Select Committee on Work and Pensions Third Report


1  INTRODUCTION

1. There are currently more than 2.7 million people claiming incapacity benefits in the UK - more than 7% of the working-age population. More people claim incapacity benefits than the combined total of unemployed people and lone parents on benefits. Some of these people are severely ill or disabled. Many want to return to work and need the appropriate support to enable them to do so.

2. As the UK's overall employment level has risen in recent years, the economic inactivity rates among disabled people have received more attention. The Government has taken small steps to remove some of the obstacles that ill or disabled people face in entering or remaining in the workplace, but significant barriers remain. In 2003, our predecessor Committee embarked on a short inquiry into 'Employment For All', focusing on how to help disabled people move into work. The inquiry was announced at the same time as the Government issued its consultation on Pathways to Work - a new employment strategy for disabled people. The Committee produced an interim report and recommended returning to the issue at a later stage when more evidence from the Pathways pilots was forthcoming.[1]

3. This inquiry into the reform of incapacity benefits and the Pathways to Work pilots was the first inquiry agreed by the new Work and Pensions Committee following the 2005 General Election. The decision was prompted by the announcement, prior to the election, by the then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions that the Government planned to reform Incapacity Benefit. At that time, the Government intended to publish a Green Paper "in the summer".[2] This commitment was not fulfilled and the Green Paper was delayed several times before its final publication in January 2006.

4. Nonetheless, we agreed terms of reference in July 2005: "to examine the Government's strategy to help more disabled people move into employment through a reformed system of incapacity benefits and the lessons learned from the Pathways to Work pilot schemes." We sought evidence on the following issues:

  • Reforms to incapacity benefits
  • The future rollout of Pathways to Work
  • The experience of ill or disabled people
  • Support for ill or disabled people to move back into work
  • Involvement of healthcare professionals
  • Jobcentre Plus resources
  • Existing employment initiatives
  • The role of the private and voluntary sectors

Local labour markets

5. As a result of the initial call for evidence, 70 memoranda were received from a wide range of organisations and individuals.

6. In spite of the delayed Green Paper, in December 2005 the Committee began the inquiry with a visit to the Pathways to Work pilot area in Derbyshire. We met with staff responsible for delivering the pilots and their clients, private and voluntary sector employment service providers, health professionals and employers. We also visited a Jobcentre Plus office delivering Pathways to Work and a provider of supported employment - Remploy. In addition, the Committee held an oral evidence session in Derby City Council House with employers' representatives and voluntary and private sector employment service providers.

7. Following publication of the Welfare Reform Green Paper in January 2006, the Committee issued another call for written evidence and received a further 58 memoranda. In February and March 2006, we held three further evidence sessions with a range of policy experts and disability organisations and with the Secretary of State, the Rt Hon John Hutton MP.

8. In February 2006, the Committee travelled to the Netherlands on an overseas study visit where we met a range of civil servants and rehabilitation service providers. The Netherlands has recently made significant reforms to its equivalent to incapacity benefits. In addition, in recent years it has achieved a relatively high rate of helping disabled people move into work compared with most other OECD countries. The Committee would like to thank all those who contributed to this inquiry by submitting oral and written evidence, and those who assisted the Committee in undertaking the valuable visits to Derbyshire and to the Netherlands.

9. The Committee is also very grateful for the assistance of its Specialist Adviser, Kate Stanley, Associate Director and Head of Social Policy at the Institute of Public Policy Research, who advised the Committee on the wide range of issues covered by the remit of the inquiry and provided ongoing support to both the Members and the Committee staff.

10. The Green Paper has a formal consultation period which ended on 21 April 2006. The Committee intends that this report will be submitted as part of the Government's consultation process. We look forward to receiving both the Government's response to the Committee's report and the response to the Green Paper consultation and hope that the Government continues to have a dialogue with all of the stakeholders in incapacity benefits reform.


1   Work and Pensions Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2002-03, Employment For All: Interim Report, HC 401 Back

2   "Johnson announces summer green paper to reform incapacity benefit as radical 'Pathways' pilots get 10,000 off IB within a year." DWP press release 15 March 2005 Back


 
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