Ten Minute Rule Bill: Employment Retention

Dear Mr Speaker,

Ordered, that leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for a statutory right to an employment retention assessment to determine entitlement to a period of rehabilitation leave for newly disabled people and people whose existing impairments change; and for connected puposes.

This is the fifth time I have raised this subject in a ten minute rule bill and if God loves a trier as they say then he must adore me. I hesitate to add that I have seen off three Labour Secretaries of State, but I hope that on this subject my first Conservative Secretary of State will not only be my first but also my last.

Throughout my years of toil what has become clear to me is that there has been firm consensus across this House that support should be provided to ensure that someone who develops an impairment or becomes disabled can remain in work.

The widespread support I have always received with this Bill is testament to the fact that the matter is not confined to the margins of society. Every quarter around 600,000 people become sick or develop an impairment as defined by the late Disability Discrimination Act – and within one year 13%, that’s 78,000 people, have left work. From these, each year around 25,000 people permanently leave employment due to illness or disability, never returning – that works out at over a quarter of a million people since 1997. This more than cancels out the creditable achievement of the previous Government of helping 200,000 disabled people into work over the last decade and will no doubt hinder the current Coalition.

We know that as a result of this and other barriers a disabled person is nearly five times more likely to be out of work and claiming benefits than a non-disabled person and, crucially, we know that once out of work they are far less likely to move back into employment.

Behind these statistics lie people’s lives, often suddenly unrecognisable, as they simultaneously have to come to terms with a permanent life-changing impairment whilst facing the prospect of losing their employment, their source of income and, in some cases, even their home.

I have said this before and will continue to say it until governments address the problem

Last week saw the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions outline his Universal Credit reform of the welfare system, to move more people from benefits into employment. Today, I find myself once again making the point that we need to focus on retention, to stop people from falling into the welfare system trap in the first place. I welcome some of the welfare reforms the Secretary of State puts forward, and if the right honourable gentleman truly intends to make a constructive effort to seeing more people in employment then I hope he will see me and my Bill as a help and not a hindrance.

For example, I support the underlying principle of simplifying the benefits system and providing real incentives to work by the creation of a Universal Credit but the universal lesson which must be taken on board by the government is that you will not get more people off benefits and into work without there being work for them to go into.

I also agree that there should be real obligations backed by sanctions for people receiving out of work benefits but these should be matched by rights and guarantees to work. Too much stick and not enough carrot will not work.

However there are areas in which I am at odds with this government. That is why I must briefly mention my abhorrence to the government’s plans of Cutting Housing Benefit by 10% for people out of work for 12 months even if they have done everything possible to find a job is the wrong approach. Without going into more detail I believe this is completely wrong not just on moral grounds and I believe will only mean we are adding to the burdens of someone already heavily laden with a disability or in rehabilitation and will make our job in finding him or her a job twice as hard.

Another area in this same subject is the cut of Local Housing Allowance which would mean that nearly all of the claimants in my constituency in private rentals would see a loss of £43 a month. This may not seem huge to some but too many of my constituents or those hit by a debilitating injury or degenerative illness or ailment this could mean that a massive chunk of their rent which they must find somewhere else. And therefore adds a further economic hurdle to such people who want to remain in work.

—HALFWAY—

The other obvious area of contention is in regards to the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), which replaced Incapacity Benefit and Income Support. The government plans to reduce the length of time that a recipient can receive ESA, which some would view as a measure with the sole interest of reducing the welfare bill rather than making sure that the recipient returns to work.

We know from the previous government’s initiative in this area, Pathways to Work, that many unemployed people with disabilities take longer than 12 months to secure employment. This is not just my view, The Shaw Trust, one of the largest charities which works with employers, social services and the disabled to help people with disabilities find employment, has also stated that out of all their clients they have placed into work so far this year 20 percent had been supported for over 12 months before moving into work

And out of that around a third had taken about 18months. They also state that 63% of all their clients on incapacity Benefit included with these figures have taken more than 12 months. Furthermore, under the Work Programme proposals, the government estimate that around 58 percent of the 1.5million incapacity benefit claimants will be moved on to ESA Work Related Activity Group. This would mean a large number of people being rushed through the Work Programme for them only to potentially leave that job because they can’t cope or have not adapted to their new disability. Or are just not suitable – thus bringing us back to square one. In fact it could make it worse as those with a new disability could be cut off long before a resumption of work or rehabilitation is completed.

Although the government needs to elaborate on this area more, they haven’t ruled out sanctions being imposed if ESA recipients have not secured a job, in any case they would face a reduction in income which would in turn place homes and family members at great risk. I would be interested in the Minister’s views on why taking people out of a support structure like that of the Work Programme even if they were making progress with no reason for this being given by the Government. And if a further look at those with disabilities could be done quickly, perhaps the Minister could write to me?

I have mentioned that this Bill receives widespread support in this House and this is shared outside this chamber. On this and previous occasions when I have brought this Bill before parliament I have found support from a wide range of stakeholders from the Trade Union Congress, disability charities such as the RNIB, the Disability Rights Commission and even the CBI.

The effect on the individual‘s long-term, well being by being made unemployed through ill health, will also have an impact on the economy as many disabled people never return to work. The result is a strain on the state, a burden on pension funds, benefit payments and even additional recruitment costs for employers to replace and train staff.

—ONE MINUTE—

I believe that through this Bill, the Government, at relatively little cost, would be able to ensure that any regulatory burden on employers is kept to a minimum.  It would be an investment in the short term that would reap the benefits for employers and employees but in the long term for Government through benefits savings and tax collected. As the honourable gentlemen will be aware, for every 100,000 people who go on the dole the cost to the taxpayer is £500million and if we can reduce spending by one percent and raise revenues by one percent then we can reduce the deficit by £12billion, in this Bill I offer the kind of thinking which will help us towards such goals.

So in conclusion, I mentioned throughout that there was broad consensus in this House of the need to ensure support for people who become disabled whilst in employment. While Honourable and Right Honourable Members’ support is gratefully received, what is more pressing than this, and will, I hope, cause everyone in the Coalition Government to get behind this Bill, is the fact that there will be 25,000 people this year alone who will be in need of these changes. And 125,000 people since I first raised this issue.

All I ask the government is it supports this Bill and proves it wants to keep people in work and to work with all parties to achieve it.

4th February 2011 is the Second Reading