Since 2019, economic inactivity due to mental illness and nervous disorders has increased by 22%. People with mental ill health need support in order to get back into work, and Access to Work grants are a vital resource in helping to ensure that they have that support, but in the past year alone waiting times have doubled and the size of the backlog has trebled. People have been forced to turn down jobs that they want to do because they cannot gain access to the support and flexibility they need. What will the Government do to address those delays?
On Friday I had the great pleasure of visiting the New Skill Centre in south-east Ipswich. It is run by a community interest company that works closely with adults with a range of health and learning disabilities. I was amazed at what I saw. Much of what the centre does involves helping adults to live independently, but some of the carpentry and artwork I saw was so good that I think that many of those people may get back into work. Does the Minister agree that the moral of the story is that we should never give up on people, that we should never write them off and stop working with them to enable them to achieve their true potential, and that we should support organisations that help them to do so?
My hon. Friend is entirely right, and I commend him for the huge amount of work that he does in his constituency in this regard. There is no doubt that the conditions of those who suffer from mental health issues are often dramatically improved when they can get into work, hold down a job and benefit from all that working provides.
As the Mayor of South Yorkshire, I worked alongside Mayor Andy Street in the west midlands to introduce Working Win, a pilot employment scheme designed to help people with mental and physical health challenges to get into or stay in work. In South Yorkshire the pilot has been very successful, smashing all targets and helping 2,500 people to get into work. I understand that the Department is considering whether the scheme could be rolled out nationally. Can the Secretary of State guarantee that the funding will be maintained in the interim?
I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has raised the subject of this pilot, which I agree is hugely important. We are looking closely at the results, including the effect not only on mental health but on productivity. As he will know, £7 million has been invested so far.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for the leadership they are showing on this issue. They are exactly right: it is the increase in the number of, in particular, younger workers dropping out of the labour market owing to mental ill health that is driving the increase in economic inactivity. As he prepares the White Paper, will my right hon. Friend keep the focus on how a close link with the employment support agency and the labour market can be maintained? Once someone leaves the labour market and is out of work for an extended period, it becomes far less likely that they will ever make it back.
My right hon. Friend has great experience in these matters, and he too is entirely right. It is essential for the Department to do whatever it can at the early stages to support those with mental health issues who are already in work, particularly those who are in danger of falling out of work, so that we do not end up seeing more and more people experiencing longer-term absence from employment.
I think the Secretary of State should be embarrassed today, what with the Prime Minister scrabbling around to reannounce tiny bits of funding to put a sticking plaster over the levels of mental ill health in our country in order to distract attention from the dreadful behaviour of his colleagues. The Secretary of State has mentioned the Access to Work scheme, and we have heard from my hon. Friend Liz Twist just how difficult it is to gain access to that scheme at present and to secure an award. One would be forgiven for thinking that nothing works in this country, not even the schemes that are supposed to help people to obtain work. Will the Secretary of State tell us how many people are currently waiting for Access to Work to help them?
I would be very happy to write to the hon. Lady on exactly how many people are waiting for access to that scheme. We should not in any way play down the importance of the Access to Work scheme, which is highly successful and provides up to nine months of support for those who badly need it. On recent announcements being made on the hoof, as the hon. Lady seemed to suggest, we have been supporting those in such situations for many years and have made much progress over so many years to get those with mental health issues and wider disabilities into employment.
The Secretary of State says that we should not play down the importance of Access to Work, but he does not even know how many people are waiting for a decision. The charity Scope says that the number of disabled people waiting for a decision on their award in March 2022 was nearly 21,000. That is an increase of 327% on the same point the previous year. That is dreadful. Nothing works in this country. When will the Secretary of State sort it out?
I stand by, and make no apology for, our record on encouraging disabled people back into work. We were set a target for dramatically increasing the employment level for disabled people by 2027. We met that target of 1 million new disabled people in work a full five years early. I think that record speaks for itself.