HC Deb 29 November 1999 vol 340 c14
8. Mr. David Kidney (Stafford)

What assessment he has made of the obstacles raised by social security rules to volunteering. [99068]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Angela Eagle)

We are keen to encourage voluntary work. We recognise that it can play a significant role in preparing people to enter work, especially those who may have been out of the labour market for some time. People who are in receipt of social security benefits may do unlimited amounts of voluntary work without it affecting their benefit, as long as other eligibility conditions continue to be met.

Mr. Kidney

On Saturday, I co-hosted a conference in Stafford for voluntary organisations about recruiting and retaining volunteers imaginatively entitled "Desperately Seeking Volunteers". Those present were complimentary about the Government's attitude to allowing people to undertake voluntary work, but they identified two residual areas where obstacles remain. The first was the obstructive attitude of a small number of staff at the Benefits Agency and the Employment Service who tried to get in the way of their volunteering. The second was the medical eligibility test for benefits such as incapacity benefit and disability living allowance, where, if people put their heads above the parapet for voluntary work, they run the risk of being ruled as fit for paid work. Does my hon. Friend agree that, with a little central direction from her, both those minor obstacles could be smoothed away?

Angela Eagle

If there are pockets of obstruction, perhaps my hon. Friend will let me know where they are and I will see what I can do to put an end to them. When we abolished the 16-hour rule for incapacity benefit, we made it quite clear that we encourage people who are currently on benefits to volunteer. There is no limit to the number of hours for which they may volunteer. If my hon. Friend can give me further details on that matter, I shall deal with it.

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury)

Does acting as a local councillor qualify as voluntary work? If so, should a local councillor be able to collect disability benefits?

Angela Eagle

I understand that there is a disability benefit disregard for those who serve on councils. If the hon. Gentleman has a particular point of detail, perhaps he will write to me and I shall certainly deal with it.