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Incapacity Benefit

5. Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham) (Con): What assistance her Department makes available to existing long-term incapacity benefit claimants to help them move into employment. [314105]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Jonathan Shaw): We have invested heavily to support existing incapacity benefit customers into work. Since October 2003, pathways to work has helped 180,000 people into work. We are conducting a review into the employment support that we provide to disabled customers and we will bring forward proposals in the spring.

Mrs. Lait: I thank the Minister for that information. I am surprised that he did not mention that today's papers include an element of congratulation on the reduction in the number of people on incapacity benefit.

In inviting the Minister to give me the figures for the number of people with mental health problems who have moved from incapacity benefit to jobseeker's allowance or jobs, I also ask him to tell me what special training has been put in place for Jobcentre Plus staff to help people with mental health problems rather than reinforce their difficulties.

Jonathan Shaw: I very much welcome the hon. Lady's question. We recently published our mental health employment strategy, part of which will ensure that each district has a specialist mental health employment adviser. In our strategy, we recognise that mental health multidisciplinary teams do not often include employment as part of the prescription to help people get better. We know that work is good for people; we have seen models of good practice around the country on which we based our strategy. We believe that the strategy and other measures, such as access to work, will ensure-as the hon. Lady and all of us hope-that people with mental health conditions experience far more increases in their employment opportunities.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): Is it not likely that those who have been on employment and support allowance for many years and are looking to move into work, such as those with mental health problems, will need a great deal of individual help and support to get back into work? That is precisely what we propose, with specialist support in our work programme.

Will the Minister answer the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) posed a moment ago? How many of those who have been reclassified from the ESA to jobseeker's allowance have actually found a job? May we have the figure, please?

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Jonathan Shaw: The ESA has been in operation for only one year. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will welcome our employment strategy for mental health people. We have set out in that policy when people will be able to get, for example, better access to work, which the review suggested and we accepted. We have specialist staff in our jobcentres and we expect to see people with mental health conditions, which could mean a range of conditions. We have developed specialist help. The access to work scheme is helping people-£15 million was spent when the Opposition were in government, but that has risen to £137 million. We have done that in partnership with Mind, which has welcomed the arrangements, and a range of disability organisations in that sector has helped us. We have seen jobs for disabled people increase by 10 per cent. since this Government have been in office.

Young Person's Guarantee

6. Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): What assessment she has made of the likely effects of the young person's guarantee on the level of youth unemployment. [314106]

11. Chloe Smith (Norwich, North) (Con): What assessment she has made of the likely effects of the young person's guarantee on the level of youth unemployment. [314111]

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Yvette Cooper): The youth guarantee will provide more than 450,000 youth opportunities, supported by more than £1 billion of additional investment, and aims to help to get youth unemployment falling in the second half of this year.

Mr. Crabb: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that reply, but is it not the case that any positive effect of the young person's guarantee will be far outweighed by the tens of thousands of young people who will find that they are unable to take up their degree courses later this year as a result of the £1 billion cuts to the higher education budget announced today by her colleagues?

Yvette Cooper: That is simply untrue. We are already funding a significant increase in those in full-time education. In fact, in the past 12 months alone, the labour force survey shows an increase in those in full-time education of 200,000 compared with last year. We continue to support increases of those in higher education; the hon. Gentleman's party wants to cut the numbers because it wants to make it more elitist.

Chloe Smith: I am sure the Secretary of State will join me in congratulating Conservative-run Norfolk county council, which today announced the creation of a further 300 jobs across Norfolk by April this year-but the future jobs fund is open to any organisation from the public, third or private sectors, so why has she got no other takers locally in Norwich, North?

Yvette Cooper: I am glad that the hon. Lady welcomes the additional future jobs fund jobs that Norfolk county council is signing up to. I think she should have a word with the county council about where those jobs should be located, but she may also want to have a word with
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Conservative Front Benchers, because they have opposed the future jobs fund and said they would abolish it. That would mean that huge numbers of people in Norfolk and Norwich would lose the job opportunities for which they have been working for so long.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): I thank the Government for that scheme. Given its importance to our constituencies, will the Secretary of State consider, as each month goes past, publishing details in the Library of the numbers of guarantees that are delivered in each constituency? Is she also aware that there is a difference in the rake-off-the fees charged by those providing the guarantees? The local authority charges £15, but one private company takes a third of the Government money just to administer the scheme.

Yvette Cooper: I am very happy to look into the case that my right hon. Friend has in mind. Certainly, we will be producing official figures in due course-they will be produced by the Office for National Statistics in the normal way, to ensure that they are properly done.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): I have been discussing the pluses and minuses of the changes that have taken place in Ellesmere Port with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform. One very big positive change has been a partnership between Jobcentre Plus and the local further education college. Jobcentre Plus is now located in the FE college, in very difficult circumstances-it is a big building site, thanks to this Government. Will the Secretary of State look at examples such as that one as a way of getting closer to young people, and working with them and their education providers to help to produce opportunities for work?

Yvette Cooper: I know that my hon. Friend has been working very closely with employers-certainly in the retail sector-and jobcentres in his area to make more job opportunities available, including for young people. He will know that overall youth unemployment fell by 16,000 in the most recent figures and the claimant count fell by 7,000. It is worth noting that youth unemployment in the 1990s rose for a year and a half after the recession finished, and that in the '80s, it rose for four years after the recession finished. We are determined not to let that happen this time.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): It cannot have escaped the Secretary of State's notice that youth unemployment has been rising for eight years under this Government, and today 927,000 young people are unemployed. The Government announced the young person's guarantee in April last year, but it will not be fully up and running until April this year. With one in five young people unable to find a job, why has it taken the Government two years since the start of the recession to give extra help to the young unemployed?

Yvette Cooper: I am sorry that the right hon. Lady chose not to welcome the drop in youth unemployment in the most recent figures. We need to keep working to help the young unemployed. She mentioned the figures, so let me tell her the latest figures for the claimant count. We have 484,000 young people on the claimant count looking for work. In the early 1990s recession the
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number was 871,000 and in the mid-1980s it was more than 1 million. So the figure is half that of the mid-1980s, as a result of the additional investment that we have put in to help young people through the recession.

Mrs. May: Youth unemployment on the International Labour Organisation count has gone up by more than 300,000 since Labour came into power in 1997. The young person's guarantee is virtually identical to the new deal for young people, which for many was a revolving door on to benefits. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) described the performance of the new deal for young people as derisory. Last year, fewer than one in four young people on the new deal found a job. Unlike our work programme, the young person's guarantee is not aimed at getting young people into sustainable work. Is not the only conclusion that Ministers are only interested in saving their own jobs, not in giving real help to young people?

Yvette Cooper: Again, the right hon. Lady talks nonsense. The ILO figures include people who are in full-time education but may also be looking for a part-time job, perhaps bar work. If we exclude the number in full-time education-which has rightly increased as a result of the action that this Government have taken-the figures today are 658,000 unemployed, compared with 832,000 in 1993 and again more than 1 million in 1985.

The right hon. Lady asks about the future jobs fund and the youth guarantee, which are providing 470,000 opportunities across the country. The future jobs fund is providing a range of quality career opportunities for young people to get on the first step of the ladder. It is tragic that she wants to oppose that. She says that she wants her own work programme instead, but she could not fund it, because her party would cut £5 billion that we are putting in to support the unemployed.

Digital Inclusion

8. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): What recent assessment she has made of the potential of StartHere in meeting her Department's objectives in respect of digital inclusion. [314108]

The Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform (Jim Knight): Tackling digital exclusion is of fundamental importance to the Department. Inclusion improves employment prospects and helps people to save money, and levels of exclusion are relatively high among our customers. The Department routinely signposts sources of online access, skills and support, such as UK online centres' online basics course, and is looking for ways to do more. StartHere is an interesting service that has the potential to work together with directgov to provide a very simple starting point to accessing Government services online, with a clear focus on local support and helping digital inclusion, and we watch its progress with interest.

Alun Michael: I greatly welcome my right hon. Friend's positive response. Given that the recent evaluation report shows that StartHere is highly cost-effective in getting information to those who are on the wrong side of the digital divide, and that NHS Choices has chosen to use StartHere as a vehicle, is it not time for the DWP and others to use it too? Will he meet me to discuss how we might achieve that?

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Jim Knight: I am always happy to meet my right hon. Friend, and would be pleased to do so in respect of the case that he makes for StartHere, which certainly has a good champion in the Minister with responsibility for digital Britain, the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Mr. Timms), who spends much of his time in the Treasury. He has been writing to many of us in government to stir up support for StartHere, which is something that I am looking at in the context of my responsibilities.

Public Sector Pension Deficit

9. Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): If she will estimate the total pension deficit liability in the public sector. [314109]

The Minister for Pensions and the Ageing Society (Angela Eagle): We have been told that this question has been transferred to Her Majesty's Treasury. [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory rose-

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let me say to the hon. Lady that the House was certainly not aware of that. I was not aware of it, the question is on the Order Paper, and I know that she will offer us an answer.

Angela Eagle: I am happy to offer an answer. The total pension deficit liability in the public sector is, off the top of my head, close to £600-odd billion, but this has to be seen in context. The pension liabilities are calculated over the next 80 years. In that context, it has to be borne in mind that the average size of a public sector pension is £4,000 to £5,000.

Mr. Speaker: So there is time for an update.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: It is obvious that the Government do not have a clue. They cannot even find a Department to answer the question, so let me provide the answer. Outside agencies estimate that the public sector deficit liability is about £1 trillion, which is £1,000 billion. In the pre-Budget report, the Government were going to get that down by only £1 billion, which is one tenth of 1 per cent. Is it not obvious that in this area of policy and many others we need a change of Government to get the answers?

Angela Eagle: The right hon. Gentleman persists in scaremongering about the provision of public sector pensions for millions of low-paid public sector workers. As I have said, the average pension payment is £5,000 a year. Those liabilities are perfectly sustainable and comprise between 1.5 and 2 per cent. of GDP. If the right hon. Gentleman is telling the House that the Opposition do not think that that is sustainable, what he is saying to the electorate in the forthcoming election is that they will take away the public sector pension provision of millions of public sector workers who are out there working hard to keep our public services going in difficult times-and that, Mr. Speaker, is an absolute disgrace.

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Independent Medical Assessments

10. John Mason (Glasgow, East) (SNP): What mechanisms her Department has to ensure that independent medical assessments for work capability are consistent, accurate and fair. [314110]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Jonathan Shaw): The work capability assessment is carried out by specifically trained health care professionals who are able to provide independent and robust advice to decision makers regarding customers' functional capabilities. Recruitment standards, training and stringent quality checks ensure that assessments are consistent, accurate and fair.

John Mason: I thank the Minister for that answer, but given that assessing mental health problems is particularly difficult, why does Atos Healthcare regularly ignore the patient's own GP?

Jonathan Shaw: Atos takes account of representations made by GPs and other professionals. I recognise that there are competing demands on a number of hon. Members, whereby we want the number of people on sickness benefit to be reduced, but there are examples of cases in our constituency surgeries that raise concern-indeed, I might find myself writing to myself where I have a concern. In order to try to allay those concerns, the Secretary of State has asked me to arrange a seminar with Atos and Department for Work and Pensions staff, so that we can set out in detail how those medical assessments are made, and obviously I would welcome the hon. Gentleman's contribution to that. In addition, we will place in the Library the quality control reports for when we supervise Atos staff.

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): I am sure that this is not just a Scottish problem, although concern about the behaviour of Atos in Scotland is shared across the House. As the Minister will know from his postbag, I have written many times about the complete lack of confidence in the quality of people being sent to carry out these assessments. An example was a doctor who had been retired for almost 10 years taking away the benefits from a young man who had had serious Asperger's syndrome recorded on his medical records for almost 20 years. Can we not put a better system in place, so that people can have confidence that the people who come to see them know what they are talking about?

Jonathan Shaw: We complete more than 30,000 assessments every month. With the new regime, we will see fewer people on employment and support allowance than on incapacity benefit. We are clear that that is the right way forward. I understand that hon. Members have constituency concerns, however, which is why I have arranged a seminar in which we can set out in detail how these assessments are meant to be performed. When there is a complaint or a concern about a particular individual, that individual is looked into and properly checked. If my hon. Friend is able to come along to the seminar and provide us with information, of course we will look at it. As I have said, there will be fewer people on ESA than on incapacity benefit. This is about looking at what people can do.

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People Trafficking (Employment)

12. Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con): What training her Department's officials receive to enable them effectively to assist victims of human trafficking, migrants and refugees to find work. [314112]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Helen Goodman): Jobcentre Plus advisers have comprehensive training to equip them with the range of knowledge and skills that they need to support all customers. The training includes modules on how to help the most vulnerable customers and, where appropriate, how to signpost them to other relevant sources of help.

Mr. Steen: Does the Minister agree that, if the many thousands of human trafficking victims who come forward every year in this country were treated more generously, as they are in other countries, and given work permits for, say, a year, while waiting for prosecutions to be brought against their traffickers, they would be more likely to give evidence, which would lead to more successful prosecutions? Has she thought about granting a year's permit to those who come forward after being trafficked?

Helen Goodman: We always listen most carefully to the views of the hon. Gentleman, because, as chair of the all-party group on the trafficking of women and children, he knows a lot about this issue. I should like to bring him up to date. In 2009, a joint communiqué was issued by the Refugee Council and Jobcentre Plus. The operational framework is now being reviewed, and there will be further meetings in February and March. In addition, I think that the hon. Gentleman will be particularly satisfied to hear that the DWP and the Home Office have agreed that victims of trafficking may bypass the residency test.

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