Thank you to those constituents who have contacted me regarding Employment and Support Allowance and the scheme that will be in place for new claimants from April 2017. I thought it may be helpful to set out my position on this issue on my website, in addition to replying to constituents who have emailed or written to me.
From April 2017, all current and new ESA claimants who are able to work will receive much more focused help and support in finding work. This is because work is the most effective way to improve our wellbeing, individually and for our families. For those who are able to work, employment provides financial security, and also helps to encourage physical and mental wellbeing. I believe that we must do our best to change attitudes in the workplace towards people with health conditions and disabilities and to help them to find work.
Currently, those in the ESA WRAG scheme receive little employment support. The changes are being introduced because the current scheme is failing to help them find work: 1 in every 5 Job Seekers' Allowance claimants re-join the work force compared to only 1 in 100 ESA WRAG claimants. This means that those with health conditions and disabilities are not benefitting from the record employment levels and strong jobs growth in recent years. They should not be excluded from such opportunities and, from April 2017, the scheme will work to help them.
Some constituents have contacted me regarding the reform in welfare payments that accompanies this change in approach. From April 2017, new ESA claimants who are placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG) will receive the same rate of benefit as those claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA). It is important to emphasise that this change only affects new claims made after that date and there will be no cash losers among those who are already in receipt of ESA. In addition all claimants, whether new or existing, who are assessed as not being able to work will continue to receive ESA.
The government is focused on making work pay. For those who can work, the current system can trap them on benefits as the additional cash payment acts as a disincentive to moving into employment. That is why some of the money that is currently spent on cash payments will, instead, be spent on practical support that will make a genuine difference to people's life chances.
This new funding will be worth £60 million in 2017/18, rising to £100 million in 2020/21. It will help those with limited capability for work to move towards the job market. I believe that this is a vitally important change as it will help constituents who want to work, but currently do not have the support they need to make that possible.
To ensure that the support package is effective, a taskforce of representatives from disability charities, disabled people’s user-led organisations, employers, think tanks, provider representatives and local authorities will advise the government on how best to spend the money.
I thought it might be helpful to set out the package of support that will strengthen the offer to claimants with a health condition or disability:
Universal Credit (UC) is already beginning to transform people’s lives by introducing earlier support and putting claimants in the best possible position to move into and stay in work. Under UC, claimants with health conditions and disabilities will gain more support earlier in their claim to take steps towards work with their dedicated Work Coach working alongside health professionals to ensure they receive personalised integrated support;
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Department of Health (DH) have created the Work and Health Unit to help support people with health conditions and disabled people back into employment. This Joint Unit has at least £115 million of funding, including at least £40m for a work and health innovation fund, to pilot new ways to join up across the health and employment system;
The DWP has announced that they will introduce a new Work and Health Programme to focus on providing the best possible support for claimants with health conditions or disabilities, as well as those who are long-term unemployed;
We know that returning to suitable work can improve mental health, and that is why the Government is committed to ensuring that people with mental health conditions receive effective support to return to, and remain in, work. £43 million is being invested over the next three years in trialling ways to provide specialist support for people with mental health conditions;
The Government also recognises the importance of promoting positive attitudes towards employing disabled people, and seeks to do this by challenging the attitudes of employers towards recruiting and retaining disabled people through the Disability Confident campaign.
Implementation will be key to the success of this scheme of support. I will be keeping a careful eye on the implementation of these policies in the constituency and will welcome updates from constituents who are affected by these changes.
Finally, I thank those who have taken the time to contact me about this issue. Please do not hesitate to contact me on this or any other issue.