point that a lot of these local organisations are doing a great amount to support disabled persons, building up their skills so that they are ready to enter the workplace. We all need to try to unlock as many doors as we can with employers, so that there are more opportunities that everybody can benefit from.
I was proud to speak at the Disability Confident conference in Nottingham last Friday and I pay tribute to the work of local DWP staff and local employers such as Nottingham Trent University, which is sharing its experience of improving the accessibility of its recruitment and retention practices. When the charity, Leonard Cheshire, surveyed disabled people in work or previously working, only 23% had received support from Access to Work, and the vast majority had had to wait more than three months for their application to be approved. What is the Minister doing to ensure that everyone is aware of the Access to Work support that is available and that they can get that support promptly?
I thank the hon. Lady for taking the time to pay tribute to the frontline staff in jobcentres, who do a huge amount of work to support disabled claimants. That often goes unnoticed, but it makes a real difference to those claimants. A record number of people received support from Access to Work last year, and I welcome the 13% increase, but we will continue to step up our efforts to ensure that businesses—particularly small businesses, which provide 40% of employment opportunities—are aware that both financial support and advice are available to unlock the potential of disabled staff.
I am delighted to pay tribute to Brentwood Community Print. It has recognised that it can benefit from being an innovative business in terms of recruitment, and I hope that many other businesses will look and learn the lessons that it has set out.
The head of the National Audit Office has said that it is “disappointing” that the Department for Work and Pensions still does not understand “what works” when it comes to helping disabled people into work. However, further to the point made by Alex Burghart, may I invite the Minister to visit the brilliant ISCAL factory in my constituency? ISCAL is a leading manufacturer of tissue coasters and napkins, and offers supported employment opportunities to people with mental and physical disabilities. It really is transforming lives.
The NAO welcomes the fact that we are offering precise and tailored support, and that we are using innovative methods and a test and learn programme. There is no global definition: there is nothing that we can take off the shelf and say “This will work for everyone.” There is no one size fits all. Everyone is an individual, and everyone has individual challenges and opportunities.
We are rightly investing in that innovative research, and will use our findings to share best practice and roll it out. We welcome the fact that the number of disabled people in work has risen by more than 930,000 in the last five years. I am thrilled to hear of the success of the hon. Lady’s local initiative, and I will certainly suggest to the Department a potential future visit.
I was delighted to attend a Disability Confident event in one of my local jobcentres in Galashiels, whose staff do a tremendous amount to get disabled people back into work. Can the Minister confirm that the financial support that disabled people currently receive is more generous than the support that they received under the system that we inherited?
My hon. Friend is another champion in his constituency, ensuring that disabled residents have the maximum opportunity that so many of us take for granted. We are spending £10 billion more in real terms on disability benefits than we were in 2010, and that is making a difference to some of the most vulnerable people in society.
It is good to see that the Minister survived his grilling from the Work and Pensions Committee yesterday. Has he seen the report from the think-tank Demos, which has found that there is a “chronic” lack of trust between disabled people and the Department, and that 60% of disabled people do not believe that it understands their concerns? What will he do to address that perception?
It is always a pleasure to appear before the Select Committee, and in particular to respond to the hon. Gentleman’s challenging and probing questions. We, as a Department, are incredibly passionate about working closely with stakeholder groups with real, frontline experience, not just listening to them but allowing them to help to shape the development of our policies and training guidance, so that we can do everything possible to unlock all people’s potential.
It is important for us to get disabled people into work, but it is equally important for that work to pay. Does my hon. Friend agree that we should look not just at the benefits system, but at how it interacts with general measures such as the higher income tax threshold which support better take-home pay for all?
I think all Members will welcome the thrust of the point that my hon. Friend has made. It also gives me an opportunity to emphasise the benefit of universal credit to people with fluctuating health conditions. They do not keep crashing out of the benefit system and having to go through health assessments again and to reapply at a time when their health should be their primary concern. Universal credit offers that flexibility and tailored support.
The DWP is the biggest-spending Government Department, but its spending is opaque. I have tabled questions about whom it pays in my constituency, and I cannot get a straight answer. Excellent local businesses such as Empower are helping disabled people. I want to work with local providers and the Department to provide placements, but I cannot get through to the Department. Will the Minister help?
I thank the hon. Gentleman. That is a really good question. Through the principles of the personalised support package, we have to find ways to support those local initiatives. There is not a one size fits all and a lot of that support will match the local market. That is a very important point and I will make sure that he has a meeting with the appropriate Minister.
At a Disability Confident event I hosted some time ago, we saw some great examples of very talented people being employed by local employers. What work is the Department doing to ensure those employers are recognised not just for the fact that they have done something good but because they have taken on some brilliant people?
I thank my hon. Friend, who has worked tirelessly in the area, and that is exactly why the Secretary of State has been so passionate about saying that our target has to be ambitious. We owe it to every single one of those individuals looking for work, whether full-time work or the occasional bit of work. It makes a huge difference and we are incredibly proud that the number of disabled people in work has risen by 930,000 in the last five years—a record high.
The report says that people with mental health conditions and learning disabilities fare worse than the rest. A number of parents in my constituency who have young people with learning difficulties in adult education find it very difficult and are in despair that their children are not going to find work. What more can the Government do to ensure that efforts are particularly focused on young people with disabilities getting into work?
That is very important because those with learning disabilities have about a 6% expectancy of finding work. Very early on in my time as a disability Minister, I met some young adults with a learning disability who desperately wanted that chance and that is what drove me to set up the Maynard review with my hon. Friend Paul Maynard, so we could unlock the potential of the apprenticeship programme. I am delighted that last year that came live and now people with learning disabilities who would not necessarily have got the grade C in maths and English are benefiting from apprenticeships, giving them a real, tangible chance of getting the work they so desperately want.
I thank my hon. Friend and I do understand the importance not just of responding to individual MPs’ correspondence but offering an opportunity to meet, particularly on the more complex cases, and there are many Members I can see here today whom I have met in recent weeks on a variety of issues. We are all first and foremost constituency MPs who are here to champion those in our communities who have challenges. On the question about how many disabled people are employed in the Department, I will have to write to my hon. Friend because I would not wish to give somebody of such experience anything other than the exact answer.
Following on from the question from my hon. Friend Derek Twigg about young people with learning disabilities and their ability to access the job market and get employment, can the Minister explain why this report from the NAO did not recognise what the Minister has just said from the Dispatch Box—the review that has been carried out has not had the effect he has just claimed it has?
To be fair, that is looking historically and this came in last year—so it is the first wave of people starting to look—but it is all combined with making sure employers have the confidence that they can take on people who may have some challenges. Often it only means small changes, but we are incredibly proud that we will leave no stone unturned, so that not just the 930,000 people who we have seen over the last five years, but more people, of all disabilities, will have an opportunity to work.
This disappointing report today surely underlines the need for a Minister for disability, so following up on what other Members have said and the reports in today’s paper that there will not be a Minister until after Brexit, when will the Government reassure the public that they are actually acting on this and care about disabilities?
I can reassure the hon. Lady that nobody cares more than our Department, led by a Secretary of State who is very passionate about this, and I have been very happy to support the various parliamentary debates and meetings that have gone on since then—and if we would like Brexit to be wrapped up, I urge all colleagues on all sides of the House to support the Prime Minister’s deal.
Kirstene Hair mentioned the great opportunity of the Remploy factory in her constituency, but unfortunately in my constituency, in Springburn, that opportunity was stripped from my constituents when the Remploy factory was closed in 2013, putting 50 disabled workers out of work. Indeed one of those workers was found dead on the day the factory was closed; it was another callous and shameful episode of the coalition Government. So will the Minister commit to extending the protected places scheme for disabled workers, particularly at Blindcraft in my constituency, where 250 people work producing world-class furnishings and high-quality joinery? It is a world-class example of how this can actually work as a proper sustainable model. I encourage him to go and look at that particular example, to extend the protected places scheme and to broaden that opportunity for disabled workers. It is a wonderful factory.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for highlighting what is clearly a very successful local initiative. This goes back to some of my earlier answers, in that we are committed to finding ways of getting support to those innovative local initiatives that are making a real difference on the frontline, and I will feed in to the Department his suggestion of a visit.
Will the Minister organise a meeting with me and his colleagues from the Department for Transport? The Ring and Ride service, which is used by thousands of disabled people and pensioners in the Black Country, has been put at risk after its operator collapsed into administration. The service is a lifeline for the many disabled people who use it to get to projects to boost their skills and confidence, and for the pensioners who use it to meet friends, do their shopping and get to social events or projects that prevent loneliness and isolation. It is really important that this service should be saved.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for highlighting the importance of that, and I will certainly ensure that an appropriate Minister meets him to see what support can be offered.
The Tory vice-chairman, James Cleverly, is reported to have said that no Minister for the disabled will be appointed until the Brexit chaos has passed. Will the Minister tell us why that is? Three Members have asked this question already, but to no avail. It is disturbing that the Minister seems to be blaming MPs for the lack of a disabilities Minister because they have not supported the Prime Minister’s doomed deal. What signal does he think this sends to disabled people about the Government’s priorities? Why are disabled people paying the price for this Government’s Brexit chaos?
As I said in my earlier answers, I am happy to attend and support debates and meetings. I am also proud to have served as the Minister for disabled people a few years back, and my passion has not diminished one bit. We all collectively owe it to those people who need that extra bit of support to do everything we can, and I am proud to do that.
First, I thank the Minister for his honest endeavours on behalf of disabled people. They are much appreciated. Can he outline whether there are any grants for small and medium-sized enterprises to make accessibility issues easier? If not, would he consider such a scheme?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. He has been a passionate advocate over the years in a number of the debates that I have responded to in this area. He is a real credit to his constituency. The Access to Work programme and the personalised support package can help to unlock opportunities within small employers. That is a really important area of work, and I am glad that he has taken the time to highlight it.
Citizens Advice has identified that some disabled people could be worse off under universal credit by as much as £300 a month because the work allowance is not available to disabled people who are assessed as fit for work unless they have children. Will this damning report finally make the Government address this huge shortfall?
What is clear is that, under universal credit, over 1 million disabled families will be on average more than £100 a month better off. On universal credit, for the first time, people with disabilities or long-term health conditions, particularly those with fluctuating conditions, will remain in support rather than crashing out of the system and then having to apply for new forms and re-navigate a new health assessment. This is incredibly important, and it is repeatedly highlighted by stakeholders with genuine experience of what goes on.