Clause 2

Part of Welfare Reform Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 pm on 24th February 2009.

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Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 4:15 pm, 24th February 2009

I shall speak in support of amendment 78 and new clause 5. Amendment 78 largely covers the same ground as that addressed by the hon. Member for Rochdale. It would insert into clause 8 a provision with regard to someone’s

“mental health and any specific mental health needs”.

Clause 8 is titled “Power to direct claimant to undertake specific work-related activity”. It specifically relates to the reasonableness of directions that may be given by the Secretary of State and says that, when judging whether such a direction is reasonable, the Secretary of State or someone acting on his behalf should take into account the person’s mental health or their mental health needs.

We tabled the amendment to probe the extent to which the Government’s regulations on work activity will adequately cover someone’s health requirements. It was also tabled specifically to consider the ability of Jobcentre Plus staff and to determine whether, following the training that they will get, they will have the skills necessary to take into account someone’s mental health needs themselves, or whether they would refer them to a professional who was able to do so. I should like some clarification on that.

Mind kindly supplied a briefing note in which it suggested new clause 5, which I thought was worth tabling. I do not propose to press it to a Division, but I want to explore Mind’s ideas about Access to Work. The Minister will know that Access to Work may be used by someone once they get into work, when their employer can have an assessment done to see what help they need. However, under the new clause, prior to getting employment, a new ESA claimant, or an existing  incapacity benefit claimant with a mental health problem who had moved to ESA, would be able to get an assessment through Access to Work to determine what reasonable adjustments they might need to improve their ability to get a job and, importantly, to retain it. That assessment would have to be carried out before that claimant was compelled to undertake any compulsory work-related activity. It would be possible to fund any reasonable adjustments recommended in the assessment through Access to Work, and that would give an employer the confidence that the cost attached to taking on a person with adjustments to their working routines, which might affect the way that they were going to employ them, would be funded. That would be a change to the way in which Access to Work works. I want to test the Government, to see whether they think such a proposal is worthy of exploration, and to find out the direction in which they might be going.

Access to Work recently had its budget doubled, which we welcomed. The present Minister for disabled people, the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford, and his predecessors have said that Access to Work is one of the Government’s best-kept secrets and that they do not want it to be so. New clause 5 might be a way to improve the situation.