Yes, absolutely. We should not only look at who is carrying out the assessments, but open up where they can take place. Perhaps we can have a wider range of premises where assessments can be carried out, including places that are more familiar to and convenient for claimants, such as local authority buildings, NHS sites or even jobcentres. I would be interested to hear whether the Minister has any plans to do that.
In recent years, disability employment has risen, and now over half of disabled people are in work. Nine per cent. more disabled women and over 6% more disabled men are in work than in 2013. That is testament to the programmes that support people with disabilities into the workplace. I am pleased to hear that the Secretary of State outlined her ambition to build on that record, as every person with a disability or learning difficulty deserves the same opportunities to go to work and build a career. Programmes such as the personal support package have been crucial to that; they provide tailored employment support that recognises the individuality of people’s conditions. Much of that work is done through the jobcentre. In Chichester, we have a great team with some real success stories because of the support available through the programme.
Our Jobcentre Plus makes good use of the community partners and small employment advisers. Chichester has a low unemployment rate of 1.7%, so local businesses look to use all the available talent and need more local people in the workplace. I am glad that the small employment advisers are able to bring people with long-term health conditions and disabilities together with businesses to help them find a decent job.
Work coaches and disability employment advisers use all the tools at their disposal to help build skills, and to help disabled claimants prepare for the workplace. They do that not only through national programmes, such as the Work and Health programme, but local initiatives, such as WorkAid, which is run by the Aldingbourne Trust. It is great to hear the success stories of constituents who have managed to move into work, and that is made possible by the tireless effort of the jobcentre staff, who make those initiatives a success on the ground. I am sure that we all have many examples of that.
Getting a good job has a powerful impact. Last year, I met a constituent whose son is on the autism spectrum—there is a big problem getting people with autism into the workplace; much more needs to be done on that. She told me that he rarely utters a word and is uncomfortable around people. She is determined to help her son, and managed to get him work experience at a games software development firm. That was transformative; for the first time in a long time, he began to speak.
Getting a foot on the career ladder is challenging irrespective of disability; sometimes, extra-special effort must be made to find opportunities, particularly for work experience. I am very pleased that the jobcentre is offering careers advice to disabled students in schools, because building confidence in disabled kids as early as when they are 12 is critical to making them feel that they have all the opportunities that everybody else has. This is just the start; there are exciting pilots up and down the country, such as Tri-Work, which offers work experience to children in years 10 and 11, and programmes that support internships for school-leavers. I want every disabled child to be excited and have a wide range of options in the workplace, so we need to ensure that such initiatives are available throughout the country. The schemes are empowering young children, but they must to be available to all who need them.
The Disability Confident scheme is another successful programme, which now has almost 10,000 signatories. One participating employer is Chichester District Council, which works hard to make sure that its work environment is accessible, and has made workplace adjustments—for example, providing ramps, lifts, and an emergency evacuation chair. Perhaps more importantly, on top of that, the council has a welcoming workplace culture, actively helps applicants to apply, and will always interview disabled applicants when they have fulfilled the basic role requirements. That additional support removes the barriers to the workplace for disabled people and gives them confidence to start their journeys into new jobs.
We all know from our constituents that the system is not perfect, but I am pleased that the Government and the Secretary of State are listening to constituents’ voices and reforming it. There needs to be less stress, wasted time, and red tape all round; we need a more welcoming environment that makes people feel that they can trust the system, not that they are on trial.
I am proud of this Government’s record in supporting disabled people into work. There is still a long road ahead to ensure that all disabled people who can and want to work get the support that they need and the opportunities that they deserve.