The Earl of Courtown (Con)
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Janke, mentioned scrutiny and I will just deal with that quickly. These regulations were subject to scrutiny by the Social Security Advisory Committee on 15 October this year.
In closing, I assure all noble Lords that the Government are absolutely committed to supporting disabled people and are determined that support should be focused on people who need it most. These new regulations do not reduce the existing support, which is correctly available to disabled students, but rather ensure that this support continues to come from the appropriate source of government funding, which for disabled students, as for all students, is the student support system of loans and grants.
These new regulations do not remove entitlement to universal credit from any existing disabled student currently receiving it, nor from any future claim to universal credit from a person entitled to a qualifying disability benefit, such as PIP, who is subsequently determined to have a limited capability for work and wishes to start a course of education.
I should mention that the Government’s support for disabled students does not end on them completing their education. In our national disability strategy, we have committed to improving disabled people’s everyday lives. We have committed to make available the access to work adjustments passport for all disabled students, including those receiving disabled students’ allowance, when they leave university.
To support the transition from education into work, the Department for Work and Pensions is piloting the adjustments passport. We currently have two universities —Wolverhampton and Manchester Metropolitan—piloting the adjustments passport with the aim that a third will come on board in January.
The adjustments passport will provide students with a disability or health condition with an up-to-date record of the adjustments they are using and any future in-work support needs they may have. It will reduce the need for the student to repeat details of their disability and how it could affect them in work and reduce the need for a holistic assessment where the needs are documented.
The adjustments passport will provide a clear gateway of adjustment support by raising the visibility of support available for each stage of the transitions journey. It will also provide a transferable record of adjustments that can be used to support the adjustments journey and reduce the need for assessments. In addition, it will include a communication tool to support discussions with employers. It also gives visibility of in-work support if an employer employs a disabled person, and assurances and support to progress in work. It will also support potential employers by documenting the in-work support the student requires and the possibility of support the student could receive. It will also help to raise awareness of the Access to Work scheme and the support it can provide.
We recognise that talking about workplace adjustments can be difficult. To support and empower the student, the passport can be used as a communication tool to enable them to have a more structured and confident conversation about their disability and the adjustments they need with employers. Knowing what support is available for every stage of the transition journey will help to empower young disabled people to have confidence that their support needs are captured and aspire them to achieve their goals and chosen career rather than limiting their choices.
Once in employment, the passport would continue to add value by supporting progression and enabling disabled people to transfer between job roles more easily by increasing portability of support and reducing the need for reassessment where job roles or needs are similar.
Furthermore, a range of other DWP initiatives is supporting disabled people to prepare for, to start, to stay and to succeed in work. These include the Work and Health programme, the Intensive Personalised Employment Support programme, the Access to Work scheme, Disability Confident and support in partnership with the health system, including employment advice in the NHS Improving Access to Psychological Therapy service.
In 2021, the health and disability Green Paper, Shaping Future Support, explored how the welfare system can better meet the needs of disabled people and people with health conditions now and in the future to build a system that enables people to live independently and move into work where possible. The national disability strategy aims to ensure that all disabled people can play a full role in society. The strategy takes into account the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on disabled people, with focus on the issues that affect them the most, including employment.
I turn to the points raised by noble Lords. I will do my best to answer all the queries and if not, will of course write to noble Lords and put copies in the Library. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, talked about the closed-off route to universal credit. While closing the NSESA route leaves no direct path to claim universal credit for some disabled people who are already in education, in doing so this recognises that all students, including disabled students, have access to the support system, which includes support that recognises a person’s disability, such as the disabled students’ allowance for those in higher education, and discretionary bursaries and grants if undertaking further education. Disabled students also have access to other funds from their colleges. I will need to clarify that point.
The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, was basically saying that the regulations were a regressive change. This amendment to the regulations simply maintains the current policy intent: to allow those entitled to personal independence payments or disability living allowance who are already assessed as having limited capability for work to take up or continue in education, with the intention that it may help them into work in the future. The new regulations do not reduce the existing support currently available to disabled students, but simply ensure that this support comes from the appropriate source of funding, which is the student support system of loans and grants. These new regulations do not remove entitlement to universal credit from any existing disabled student who is currently receiving it, nor from any future claim to universal credit from a person who is entitled to a qualifying disability benefit, such as personal independence payments, who is subsequently determined to have a limited capability for work and who wishes to start a course of education.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, asked why the Government did not do a full impact assessment. An equality analysis was completed and shared with the Social Security Advisory Committee for its consideration. The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, also looked at the impact on students in further education with special educational needs and disabilities. Although the maximum allowed duration of a course is 12 weeks, if the work coach considers that the course is compatible with the person’s work-related requirements, they are referred for a work capability assessment and, if subsequently determined to have limited capability for work, there is then no limit to the duration of any subsequent course of training or study which a work coach considers will give the person the best chance of securing work. Additionally, if the person is entitled to a qualifying disability benefit, such as the personal independence payment, they will continue to be entitled to universal credit, as they will now meet the disabled student exception.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, also mentioned the position of those young people. The condition of entitlement to universal credit is not to be receiving education. Moreover, there are some exceptions, for example, the responsibility of a child entitled to DLA/PIP and already having a determination of LCW. Therefore, most young people, such as those in sixth form colleges, will not be entitled to universal credit as they are already in full-time education. To be entitled to universal credit, disabled students must not be receiving education, already be entitled to a qualifying disability benefit, and already have a determination of LCW through a WCA.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, mentioned that there had been a number of SIs relating to this and a number of amendments. The Government are committed to supporting disabled people. These regulations ensure that disabled people get support from the correct source of funding—mainly from student finance, as I said earlier.
The noble Baroness also asked about the numbers involved. It is difficult to give any firm evidence through the data. The data on how many disabled students have been using the new-style ESA workaround to meet the entitlement conditions for UC is very limited, but numbers are considered to be relatively small. I cannot go any further on numbers than that at the moment but, if there is anything more I can add, I will of course write to the noble Baroness.
In summary, while it is the case that the amending regulations will close the workaround and end an unintended route to universal credit that a relatively small number of disabled students have been using, the new regulations do not reduce the existing support currently available to disabled students. The new regulations ensure that support continues to come from the appropriate source of government funding, namely the student support systems of loans and grants, which includes support that recognises a person’s disability. I therefore ask the noble Lord, Lord Storey, to withdraw his Motion.