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Incapacity Benefit

10. Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab): How many people are claiming incapacity benefit in Newcastle-under-Lyme. [196325]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Eagle): There are 4,500 people in Newcastle-under-Lyme claiming incapacity benefit. We are the first Government to try to help people on incapacity benefit who want to work to do so. We have already made progress, particularly through Jobcentre Plus, the new deals, and our flagship reform programme, pathways to work.

Paul Farrelly: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Is she aware that in constituencies such as mine a great number of people are on incapacity benefit due to the ravages of industries such as mining, pottery and steel? Clearly, in north Staffordshire we welcome the Government's support for programmes such as the job guarantee programme in Stoke, which is helping people off benefit and back into work, in line with pathways to work, but does she recognise that long-term claimants are deeply worried about the prospect of compulsory interviews? If those interviews are brought in, will she ensure that the Government show their sensitive side so that people are not dealt with in the same way as the many disability living allowance claimants who approach MPs for help week in, week out?

Maria Eagle: I will take up the DLA point with my hon. Friend on another occasion. I accept fully his opening point that there are higher levels of sickness and incapacity for occupational reasons in some areas, including his own. The pathways initiative is voluntary for long-term claimants. There is no compulsory element for those who have been on incapacity benefit for many years, many of whom, we find, volunteer to receive the help that the programme offers. We also find that compulsion is not an issue in practice. Most people who are concerned about the compulsory nature of the work-focused interview are reassured once they attend
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the first interview. Similarly, our condition management programme providers are not concerned about the impact that the compulsory element of attendance may have, especially in respect of mental health; nor are individuals who come to us, once they understand the nature of the process. I hope that I can reassure my hon. Friend that the compulsion element, which is supported by disability organisations countrywide, is not proving to be the concern that he fears.

Unemployment (Bulwell)

12. Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): If he will visit the Bulwell jobcentre to discuss trends in unemployment rates in the area. [196328]

The Minister for Work (Jane Kennedy): Regrettably, I am not planning on visiting Bulwell jobcentre in the near future, unlike my hon. Friend who visited it last week and took that opportunity to compliment the staff and congratulate them on achieving a regional performance award for their very hard and excellent work. However, I am pleased to say that as a result of our well-proven labour market policies, long-term unemployment in my hon. Friend's constituency has fallen by 69 per cent.

Mr. Allen: I am not surprised that my right hon. Friend does not want to visit the Bulwell jobcentre in my constituency, because I have not wanted to visit it for nearly 18 months—even as an assiduous constituency Member of Parliament—whereas in 1997 I visited the office so often that I was invited to the leaving party for its then manager. Does not that prove to my hon. Friend what a brilliant success the new deal has been throughout the land? Will she make it clear that we intend not only to sustain the new deal, but to extend it wherever possible, to ensure that unemployment becomes an issue for all the right reasons, as it never was in the early days of the Government?

Jane Kennedy: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those comments. He is right: the new deal programmes have been a well-proven success. More than 3,000 people have been helped into work through the new deal in Nottingham, North and more than 65,000 in the east midlands. Their lives have been changed through their experience of the new deal.

Progress2work Scheme

13. John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): How many progress2work clients have maintained full-time work for over 12 months since joining the scheme. [196329]

The Minister for Work (Jane Kennedy): Jobcentre Plus delivers progress2work, which helps those people who have misused illegal drugs to overcome difficult barriers to enter employment. I can tell my hon. Friend that more than 3,000 people with a history of drug misuse have been helped into work through the progress2work programme, and more than 1,000 of them are still in work after three months or more.
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John Mann: That was not quite an answer to the question that I tabled today, and I look forward to receiving the actual answer. Does the Minister recognise that constituencies such as mine, which have a significant and successful drugs treatment programme, need the help of her Department to get people back to work? Is she prepared to meet a delegation of experts from my constituency who have prepared alternative plans on how to get people back to work because of the failures of progress2work?

Jane Kennedy: I am disappointed to hear my hon. Friend describe progress2work as a failure. In north Nottinghamshire, 85 per cent. of those people helped into work through progress2work are still in work more than three months later. His question relates to 12   months, and he knows from informal discussions that although we do not yet have evaluations for the one-year point, it is still a mark of success when individuals with the difficulties faced by those people who take part in the progress2work scheme are continuing to work after three months. Indeed, a 23-year-old man who had used heroin for six years and had been in prison for three month has now been off heroin for six months. He is on methadone, but he is working. He has achieved his driving licence and forklift licence to maintain work, and he is still in work after six months. That is one of the individual success stories that tell me that progress2work is having the expected results. However, I would be very pleased to meet my hon. Friend and his delegation to talk about this crucial issue.

Pathways to Work Pilots

14. Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the pathways to work pilots; and if he will make a statement. [196330]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Eagle): Pathways to work pilots are subject to ongoing evaluation. The early indications are extremely encouraging. As my right hon. friend the Secretary of State announced recently, pathways areas are getting double the level of improvement in the number of recorded job entries compared with other areas, and about six times as many people as in other places are taking up further help to get back to work.

Lynne Jones: I commend all those involved in the development of the programme, which I saw for myself on a visit to Derbyshire in the summer. The sooner that it operates in my constituency, the better. Does my hon. Friend agree that the holistic approach that the programme represents is far more likely to achieve long-term success than the punitive approach of threatening people with the loss of benefits? It is far more likely to be successful in getting people on incapacity benefit back into the world of work, particularly those who have mental health problems.

Maria Eagle: I understand my hon. Friend's point. I am glad that she was able to see pathways to work working in Derby, and I, too, hope that we can extend it to her constituency and other places as soon as
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possible. I know that she is chair of the all-party parliamentary group on mental health and understand her concern about the impact of compulsion, but I am a great supporter of compulsion in respect of the work-focused interview. There are safeguards to ensure that vulnerable people are not sanctioned if they do not turn up. It is absolutely crucial that people who have often been away from the jobs market and Jobcentre Plus for very many years get to see what kind of help can be offered. Many of them are surprised at the supportive way in which our staff can take them forward. Unless we get them in, we cannot help them get into work. So, the approach balances the rights of those individuals to be helped to get work with the responsibilities of having to turn up for the interviews.

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab): Although my local Jobcentre Plus has done a great deal to help disabled people into work, the extra help and the holistic approach mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) is not available, particularly in respect of the help that exists elsewhere through access to the rehabilitation service. Will my hon. Friend the Minister go further and say when pathways to work will be rolled out across the country, so that my constituents can benefit from the extra help that it provides?

Maria Eagle: Pathways to work is a pilot programme. Until very recently, no one knew how to assist that group of people to get back into the labour market. We need to ensure that we spend the money in the right way to get results. Therefore, despite the fact that the early indications are very encouraging—we are very excited about them—we do not yet know what the impact of the pilot schemes will be in respect of sustained job entries, for example. We need to ensure that we go forward on the basis of evidence. Only when we have that evidence—it is appearing all the time—will we be able to judge when and, indeed, if we can extend that approach elsewhere.

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