Clause 14 - Universal credit: limited capability for work element

Welfare Reform and Work Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 13 October 2015.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I appreciate that we have moved on, but there are many parallels between our previous objections and our objections to clause 14 and the reasons why we will not be supporting it. The clause relates to the limited capability for work element of universal credit. I do not intend to repeat my arguments from my previous speech, but having said that, very few if any of the questions that I posed were answered by the Minister. I would be grateful if at some stage she could write to me if she cannot provide the answers today. I shall pose a few additional questions, particularly about the analysis of how the cuts will affect 400,000 people with long-term conditions in the ESA WRAG—for example, those with lung disease, cancer or stroke. What do we expect the cost to be for the NHS? The Government are keen to make it a seven-day service but, with the additional demands, will that be achievable?

I have other points to make on the disability employment service, although my hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury touched on some of them. The ratio of disability employment advisers in JCP is one adviser to 600 disabled people. How will that be addressed to enable those disabled people who want and are able to work to do so? How will we address the attitudinal issues that many disabled people face in trying to get into work, and ensure support for employers to employ disabled people? Given that 90% of disabled people used to work, what are the Government doing to support them leaving the labour market prematurely?

I have mentioned the Select Committee report on sanctions. Another Select Committee report—it has only just had a response from the Government—is particularly appropriate to the clause. The response on Access to Work from the Government was published, I believe, during the recess, or when we were about to go into recess, nine months after the Select Committee published its report. Last year, Access to Work supported only 35,000 people going into and at work, of a total working age population of 7 million. If there is a genuine desire to reduce the disability employment gap, how on earth is it going to be managed on those ridiculous levels of support? We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark on the Work programme and Work Choice. The Government are currently retendering the Work programme contract. How will the need for specialist provision be addressed in the retendering process? I urge all hon. Members not to support clause 14.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Minister of State (Department for Work and Pensions)

Clause 14 deals with universal credit and the limited capability for work element. The clause amends part 1 of the Welfare Reform Act 2012 to remove the reference to the limited capability for work element. The change broadly mirrors the ESA changes introduced in clause 13. The fact that a claimant has limited capability for work will no longer exist as a need or circumstance in which regulations may be made for an element to be included in the calculation of the amount of an award of universal credit. The change will apply only to those making new claims to UC and to existing claimants where they or their partners claim on the grounds of having a health condition or disability after the change is introduced. Those claims already eligible for the limited capability for work element at the point of the change will continue to be paid that element as long as their circumstances remain unchanged and they continue to be entitled to UC. Details of how the change will be applied to existing claimants receiving that element will be set out in regulations.

I cannot cover all the points that the hon. Lady has made and, if I may, I will write to her because there are a couple of points that are more data-based that I think I can come back to her on. She mentioned the Select Committee report that is currently being considered by the Department. We will continue to work with and respond to the Work and Pensions Committee. When I came to the Committee, we were discussing many areas such as the Work programme and, in particular, its next iteration. Of course, that is ongoing—it is not specific to the clause, per se, but discussions with stakeholders are ongoing.

I emphasise that Jobcentre Plus has around 400 specialist disability employment advisers supporting disabled people, particularly with regard to support packages such as  Work Choice and Access to Work and other schemes. Much more needs to be done as part of the continuing reforms, including on the long-term grassroots approach that we take at our jobcentres to improve the level of support and engagement.

Employers have an important role. The Department is working with employers not just to make the case, but to encourage them to be much more active as employers and to engage in employing people with disability and supporting them in work. It is not just a case of getting people with disability into work, but about sustained employment outcomes. That is the long-term objective we are focused on achieving.

Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

The report on Access to Work made a number of points about how it was not working. It was published in December, but we had a response only in September. We had Second Reading in July, which shows a total lack of commitment to supporting disabled people, and yet the Government are prepared to take support away from them before they have ensured adequate provision to enable them to work if they are able to do so.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Minister of State (Department for Work and Pensions)

On the contrary, the measure is not about removing support. It is about what more the Government are doing in terms of our commitment to supporting disabled people to get them into employment. That is down to a package of measures.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Minister of State (Department for Work and Pensions)

I will not give way.

It is very easy for Labour Members to claim that the measure is about taking money away. It is about providing the right kind of support for people with health conditions and disabilities. It may not be the appropriate answer that the hon. Lady wants to hear. The Government are committed to supporting more employment. Of course, this is a binary argument for her. We are supporting claimants with a limited capability for work through our employment provisions, our jobcentres and the specialist disability employment advisers.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Minister of State (Department for Work and Pensions)

I will not give way. At the same time, we are working with employers through the schemes that we have, Access to Work being one example.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 8.

Division number 33 Decision Time — Clause 14 - Universal credit: limited capability for work element

Aye: 9 MPs

No: 8 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 14 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark

On a point of order, Mr Streeter. Before the conference recess, the Minister committed to provide additional information to my office about the monitoring of disabled people’s carers. I was reminded of that when the same offer was made just now. I do not believe I have received anything yet. Is there an update on when that will be provided?

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point of order with the Committee. Would the Minister like to respond?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Minister of State (Department for Work and Pensions)

I will, Mr Streeter. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I have written to him and would be very happy to follow it up with him. I am not sure what has happened to the letter. I know that I have signed it.