HC Deb 07 July 2003 vol 408 cc742-3
8. Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore)

What responses he has received to the pathways to work consultation. [123528]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Eagle)

The Green Paper "Pathways to Work" set out a strategy for enabling people on incapacity benefits to move into work. Our response to the consultation, published on 10 June, gives details of the responses that we received, together with our plans for implementing the pilots.

I recognise that my hon. Friend has a particular interest as his constituency will be in the Bridgend and valleys pilot area, providing an exciting opportunity for the community that he represents to lead the way. I can confirm that excellent progress is being made in establishing that pilot and that I will visit it in the first week of the recess.

Huw Irranca-Davies

I thank the Minister for that answer. She is no doubt encouraged, as I am, by the excellent work that Bridgend and Rhondda Cynon Taff have already done in piloting many of the new initiatives designed to assist people back into work. Will she assure me that that will benefit those who have been struggling to get back to work for many years, because that is what We should focus on? I am sure that she will have read the report of the recent Adjournment debate on economic inactivity in Westminster Hall.

Maria Eagle

My hon. Friend can be assured that I read his remarks in his debate, and naturally I agreed with all of them. I make it clear that anybody in his constituency, whether they have just come on to incapacity benefit or have been claiming it for many years, will be able to take advantage of the pilot scheme. Although it is aimed at those who are just coming on to incapacity benefit, any existing claimant who wants to take part can volunteer and will be welcome.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)

As I pass from the not inconsiderable pleasure of shadowing the hon. Lady into the shadows, on this subject at least, may I ask her to fight firmly to root out any dualism in the system? The disability employment service is on target to place people, so it tends to place the easier cases and offload some of the harder ones on to the not-for-profit sector. In particular, will she remember that the situation of anybody who is incapacitated is by definition unique, in terms of both their disability and their economic situation and motivation? Will she ensure that the pilot scheme and, as she introduces it, the national scheme, are genuinely sensitive to the needs of the individual and their wish, and obligation, to get back to work if possible?

Maria Eagle

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the way in which he has shadowed me. He has graduated to higher education, and its gain will be our loss, although I am sure that his replacement will make every effort to follow in his footsteps.

As the Minister responsible for disabled people, I recognise that those on incapacity benefit who want to get back to work face a range of barriers, such as a lack of skills or confidence after many years out of work, and only some of those problems can be laid at their door. The pilot schemes will enable us not only to test a range of interventions that assist the individual to feel ready and able to go back to work, both in medical and work-focused ways, but to tackle the attitudes, discrimination and other practical barriers faced by many of our fellow citizens who have spent years on sickness and incapacity benefit. We hope that the pilots will show a way forward that can be spread throughout the rest of the country.