Ill Health: Economic Inactivity

Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at on 5 February 2024.

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Photo of Andrew Western Andrew Western Opposition Whip (Commons)

What estimate his Department has made of the cost to the public purse of economic inactivity due to ill health.

Photo of Simon Fell Simon Fell Conservative, Barrow and Furness

What steps his Department is taking to reduce labour inactivity.

Photo of Antony Higginbotham Antony Higginbotham Conservative, Burnley

What steps his Department is taking to reduce labour inactivity.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

There are, of course, significant costs related to an increase in long-term sickness and illness rates in work. That is why we have our £2.5 billion back to work plan, to help 600,000 disabled people and people with health conditions start and stay in work. That approach, along with others, has seen economic inactivity reduce by 330,000 since its peak during the pandemic.

Photo of Andrew Western Andrew Western Opposition Whip (Commons)

NHS waiting lists are currently at 7.8 million, with more than 177,000 people on waiting lists in my own NHS trust area. When it is this difficult to access medical treatment, it is no surprise that we have a record 2.8 million people out of work due to ill health. Does the Minister accept that this Government’s failure on the NHS is stymying economic growth, denying people the dignity of work and costing taxpayers billions of pounds?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

On NHS waiting lists, there has been progress, in that the two-year waiting lists have almost been entirely dispensed with and those of 18 months have been very substantially reduced. Our Department recognises that work is part of the solution to improving people’s health, which is why we are putting forward the WorkWell service, bringing together medical input and work coach input; fit note reform to help at an earlier stage of the journey; and the reforms to the work coach assessment. All those things are moving towards getting more people into work, which is good for their health.

Photo of Simon Fell Simon Fell Conservative, Barrow and Furness

In Barrow and Furness, an estimated 4,000 people who could be contributing to the labour market are not doing so. I am incredibly grateful to my right hon. Friend and his team, in the Barrow jobcentre and centrally, who, alongside Team Barrow, have worked with local employers and skills providers to help get those people back into our incredibly tight labour market. Will he pass my thanks on to those teams? May I also encourage him to visit to see their good work?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting all the good work that has gone on in his constituency. I believe he opened a jobcentre only as recently as 30 January in his constituency. He is a doughty campaigner for and supporter of employment in his patch. He asks whether I will visit his constituency. I would certainly like to consider that, but my hon. Friend the Employment Minister might also visit, because she just said she was particularly keen to do so.

Photo of Antony Higginbotham Antony Higginbotham Conservative, Burnley

Burnley and Padiham has so much going for it—with the rest of Lancashire, our area is the manufacturing powerhouse of the United Kingdom—but still has stubborn levels of economic inactivity among people who could be contributing to economic growth and having financial security, which we all want them to have. What more can we do to help those people? In particular, can my right hon. Friend do more to join up with other Departments so that areas such as Burnley, which might have structural problems, get more intensive support?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My hon. Friend asks what approach we can take to resolve the issues that he has raised. We have announced a doubling of universal support, a scheme with which he will be familiar; WorkWell, to which I just referred, bringing together medical support and work coaches; and reform of the fit note system so that we get involved earlier in the journey that many people experience when they fall out of the workforce into longer-term sickness and disability benefits. Overall, the evidence is clear: economic inactivity is down by 268,000 on the year, and by more than a third of a million since its peak during the pandemic—a 52% reduction.