Previous Section Index Home Page

The hon. Lady is wrong to say that the Green Paper does not mention the important issue of mental health. It says specifically that our interventions with pathways for people with mental health problems have not been as successful as others. They have had some success, but we want to look at how to make them more effective,
21 July 2008 : Column 537
how we can dovetail that with improving access to the psychological therapies roll-out—the roll-out of talking therapy led by the NHS—and how we can work with local areas to improve the co-ordination of mental health and back-to-work services. Work is often the best way of helping people to improve their mental health. We also need to work with employers to change the culture of stigma that too often still applies to people who have mental heath problems.

The hon. Lady asked about child poverty, and we all agree that its eradication is an important goal. I am not sure that she agrees with us, however, on the target of eradicating child poverty by 2020. [Interruption.] I am glad that the Liberal Democrats are now formally committed to the 2020 and 2010 targets. [Interruption.] I am not sure that their commitment is entirely clear. I am interested in how they could achieve that commitment given that their leader wants to cut £20 billion of public expenditure. It will be hard for her to square that circle. I look forward to her trying to do so, but also to working with her on those parts of the Green Paper on which we agree.

Kali Mountford (Colne Valley) (Lab): In congratulating my right hon. Friend on his statement, may I say that it is part of an evolving process over some years whereby the Government have concentrated their efforts on those who are completely isolated from the world of work, who have become used to dependence on benefits, and who have perhaps become comfortable in poverty, which is not a position that we should be satisfied for them to be in? Will he continue to consult those who understand people who have become comfortable in poverty, and not those who feel that people in poverty are scroungers? Does that not preclude consulting the Conservative party?

James Purnell: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to suggest that we should never stigmatise people in poverty and that the vast majority of people on IB want to work. We want to provide them with exactly that support, and that is what Pathways to Work does—it provides them with help to manage and improve their condition and to get back into work. It improves the chances of people being in work from 28 per cent. to 35 per cent., and we want to ensure that everyone has the chance to get that support.

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): The Secretary of State will not be surprised that I welcome him announcing policies that I originally enunciated ahead of the 1997 election. I congratulate the three people responsible for today’s statement: himself for delivering it; David Freud for persuading him to do so; and my hon. Friend the shadow spokesman for his powers of ventriloquism in spelling out the policies that the Secretary of State has enunciated today.

However, has the Secretary of State committed himself to David Freud’s central proposal, which is based on his realisation that getting people into work is good for the workless person and the taxpayer, but that those who find jobs and help people back into work are not rewarded? Will he reward the success of those in the public sector and in the private and voluntary sectors
21 July 2008 : Column 538
who bid for programmes getting people back into work? Will he pay them by their results? If so, why has he not spelled out how he will deal with the two central problems—parking people who are difficult to get back into work, and creaming off those who are easy to get back into work? Those are the central issues, and he has not even addressed them in his statement.

James Purnell: I am happy to do so. I confirm, as I said in my statement, that we will pay people by results. We are already doing that in the flexible new deal contracts that we are letting, and in pathways. We will take that approach further with the new funding mechanism—the awfully named AME-DEL mechanism. That will enable us to pay people out of future benefit savings. Instead of leaving people on benefits and then paying the cost, the money will be brought forward and invested. That will improve those people’s lives and ensure that we save money, which can be reinvested elsewhere.

In the flexible new deal, for example, we will avoid people being parked—as the right hon. Gentleman called it—and left without any help, or cream-skimmed, as he also said, by requiring everybody to do at least four weeks mandatory work. As that requirement will be expensive, it will give providers an incentive to get everyone back to work so that they do not have to spend the money. As we develop our new contracts, we will ensure that people are given the right incentives to help everyone—from those who are hardest to help to those who are closest to the labour market.

Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend and his ministerial team on today’s announcement of measures building on the early new deal and employment zone partnerships—which have taught us a great deal—and on the principles set out by the Government in 2005. I particularly welcome the doubling of the Access to Work budget.

Will my right hon. Friend say something about the timetable for social fund reform, which will be widely welcomed by the 10 major anti-poverty charities with which I have had the privilege of working, and by the 2.5 million people who rely on legal but incredibly high APR repayment rates of more than 180 per cent. and who are caught in poverty as a consequence?

Let me also thank the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Plaskitt), for his tenacity in sticking to the issue and avoiding those who would drag him down with their inevitable conservatism.

James Purnell: I echo those congratulations, and also congratulate my right hon. Friend on the work that he has done. The employment zones, which I believe he started, have been one of the inspirations for our work in giving people more flexibility and rewarding them on the basis of the outcomes that they deliver.

My right hon. Friend was right to point out that reforming the social fund and, in particular, trying to eradicate loan sharks and the terrible damage that they do to many people in our constituencies are at the heart of what we are attempting to do in the Green Paper. We intend to include in our welfare reform Bill powers enabling us to conduct a major pilot to establish how we
21 July 2008 : Column 539
can reform the social fund so that it can benefit more people, as well as taking significant steps towards getting rid of loan sharks. I look forward to working with my right hon. Friend on those proposals.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): In his statement, the Secretary of State said that he wanted to give disabled people the right to know how much the state was spending on them, and to request that the money be given to them as a budget that they could control. I welcome that move towards individual budgets, but will the Secretary of State tell us whether they will contain not just the sums that his Department spends, but the money spent by local authorities on adult services and, more radically, by the national health service?

James Purnell: We want to include as many funding sources as possible, and there is wide support for that across government. We have seen the way in which giving people control can improve their satisfaction with services, ensure that those services are much more appropriate to their needs, and reduce costs. We will certainly examine local authority spending, as well as a range of other spending. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the NHS is piloting its own individual budgets approach, and we have agreed to build on that. We will consult widely on how we can proceed with our radical proposal.

Hilary Armstrong (North-West Durham) (Lab): As my right hon. Friend will know, numerous people in constituencies such as mine began receiving incapacity and other benefits when the last Government closed the mines and steelworks, and we have a deep problem because so many people have been receiving those benefits for so many years. However, I have observed the exceptionally good work of Jobcentre Plus staff and some of the special teams that pathways has put together, and that of organisations in the voluntary sector that are working with people who have given up on themselves and their families. Can my right hon. Friend assure me, and other Members with constituencies similar to mine, that that special work—done, in some cases, by very small voluntary sector agencies—can be continued and strengthened, so that many more people who have given up will find that there are ways back to the normal world of work for them and their families?

James Purnell: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I can give her precisely that reassurance. That is why the commission I have mentioned is looking into how we can maximise the role of the voluntary sector and of social enterprise in helping people. She is right to emphasise the importance of those specialist voluntary groups that provide services that no one else can. She also makes it clear that people in her constituency, and constituencies such as mine, who have been out of work sometimes for as long as 10 or 20 years want help to get back into work. She and I will have met many people who have received such help and who have said, “I wish I’d done that years ago.” These proposals will address precisely that situation.

Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham) (Con): The Secretary of State will know that the best providers in the field of back-to-work support say that it can take five years to
21 July 2008 : Column 540
get somebody into work. Is he prepared to let contracts of that length, and if he is, will he ensure that, should the Government decide to change the terms of the contract or to walk away from it, they will, in accordance with best practice, negotiate proper compensation?

James Purnell: Yes and yes.

Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): I particularly welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to doubling the Access to Work budget, not only because it will help more disabled people back into work, but because it will help employers retain in the work force people who, through sickness or disability, might otherwise be lost from it, which would be bad for employers as they would lose skills and loyalty, and bad for the individual, who needs to retain the dignity of work. However, in taking these policies forward, will my right hon. Friend remember that there are wolves in sheep’s clothing in this place and that we are hearing some good advice today from Members who in the past told us that unemployment was a price worth paying?

James Purnell: My hon. Friend is right about the importance of Access to Work. These proposals will give employers the confidence to employ disabled people because they will know that the state will be there to help with any costs that are not to be met under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. They will also help us cope more effectively with fluctuating conditions, and they will mean that Access to Work will no longer be the best kept secret in my Department. We look forward to working with my hon. Friend on making these proposals work.

Sir John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West) (Con): May I bring to the Secretary of State’s attention the predicament of a uniquely disadvantaged group of disabled people: the blind and those with severe visual impairment? I know that he and his fellow Ministers have had constructive discussions with the Royal National Institute of Blind People and others representing the blind. Will this group of people now be able to qualify for the higher rate mobility allowance, and can the Secretary of State say how much that is likely to cost and whether it will be possible to meet it from within the budgets he has now been able to establish?

James Purnell: This Green Paper does not cover disability living allowance, so there are no proposals on that issue. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we work closely with the RNIB on it, and we are not against the principle. Some of our discussions have helped to refine the proposal, but we want to continue to work with the institute on the proposal, and we are also happy to continue discussions with Members of this House on the issue.

Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood) (Lab): I welcome today’s statement, which will support people into work and out of poverty. Will my right hon. Friend explain in a little more detail how his proposals will help those individuals who face multiple barriers into work? They could be a lone parent, disabled, from a minority ethnic group or lack any educational qualifications. How will his proposals help such individuals?

21 July 2008 : Column 541

James Purnell: That is a very important point, and the Select Committee on which my hon. Friend serves has repeatedly spoken about it. It is the inspiration behind the approach to the flexible new deal and what we are doing with Pathways to Work. Instead of grouping people into the new deal for disabled people, the new deal for lone parents or the new deal for 50-plus as we have done in the past, we will have a single new deal—the flexible new deal—which will allow individuals to be treated according to their circumstances, so that we can help them overcome the barriers to work that they face. That is the approach that will be taken with people on incapacity benefit as well. We want to look at whether we can go even further and have contracts that bring people from different client groups together—those on jobseeker’s allowance, or on the employment and support allowance—to give even greater discretion to our providers, so that they can help the person across the desk from them, rather than a notional group invented in Whitehall.

Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): Last week, I tabled a written question asking the right hon. Gentleman to place before the House the work-focused health-related assessment questionnaire that claimants of the employment and support allowance will need to complete from October. I seek an assurance from him that those assessing the applications will have the necessary specialisms to deal with some of the more complex conditions, in particular the range of learning disability and autistic spectrum disorders. There is a tipping point between giving such people the opportunity to work if we can make that happen—we should, of course, do that—and not undermining their ability to maintain independent living. Such living is sometimes obtained only if there is a recognition that it takes a lot more out of them than it does out of other people

James Purnell: The hon. Lady makes an important point. I am afraid that I have not yet seen her question. She refers to probably the worst of our acronyms: the WFHRA—the work-focused health-related assessment—as it is called in the Department. It is perhaps not the best known of things, but it is vital to the system, because it will not only allow the test to be a medical one, but people with medical expertise and people with expertise in getting people back into work will be able jointly to discuss the right approach for the individual. We want to do that much better to help the kinds of people to whom she referred: those with learning disabilities and people with an autistic spectrum disorder. They will be much better helped under this new test, which is based on consultation with people who have expertise about those conditions. This approach also explains why we want to expand the Workprep and Workstep programmes, which are of particular help to people in those categories.

Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye) (Lab): My right hon. Friend has thought perhaps not the unthinkable, but the now thinkable because of the support that his Government have given people in the position that we are discussing. The mentally ill cannot always do work in the same way, and they can come and go. Flexibility of work is important, and that is often available only in the public sector, so does he agree that the public sector sometimes needs to have an opportunity where the private sector does not achieve things?

21 July 2008 : Column 542

James Purnell: My hon. Friend is right to say that the public sector needs to play its part and that we need to use procurement to make a big difference in the agenda that he mentions. We need to change the culture in all areas of our work force, as I am sure he would agree. As we were discussing, we need to remove the stigma around mental health. Our Pathways to Work support helps people to cope with fluctuating conditions by giving them the skills to do so. The higher allowance that people will be able to earn in the new employment and support allowance will allow them to try work for more hours than they were able to do previously and, if that works, they will then be able to move into full-time work. If they then want to come out of work, they can return to their previous rate of benefits without fearing that they will then be stranded on a lower rate of benefit.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): There is a story in The Herald today suggesting that Glasgow is to be a pilot for all these proposals, but that, surprise, surprise, no announcement is to be made before Thursday. The Chancellor and Prime Minister have been conspicuous by their absence from the streets of Glasgow in the past few weeks. Surely they should now come to Glasgow to explain fully their intentions to the people of Glasgow—if they dare.

James Purnell: I do not know what to say to that. Unfortunately, if we had done the opposite and not included Scotland, the hon. Gentleman would be saying that it was an outrage that we were helping people in all other parts of the United Kingdom but not those in Scotland. As he knows, the election purdah rules restrict what we can say about Glasgow specifically. He should also know that what we are doing in terms of devolving powers to people is based specifically on what people in Glasgow and, in particular, the Labour council, have asked us to do. It has an innovative and radical approach of guaranteeing apprenticeships to all young people. It is doing that in spite of the cuts that his Administration are making to apprenticeships in that country. He needs to step up to the plate to provide the child care, the drugs treatment and the apprenticeships to make this policy work. I trust that he will do just that, rather than scoring political points.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): My friend told us in his statement that Jobcentre Plus is recognised as one of the best back-to-work agencies in the world. Does he have a target for the number of civil servants that he would like transferred to the private and voluntary sectors to deliver the new proposals?

James Purnell: No, because that would be very much the old agenda of trying to privatise things and this is exactly the opposite; it is to say that we now have the private and voluntary sectors as part of business as usual in the DWP. They deliver a third of our services. That is a massive transformation compared with the system that we inherited from the Conservative party, and we do that because they provide good services. If the private and voluntary sectors or social enterprise organisations can help to improve our services, we should do exactly that. I hope that my hon. Friend will welcome that and back it.

21 July 2008 : Column 543

Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con): The Secretary of State has been studying our green papers closely and I commend that, but he will know that the proposed right to bid appears in our voluntary sector green paper. We call it the right to supply. Will he implement that fully and, in particular, allow charities and social enterprises to make a return of surplus to reinvest if they succeed, and not limit them just to having their costs returned?

James Purnell: I hope that it will not offend the hon. Gentleman too much if I say that I have not read that particular green paper, which I think was published relatively recently. I think that our proposal was made before his green paper came out. The key point is that we want people who provide good services to be able to make good profits and, if they are in the voluntary or social enterprise sectors, to be well rewarded. Such an approach will improve our services.

Barbara Keeley (Worsley) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Lone parents and carers would also benefit from the availability of more flexible work. Will steps be taken to promote flexible working, so that many more such jobs are flagged up and advertised, and many more people can be encouraged back to work?

James Purnell: Yes, that is a good point and it is exactly what we are doing as part of our local employment partnerships and in taking forward the carers strategy. Many carers say that they want to return to work and we have worked closely with Carers UK to ensure that we can deliver services that are specific to carers and to help them to overcome the particular barriers that they face.

Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con): Will there be any restriction, limitation or guidance on the range of occupations that may be expected to be taken up by those who are perhaps slightly choosy about the work that they would like to do? People in my constituency often look around, see a load of litter and ask why it is not being picked up, perhaps by young offenders doing community service, and we are told that that is because such work is considered demeaning. Will any particular guidance be given on the range of occupations that people may be expected to take up whether they like it or not?

James Purnell: That will be up to our providers. That is an example of what I was saying about our not telling our providers exactly how to deliver the service. We will reward them on the basis of results and it should be up to them to determine the kind of work, and combination of work and skills in preparation for returning to work, that will be right for the people for whom it is provided. I do not want to undermine the innovation of the private, voluntary and public sectors by defining from the centre how they should deliver, but we should not be stigmatising people but rather doing what will help them to get back into work. If we end up stigmatising people, we make it harder to do that.

Next Section Index Home Page