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23 Mar 2010 : Column 13WH—continued

The latest data show that, in provider-led areas, less than one in 10 claimants going through pathways to work have moved into work. Later data show that there is parking and creaming-the right hon. Gentleman referred to his concern about that-and that those who need most help are left on one side and not helped.
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Government research and their report, "The influence of outcome-based contracting on Provider-led Pathways to Work", said that there is

people who are not that far from the labour market-with

to which

There was concern that

That is important. we must be able to help those who need most help and who may have been out of work for the longest time. The right hon. Gentleman raised that concern. It is one reason why, as we suggested, we must use private and voluntary providers, as the Government are doing, but we must be more rigorous about paying them on outcomes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne), the shadow Chancellor, said that that would enable a Conservative Government to use the savings from benefits to do as the right hon. Gentleman said and reinvest the money in employment programmes, partly to scale them and have a reasonable expectation of dealing with the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people who are out of work and need help, and importantly to pay an amount of money that varies according to the help that people need to get back into work. If someone has been out of work for many years and perhaps has a complex disability, a provider could be given a significant sum to invest in training, help and support to get that person back into work, whereas someone who is not so far away from the labour market, has perhaps not been out of work for long and needs only a small change in their skills will not be given as much because their case is much more straightforward. That variable amount of investment is critical in ensuring that the hardest to help are not left on one side, which is what the right hon. Gentleman suggested might be happening.

The right hon. Gentleman flagged up some concerns about work capability assessment. Several organisations have raised such concerns with me, and whether the test properly assesses someone's capability to work. The Minister has acknowledged that there are concerns about that, and the Government are looking into those issues, some of which have been reported by staff. Some work has been done. The Government's internal technical review, and the independent review are due to be published later this year. It would be helpful if the Minister told us what medical experts and representative groups he has been working with on the Government's review, whether a draft is ready, whether he can give a commitment on when the final report will be available, whether any changes have been identified in the work capability assessment, which would need to be changed in regulations, and whether any work is under way to draft them.

A specific matter was raised by Macmillan Cancer Support, and parliamentary questions were asked about it. Those with terminal cancer are not expected to undergo a work capability assessment, and there is supposed to be a process whereby they move straight to the support group so that they receive help immediately. That is important for those with a terminal diagnosis.
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The process is good, but Macmillan Cancer Support has suggested that that does not always happen, and that some people with terminal disease have been asked to undergo a work capability assessment when it is not appropriate. It has produced a report, and perhaps the Minister will tell us whether there has been any progress on tightening that up.

The right hon. Gentleman spent quite a lot of his speech on personalisation and the right to control, and rightly so. The change is supported by all three major parties in the House, and we all agree that we would like it to go faster. He highlighted the progress that has been made so far, which is welcome. Measured from a low base, there has been a lot of progress, but from the other end of the telescope, considering the number of people who receive social care and could benefit from a more personalised approach, we still have a long way to go.

We supported the right to control measures in the Welfare Reform Act 2009, and we worked with Cross Benchers in the other place to persuade the Government to include social care funding. I am pleased that that has been included in Trailblazers, but I confess that I am a little disappointed that Trailblazers will not start until later this year and will run for another two years, which could delay the roll-out in the rest of the country. I had a bit of fun when Trailblazers was given that interesting title. I agreed with the Minister that the name Trailblazers, instead of pilots, indicates the direction in which we are moving, and that the debate is about how we do that, how we can be most effective, and how the rules work.

My one concern relates to the written statement of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on 25 February, when she announced Trailblazers and said that the

That was unhelpful. My understanding was that we want the right to control to be rolled out further. The issue is not whether, but how, and the lessons to be learned from Trailblazers are to ensure that we can roll out the right to control further, include more funding streams, and do so more effectively. I should be grateful if the Minister confirmed that that is the Government's intention, and that the use of the word "whether" does not suggest any reticence in rolling that out. If there is a clear message from him and a clear statement from me, people will be clear that that personalisation approach will continue whoever wins the election. That is important for local government, who will do much of the work. Local authorities need to know that, whoever becomes the Government at Westminster, that approach will continue-I hope that it will be speeded up-and they cannot use the impending general election as an excuse to go slowly, but must continue to roll that out for the benefit of those who depend on social care.

Equality 2025 is the Government's advisory body, which includes disabled people, and gives the Government advice on how to make progress towards their objectives on disability equality by 2025. The Minister will know that there has been a review of Equality 2025. I asked him some questions about that, and he said that the report was not published immediately to allow officials in the Office for Disability Issues to fully consider and
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implement the recommendations. He said that the Government will publish the report by the summer, and I wonder whether he could be more precise about the timing. Can he tell the House anything more about those proposals, what is in mind, and how the proposals will increase the effectiveness of Equality 2025 in advising the Minister on disability policy?

In conclusion, the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill has done the House a service by securing this debate and giving us the opportunity to talk about these important issues. Although there are some disagreements about what has been done and the pace of change, there are a lot of shared views on all sides of the House about the importance of enabling disabled people to get into work and about personalisation. Whoever wins the next election, I hope and believe that we will see further progress in that important area of policy.

10.30 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Jonathan Shaw): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Olner, and to respond to the debate led so ably, as always, by my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke). I am grateful for the contributions of all hon. Members, for their tone and for hon. Members' passion about keeping this important agenda moving forward. I will limit my remarks to answering some of the questions, and I will build my speech around the questions raised by right hon. and hon. Members.

Employment is a key and fundamental issue if we are to achieve our objectives of equality by 2025. In the road map that we have published recently, that is one of the 14 important strands of work identified not by the Government but by disabled people. As the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett) rightly pointed out, the whole road map, and employment in particular, is monitored by disabled people and reported on regularly. That initiative is led ably by Baroness Jane Campbell, who I am sure all hon. Members hold in the highest regard.

John Barrett: One issue that is raised repeatedly by hon. Members on both sides of the House is the inability of parents who care for disabled children to find child care. That makes it difficult for parents to obtain employment, and flexibility from employers is needed. The parent could be able-bodied, but the problems of child care and flexible working arrangements can be a barrier to employment and income for that family.

Jonathan Shaw: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. He will be aware that as part of our carer's strategy, we have developed care partnership managers, and within that funding stream there is opportunity for replacement care. I met with care partnership managers from a number of areas in the UK, along with Carers UK, the Princess Royal Trust for Carers and Crossroads Care. All reported that they were pleased with the development of the care partnership managers who work in communities on the ground and bring together different care groups to provide carers with information about opportunities for work. There is a budget stream to provide for replacement care. These are early days, but that type of initiative has been
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welcomed and we need to develop the infrastructure on the ground so that it has an impact on the group in the way described by the hon. Gentleman.

May I also echo the words of the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) in wishing the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West well, and acknowledging the contribution that he has made to our discussions and debates, and to the whole issue of disability rights across the country? Although he has no ambition to remain in this place, I detect a passion and know that he will continue to champion the issues that are important to him. I am sure that they are part and parcel of some of the reasons why he came into public life in the first place.

The hon. Member for Forest of Dean is right to say that disabled people have not been disproportionately affected during the economic downturn. Of course we recognise that many disabled people have lost their jobs, but we know from labour market statistics that many people are finding jobs as well. Around one third of people get back into work within three or six months, and after that period there are a lot of support programmes. One point that it is important to focus on is the fact that disabled people are considerably under-represented in the type of industries that have been badly affected by the recession, such as the construction industry, for example. As the hon. Gentleman said, a higher proportion of disabled people work in the public sector, and all hon. Members have discussed how we should manage public funding in the future. That is something that we have to keep an eye on.

Our ambition is to see more disabled people in employment. My right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill pointed out that we have seen an increase in numbers, and we want to build on that work. That is why we have developed work programmes such as pathways to work, access to work and the future jobs fund, which assists disabled youngsters up and down the country. It is about developing the infrastructure, bringing together partnerships on the ground and developing relationships between councils, Jobcentre Plus, regional development agencies and employers, to ensure that those opportunities arise. We have seen that with the local employment partnerships, which have been a tremendous success.

We are not able to flick a switch and suddenly have all that infrastructure and all those relationships in place-it takes a while. We have not had a programme like pathways to work before. The figures that the hon. Member for Forest of Dean mentioned are right; it is disappointing that we have not seen the numbers that we expected. However, when talking to providers from the public, private and voluntary sectors, I have found that relationships are maturing on the ground and that there is better co-operation.

I was in Rochdale recently, where there are a high number of people on incapacity benefit and employment and support allowance. In the Shaw Trust building, there were also Jobcentre Plus staff working. We are seeing organisations harness their energies on the ground, and that is essential if we are to take the agenda forward. It is not about flicking switches but about building up partnerships. Of course there must be accountability, and I agree with the point about ensuring that we have outcomes. However, we must have a service fee for certain groups, particularly if we want to see a
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flourishing third sector and small organisations taking part in employment programmes with their specialist knowledge. They obviously need a cash flow, and to have to wait for a year would be challenging and difficult. We have developed the prime contractor model that takes the bulk of the contract and then partners up with specialist organisations. We must ensure that those relationships are fair and equitable.

The hon. Member for Forest of Dean made a point about parking. We commission reports to look into our programmes, and they deliver criticism. That is a reflection of a mature Government and we must respond to that. We all want these initiatives to work and we will test a number of models to ensure that we get the right formula. None of these things have been tried anywhere before; we are leading on this. Rather than flicking switches or clearing the decks and starting again, it is about evolving programmes and involving disabled people. That is why we will develop the accelerator funding model that rewards more those disabled people who have been unemployed for longer. We need to examine that and see how it works and whether it provides us with the right type of formula, but I suspect that we shall need a range of programmes to respond to the varying needs and the differences between the regions up and down the country.

The hon. Member for Forest of Dean asked about the work capability assessment. He will know that we involved disabled people's organisations with the design of that assessment. We can argue about the figures for incapacity benefit and we have traded those before, so I will not be tempted to go into that territory. If I was on normal form, I would, but I will not today. However, we do need to see a change in that respect and to consider what people can do, rather than what they cannot. We assess about 30,000 people every month. The professional health care people from Atos must have at least three years' post-qualifying experience.

I recently organised a seminar for all Members of both Houses of Parliament, with Atos and Department for Work and Pensions staff, to answer various questions. One question was asked by the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor), who is a medical professional himself. He raised the concern that our constituents often raise with us- "Have my GP's or specialist's reports been read?" He requested that we have a box on the assessment form to be ticked in order to be sure that the reports have been read and, within two days, that was done. It was the fastest policy change that I have ever seen, so I gave him the award for the fastest policy change of the Parliament. He was very pleased when I was able to advise him of the change, and now I am advising the House.

The personalisation agenda, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill rightfully put at the centre of his speech, is vital to achieving our ambition for equality for disabled people by 2025. We have the trailblazers, and there is an important distinction between trailblazers and pilots. We are doing that work, and when we say that we want to do more, it is not a case of stopping and saying whether we are going to do it; it is about how the funding streams interact with one another. The discussions and consultation that we have had on the Right to Control initiative say that we need to see how it works, not because we want to stop it but because we want to
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get it right-because if we get it wrong, confidence in that new approach will be lost, which will mean delays to the way in which we want services to be provided for disabled people.

One of the things that will be essential in the trailblazers is access to good-quality advocacy and support. For the right to control to be equal, there must be good advocacy and support. Someone with a learning disability or a mental health issue may find it more difficult to navigate their way round the direct payments to which my right hon. Friend referred than someone with a physical disability. That is why the models that we need to examine through the trailblazers must ensure that there is good advocacy and support.

Mr. Tom Clarke: I am delighted that the Minister has touched on advocacy. Advocacy was at the heart of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986, and we have seen many good examples of best practice. Sometimes I worry, though, that we have not made as much progress as we might have in advocacy. I know that my hon. Friend often highlights that issue, but is it not positive, not only for the disabled person but for the advocate, to ensure that advocacy remains central to our approach?

Jonathan Shaw: I agree absolutely. I wrote to my right hon. Friend about the progress since the 1986 Act and I was going to come on to that. It was a little while ago-a whole hairline ago, sadly.

One example that I have seen is in Essex. The Essex Coalition of Disabled People provides direct payments administrative services for disabled people, with a contract from Essex council. I think that Southend and part of Cambridgeshire are also involved. That provides disabled people with sustainability of funding, and the funding is also used for other services such as good advocacy and support. With the trailblazers, when we are considering the models, we need to ensure sustainability of funding for good advocacy and support, because if the right to control is to work not just for one year but for all years, that must be in place and it cannot rely on year-to-year, hand-to-mouth funding. It is a central part of delivering successfully.

On the point that the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) made, it is important that we involve voluntary groups. We cannot think that the right to control will be there for everyone. We must be wary of people who advocate only one way and who have an ideology in that respect. For the majority of people, the right to control will work, but for some people it will not work, so we do not want all the services to be run in a particular way. That is why, in relation to the trailblazers, where we have funding streams that will become individualised for things such as supported employment, we do not want services to collapse if people withdraw funding.

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