HC Deb 27 April 1998 vol 311 cc2-4
2. Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester)

What estimate she has made of the number of people with disabilities who will be helped back to work as a result of the new deal programme. [38477]

The Secretary of State for Social Security and Minister for Women (Ms Harriet Harman)

The new deal for the long-term sick and disabled aims to help the 1 million disabled people who are not in work, but who want to work.

Mr. Oaten

Does the Secretary of State agree with me and many disability groups that the £195 million allocated to the project is not enough to get disabled people back to work? Does she accept that, although the numbers involved vary greatly, on average just £100 per disabled person will be made available? Will she give the House a commitment that if the project fails to get people back to work, in a year's time she will allocate more resources so that more disabled people can return to the work force?

Ms Harman

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's support for the aim of trying to help people with disabilities back to work. The £195 million that has been allocated is intended not to help all disabled people back to work, but to finance pilot projects to ascertain what works best to help people with disabilities or health problems get into work and stay there. However, I can give the hon. Gentleman and the House the undertaking that, when we find out what works, we shall roll it out nationally. It is seedcorn money for pump priming and its purpose is to find out what will work with a view to making it national.

Mr. Malcolm Wicks (Croydon, North)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we must be ambitious about the programme? In the borough of Croydon, people with serious learning difficulties, including young women with Down's syndrome, have been successfully placed in employment. Does my right hon. Friend agree also that we must consider the poverty traps that can affect people with disabilities, particularly those in residential care? Will her Department study the particular poverty traps facing people with severe learning difficulties who want to re-enter work?

Ms Harman

I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. We should be ambitious about the opportunities for people with learning and other disabilities to work when they want to do so. It is not good enough for us to write people off and not consider their capabilities and abilities. The Keyring project in my constituency helps people with learning disabilities to do what they consider an important job. The Shaw trust also provides a number of projects, as does Mencap, to help people with learning difficulties have the shape, self-respect and dignity of work in their lives. At present, the benefits system traps people with health or disability problems out of the labour market. In the Social Security Bill, we are taking powers to strip away the benefit disincentive and recognise, as we do for people on the jobseeker's allowance, the ambitions of people on incapacity benefit to work.

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton)

When the Minister for Welfare Reform came before the Social Security Committee a couple of weeks ago—he came on his own on that occasion, which may, in retrospect, have been a mistake—he said that the Department of Social Security was conducting a survey into the incomes of recipients of disability living allowance. The Minister said that the reason for the survey was to assess whether it was worth while taxing DLA. Does the right hon. Lady agree with that approach? What is her opinion about whether DLA should be taxed?

Ms Harman

The hon. Gentleman is not engaging in the constructive opposition that we should like to see, as some hon. Members are. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State is being completely misquoted—he did not say that we were considering taxing DLA; he said that we needed the fullest information about people on benefits and their income levels. That is our responsibility, and one which we are discharging.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, for many years, there has been a system of providing welfare to work for disabled people, known as Remploy? During the 18 years of Tory Government, I went on marches with those disabled people round towns such as Alfreton, in an effort to prevent the Tory Government from closing Remploy factories. I suggest that, in her review, my right hon. Friend considers building more Remploy factories in other parts of Britain. There is no doubt that they work, and disabled people like to attend.

Ms Harman

I pay tribute to Remploy. In the years when the previous Government were not interested in concerns about opportunities for people with disabilities to work, Remploy carried forward that flag and provided much-needed opportunities. We are determined to build on the good work of Remploy. With the new deal for long-term sick and disabled people, Remploy's work will be to provide new challenges for people with disabilities.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green)

Given that the right hon. Lady has talked a great deal about what the Government are planning to do to bring disabled people back into work, and in the light of her comment about constructive opposition, will she tell us whether, given the new deal plans, she will be measured by whether unemployment among disabled people is lower at the end of this Parliament than it was at the beginning?

Ms Harman

We want to be judged on the success of our programme to help people with disabilities tackle the barriers between them and the world of work, so the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is yes. We have four ways of dealing with that: first, active help to get people into work through the pilot projects that we have announced; secondly, removing discrimination in the benefits system against people on incapacity benefit; thirdly, the disabled persons tax credit, which will help to make work pay for people with disabilities; and fourthly, making the workplace disability friendly. Through that package of four thrusts of policy change, a greater percentage of people with disabilities will go into the world of work. Obviously, we must aim for a greater percentage because the figure will depend on how many disabled people there are.