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Work-related Activity Group

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:18 am on 3rd February 2015.

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Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Minister of State (Department for Work and Pensions) (Disabled People) 11:18 am, 3rd February 2015

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sanders. I congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh

East (Sheila Gilmore) on securing the debate and raising these important matters. I will come to her point about communication later, but there is common ground there, and I hope to update her on that. We may not agree about some of the policy changes, but it is very welcome that we agree that we should communicate clearly and put in place plans to improve communication.

I think that the hon. Lady acknowledged this in her speech, but to be clear, the policy intent of the work-related activity group, as well as that of employment and support allowance more generally, remains as it was when it was introduced by the Labour Government in 2008: it is to help people to return to work wherever that is possible. We know that there are generally health benefits from working and work-related activity.

The hon. Lady mentioned people with progressive conditions. I touched on this issue when Dr Litchfield published his final report. If they are arguing that the diagnosis of a progressive condition such as Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis effectively means that someone should go into the support group, with the assumption being that they will probably never work again, then some of the groups that represent those people should think about that, because it has a lot of consequences for how we treat people with progressive conditions. It kind of sends a message to employers that if someone gets diagnosed with one of those diseases, they should just be sacked because they cannot contribute anymore, even though some of those conditions are progressive over a long period of time. We have to think about how we treat people with those conditions.

Clearly, there will be a point in a progressive condition when someone is perhaps not able to work, and perhaps not able to work again, but we should not assume that the diagnosis of a progressive condition automatically means that someone in the support group is never able to return to work. That would send out some unhelpful messages that those groups—when they are not arguing about whether people qualify for benefits—do not themselves argue. They argue that people should be able to remain in the workplace while they can, and should be properly supported in that.