I am using this opportunity to explain the changes that MPs, including myself, supported in Parliament recently regarding the ESA Work-Related Activity Component for new claimants in 2017.
The question before MPs was how do we tackle the barriers that exist for people with disabilities and longterm health problems who want to work. How do we use the money available to support this group of people? For years I worked with people supporting them towards greater independence. Whilst many of the people I supported wanted to work and would have been good employees they came across all sorts of obstacles that discouraged them from looking for work.
61% of people in the Work Related Activity Group (approx 300,000 people) have stated they want to work but currently get very little help or support to secure a job, compared to people in receipt of Job Seekers Allowance.
In response to this, the Government has announced a package of measures to provide additional help for people with health conditions and disabilities get into work. Further details will be set out in a forthcoming White Paper on improvements to back to work support for people with health conditions and disabilities.
From April 2017, new Employment and Support Allowance claimants who are placed in the “Work Related Activity Group” (WRAG) will no longer be eligible for the additional Work-Related Activity Component, which is currently worth £29.05 a week.
The changes only affect new claims from that date – people already getting the ESA Work-Related Activity Component or the UC limited capability for work element at April 2017 will continue to receive it.
Before the vote regarding removing the Work-Related Activity Component I raised my concerns with the Minister about the effect that these changes might have on people’s ability to engage in work-related activity. Extra costs can arise from activities such as attending interviews and training courses, and accessing the internet to look for and apply for jobs. The Government is aware of these concerns and has set aside £60 million per year rising to £100 million per year for practical employment support and has pledged additional funding of £15 million in the first year, 2017-18, directed at the local job centre flexible support fund.
This money will increase the fund by 22% and it will be set aside specifically for those with limited capability for work. The flexible support fund is used by district managers and work coaches to provide the local support that our claimants may need to return to work, and it has proved to be very effective.
The Government will also provide guidance to ensure that job centres target this additional money at claimants with limited capability for work. The fund will be used to help those affected by the changes to the ESA WRAG and the UC limited capability for work element to attend training courses on gaining practical skills, access mental health support, attend community projects or take part in motivational courses.
The Government has committed to amend the regulations to allow claimants to continue to undertake 16 hours of part-time paid work and earn up to £107.50 per week, gaining skills and experience and building their confidence while still receiving benefit over a longer period.
The Government has set up a task force to advise on the use of the £60 million, rising to £100 million, of employment support funding that was announced as part of this change. This task force included disability charities and disabled people’s user-led organisations, employers, representatives of the employment services industry, and policy think tanks. The charities include Scope, Leonard Cheshire, RNIB, the National Autistic Society and the Disability Action Alliance.
A wide range of views have been presented and the Government is working with the group to distil and agree its advice on key principles and priority areas to address. This will then inform development of the employment support package in the context of a wider reform agenda that has been set out in the forthcoming Work and Health White Paper. Alongside the task force recommendations for the summer Budget money, the Government will be investing £43 million over the next three years in trialling ways to provide specialist support for people with common mental health conditions.
In a letter to me, Leonard Cheshire Disability has said that it is very keen to support the Government to realise its pledge to halve the disability employment gap over the lifetime of this parliament. The charity has said the Bill provides a great opportunity to build momentum in this respect.
Personally I believe there is an opportunity for organisations in Cornwall to contribute to this Government white paper. I want to work with groups such as Cornwall People First, who support people who have learning disabilities, to set out a proposal based on the work they currently do on how the new money can be spent supporting people as they look for employment. I regularly call in to meet many of the people supported by Cornwall People First at a weekly gathering near Penzance and I know what a tremendous job the support workers do.
I recognise that many people are concerned about this issue. I am very willing to listen to your concernsand ideas as they will help to feed into the process set out to establish better support for those who need it.
Member of Parliament for St Ives