Work and Pensions

Mims Davies Excerpts
Monday 19th February 2024

(4 days, 19 hours ago)

Ministerial Corrections
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The following is an extract from the statement on the disability action plan on Monday 5 February 2024.
Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I reiterate that the disability action plan is not just another consultation, but real, tangible action to change people’s daily lives, with 13 practical actions across 14 different areas.

[Official Report, 5 February 2024, Vol. 745, c. 40.]

Letter of correction from the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, the hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies):

An error has been identified in the statement on the disability action plan.

The correct information should have been:

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I reiterate that the disability action plan is not just another consultation, but real, tangible action to change people’s daily lives, with 32 practical actions across 14 different areas.

Draft Mesothelioma Lump Sum Payments (Conditions and Amounts) (Amendment) Regulations 2024 Draft Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) (Specified Diseases and Prescribed Occupations) (Amendment) Regulations 2024 Draft Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) (Payment of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations 2024

Mims Davies Excerpts
Monday 19th February 2024

(4 days, 19 hours ago)

General Committees
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Mims Davies Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Mims Davies)
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I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Mesothelioma Lump Sum Payments (Conditions and Amounts) (Amendment) Regulations 2024.

None Portrait The Chair
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With this it will be convenient to consider the draft Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) (Specified Diseases and Prescribed Occupations) (Amendment) Regulations 2024 and the draft Pneumo-coniosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) (Payment of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations 2024.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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It is a pleasure, Sir Edward, to serve under your chairmanship.

The schemes that we are debating provide critical support for the sufferers of dust-related diseases—often caused by exposure to asbestos and other harmful dust at work—who have no recourse to compensation through their employers. I am sure that hon. Members agree that today’s debate is a valuable opportunity to raise awareness of the schemes and the support for Department for Work and Pensions customers with those conditions more widely. The schemes form only part of a wider range of Government support available to sufferers of those diseases, including support with caring costs and for additional costs that arise due to their disability.

The Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979 scheme—for simplicity, I will refer to it as the 1979 Act scheme—provides for a single lump sum compensation payment to eligible sufferers of diseases covered by the scheme. That includes pneumoconiosis and diffuse mesothelioma. It was designed to cover people who are unable to claim damages from employers—because, for example, they have gone out of business—and who have not brought any action against any other party for damages.

To be eligible for a lump sum award, a claimant must be awarded industrial injuries disablement benefit, or IIDB, for a disease covered by the 1979 Act scheme. The diffuse mesothelioma scheme under the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008, which I will refer to differently as the 2008 Act scheme, was introduced to provide compensation to people diagnosed with diffuse mesothelioma who are unable to claim compensation under the 1979 Act. That might be because they were self-employed or because their exposure to asbestos was not due to their work. The 2008 Act scheme provides no-fault support to sufferers of diffuse mesothelioma quickly at their time of greatest need.

Both schemes aim to make compensation payments to sufferers of those illnesses within their lifetimes, wherever possible. Under both schemes, however, a claim can be made by a dependant, if the person with the disease sadly passes away before being able to make a claim. That is in recognition of the suffering that the diseases can bring to whole families.

The rates payable under the 1979 Act scheme are based on the sufferers’ assessed level of disablement and their age when they were assessed as suffering with the disease for the purpose of IIDB entitlement. IIDB provides a weekly payment for those who have had an industrial accident or developed diseases known to be related to specific types of work. All payments for diffuse mesothelioma under the 1979 Act scheme are automatically made at the 100% disablement rate—the highest rate of payment, reflecting the extremely serious nature of the disease. Payments made to diffuse mesothelioma sufferers under the 2008 Act scheme are determined using the same payment scale used for diffuse mesothelioma sufferers under the 1979 Act scheme.

Between April ’22 and March ’23, the latest financial year for which data is available, 2,860 awards were made across both schemes. That includes 2,460 awards made under the 1979 Act scheme and 400 under the 2008 Act scheme. Expenditure on those lump sum awards totalled just over £42 million in ’22-23. That demonstrates our continued commitment to supporting sufferers of these terrible diseases, and their families.

I will now provide more information on the purpose of the instruments that we are debating. The first two instruments seek to make the one-off awards paid under those lump sum schemes more generous. While there is no statutory requirement to increase the rates in line with prices each year, I am maintaining the position taken by my predecessors in increasing the value of lump sum awards by 6.7%, in line with the September ’23 consumer prices index.

The new amounts will be paid to those who satisfy all the conditions of entitlement for the first time from 1 April 2024. The increase is in line with the proposed increases to industrial injuries disablement benefit and other disability benefits as part of the main social security uprating provisions for ’24-25. Members will no doubt recognise the terrible impact that these diseases have on sufferers and their families. It is right that the value of the compensation payments should be retained, especially in these challenging times.

In addition to the uprating instruments, the Department has laid a third instrument for consideration today, which is a minor technical fix and will simply realign the diseases that may bring entitlement to a payment under the 1979 Act scheme with those that may bring entitlement to IIDB. That will ensure that the original policy intent of the 1979 Act is fully reflected in the legislation and, in doing so, widen the 1979 Act scheme entitlement to customers suffering from two additional dust-related conditions: asbestos-related primary carcinoma of the lung, where the sufferer does not also have asbestosis, and unilateral, or one-sided, diffuse pleural thickening. Crucially, no one will be made worse off as a result of this change.

As many hon. Members will be aware, the Department is advised by the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council, an independent scientific body, on changes to the list of prescribed diseases for which IIDB can be paid. When they were added to the 1979 Act, all diseases exactly mirrored those listed in the relevant IIDB legislation. However, over time, IIAC has recommended several changes to IIDB prescribed diseases that were also specified in the 1979 Act. Those changes were accepted by my Department. The unintended impact of accepting the recommendations was that people who suffer from one-sided diffuse pleural thickening and asbestos-related primary carcinoma of the lung, but not asbestosis, are now potentially eligible for IIDB but are not eligible for an award under the 1979 Act scheme. The divergence was first identified in September 2023, when officials were asked to provide clarification on entitlement for an individual case. Officials have worked at pace since September to bring forward the legislation before us.

The amendments will address the divergence by realigning diseases specified in the 1979 Act and the IIDB legislation and will apply to new claims made under the 1979 Act scheme. However, payments have been made historically to sufferers of the two diseases despite the divergence identified in the legislation. The Department understands that customers who have made claims for those two diseases historically have not missed out as a result of the change in the legislation not being made sooner.

As of 16 February, the Department was holding 94 claims made since September for which it has not been possible to establish entitlement under the current legislation, but where the criteria would be met under the proposed legislation. If the legislation is approved today, we will pay those customers in full as soon as possible. We estimate that the change will extend legislative entitlement to a 1979 Act scheme award to about 300 people a year with one-sided diffuse pleural thickening and asbestos-related primary carcinoma of the lung. The changes are the right thing to do and demonstrate the Government’s ongoing commitment to supporting sufferers of these terrible diseases. I am sure that all hon. Members here will join me in recognising the continued importance of the compensation offered by the two schemes.

Finally, I am required to confirm that each of the three provisions is compatible with the European convention on human rights; I am happy to confirm to the House that they are. I commend the measures to the Committee and ask for approval to implement them.

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Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I thank the shadow Minister. I agree that the work of the charity and support sector is incredibly welcome. I thank her for being here to debate the draft regulations and for welcoming the uprating, and I thank hon. Members for being part of the debate. There is always much interest in the scheme. The work that the former hon. Member for Rochdale, Tony Lloyd, did on the issue before his sad passing is of great note, and I recognise what the shadow Minister has said.

The Government recognise the vital role that these schemes play in supporting those with dust-related diseases who have no recourse to compensation through their employers. That is why the draft regulations seek to maintain the value of the payments made under the 1979 Act and 2008 Act schemes for the upcoming financial year. The additional changes that we propose will ensure that the original intention of the 1979 Act scheme remains fully reflected in legislation and that the diseases covered by the scheme are based on a more up-to-date clinical understanding. As a result of the changes, legislative entitlement to lump sum awards under the 1979 Act will, as I mentioned, be extended to include sufferers of one-sided diffuse pleural thickening and asbestos-related primary carcinoma of the lung without asbestosis. We remain committed to providing crucial financial support to sufferers of those industrial diseases.

The shadow Minister asked why the uprating is not considered as part of the main social security benefits uprating order. Unfortunately, the legislation that underpins the main social security benefits uprating does not include the lump sum payments under the 1979 Act and 2008 Act schemes. The uprating of the lump sum payments made under those schemes therefore requires separate regulation. Any change to this situation would require primary legislation, which is why we are back in this Committee Room this afternoon.

Like the hon. Lady, I have worked with the HSE over the last four years, and I know how seriously it takes its work on public buildings and asbestos. Of course, we all take public buildings and safety at work extremely seriously. The Government agree that addressing Great Britain’s asbestos legacy, particularly in public buildings, remains a key issue and that continuing to build on the evidence base around safe management and disposal is fundamental. That is why the HSE has a mature, comprehensive and important regulatory framework to ensure that the legacy of asbestos risks in Great Britain is managed. It aligns with the best evidence currently available, and this is reflected throughout the approaches outlined in the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012. That is the correct implementation of CAR. It includes managing the risks of exposure and will eventually lead —we heard the stories that the hon. Lady mentioned— to the elimination of asbestos from the built environment without the need for a target deadline. Most importantly, it will ensure that people working in any such environment, as she mentioned, are fully supported.

The hon. Lady raised the question of equalisation and asked whether the value of the awards made to dependants under the schemes could be increased to match those made to sufferers of these diseases. It is clear that whole families, and those covered by the lump sum schemes, can be devastated by such diseases, which is why dependants can claim compensation following the passing of their loved one. Although I have listened carefully to the hon. Lady’s concerns and we have discussed these matters, the Government remain of the view that the available funding should continue to be prioritised for people who are currently living with the disease. That position remains in line with the main purpose of the schemes, which is to provide financial support for people living with certain diseases and help them to deal with the issues that their illness brings. We estimate that equalising awards for people diagnosed with the disease and their dependants in 2024-25 would require an additional £1 million to £4 million in the departmental expenditure limit budget. That is my answer to the hon. Lady, but if I have missed anything, my officials and I will write to her.

The wider point that the hon. Lady raised about asbestos in schools relates to an ongoing issue in which many hon. Members are interested. I would like to reassure everyone that the Department for Education rightly takes the safety of our children extremely seriously. All local authorities, governing bodies and academy trusts are expected to have robust plans in place to manage asbestos in school buildings effectively and in line with their legal duties. That follows expert advice from HSE that as long as asbestos-containing materials are in good condition, well protected and unlikely to be damaged or disturbed, it is usually safer to manage them in place.

The hon. Lady mentioned the recommendations of the Work and Pensions Committee. The Government are not opposed to any steps that continue to support the asbestos safety regime and that enable risk to be managed effectively. In my time working with HSE and the Select Committee, they have certainly been keen to keep engaged. I do not hold that portfolio, but the hon. Lady’s points were well made. I think I have probably answered all her questions, but I will ensure that if anything remains outstanding, my officials will pick it up.

The schemes form only a part of the wider range of Government support that is available to sufferers of these diseases. For example, the recipients of IIDB get the weekly payment I mentioned, based on their assessed level of disablement; as the hon. Lady said, they are entitled to state benefits to cover other needs, such as income replacement support with caring costs, and support for whatever additional costs may arise due to their disability.

While financial support is vital, we must ensure that we do our utmost to improve health outcomes for sufferers of these terrible diseases and, as the hon. Lady said, those who may be coming through with new learned experiences, which I am sorry to hear about. I am pleased to say that respiratory disease is a clinical priority within the NHS long-term plan, which aims to improve outcomes for sufferers through early diagnosis and increased access to treatment. Respiratory disease is also one of the six conditions covered by the Government’s major conditions strategy, which aims to improve care and health outcomes for those living with multiple conditions and an increasing set of needs, which can be more and more complex.

I am delighted to conclude this debate, which has once again shown that this House is committed to ensuring that the necessary support is available for the individuals and their families living with the consequences of these terrible diseases. I commend the draft regulations and schemes to the Committee and ask its approval for implementing them.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That the Committee has considered the draft Mesothelioma Lump Sum Payments (Conditions and Amounts) (Amendment) Regulations 2024.

Draft Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) (Specified Diseases and Prescribed Occupations) (Amendment) Regulations 2024

Resolved,

That the Committee has considered the draft Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) (Specified Diseases and Prescribed Occupations) (Amendment) Regulations 2024.—(Mims Davies.)

Draft Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) (Payment of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations 2024

Resolved,

That the Committee has considered the draft Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) (Payment of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations 2024.—(Mims Davies.)

Oral Answers to Questions

Mims Davies Excerpts
Monday 5th February 2024

(2 weeks, 4 days ago)

Commons Chamber
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Mims Davies Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Mims Davies)
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This Government have a range of initiatives to support disabled people and people with long-term sickness to start, stay and succeed in work. At the autumn statement, we built on that by expanding universal support, launching WorkWell pilots and establishing work on the reform of the fit note.

Alexander Stafford Portrait Alexander Stafford
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My hon. Friend will know about the excellent work being done by people such as my Maltby constituent, Ian Birch, and all his colleagues at Reed in Partnership across the whole of Rotherham. They use DWP funding to help those with long-term issues of sickness and illness to get back into work and on their feet. What is her Department doing to make sure that those who go through these programmes stay in work permanently and contribute to the local economy?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the value of our local DWP programmes. In Rother Valley, the Reed in Partnership approach has given vital support to his constituents, helping them into work. It is vital to keep supporting them to remain there, and that is where that particular programme helps. Access to Work and our Disability Confident scheme are just some of the initiatives to support disabled people and those with health conditions while in employment.

Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) (Lab)
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Half the women surveyed with endometriosis had to take time off work often or very often because of their condition, and one in six women had to give up work altogether. Will the Minister meet the incredible women from Endometriosis Support Hull and East Yorkshire to discuss the work they are doing with the local trade unions to create a best practice charter for employers in Hull to support women with endometriosis in the workplace?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I was in Aberdeen on Thursday meeting women with health conditions and hearing about how we can better support women who are having debilitating impacts from the menopause. That was in the oil and gas sector, where it takes a long time to build up to a senior career. I would be interested to hear about the work that the hon. Lady’s local team are doing. Through the wider women’s health strategy, we are supporting women to have a thriving career all the way through. I am keen to hear from her and those women, and to support the women to stay in work.

Helen Morgan Portrait Helen Morgan (North Shropshire) (LD)
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3. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the Child Maintenance Service in collecting child maintenance payments.

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Mark Hendrick Portrait Sir Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op)
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7. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of the carer’s allowance for people who care for more than one person.

Mims Davies Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Mims Davies)
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This is a particular area of interest for me as a former carer and as part of a caring family. It is important that we get the right balance. The flat weekly rate for the carer’s allowance has never been linked to the number of people being cared for. The weekly rate will increase to £81.90 from April, which is almost an extra £1,500 a year since 2010.

Mark Hendrick Portrait Sir Mark Hendrick
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hundreds of thousands of carers up and down the country are the unsung heroes of our society, who do a fantastic job. Whether it is caring for elderly parents with dementia or sacrificing full-time work to care for a disabled child, carers play a critical role, easing the burden on health services. For most carers, care is a 24/7 job, and they cannot take full-time work because of it. When will the Government realise that £76, and now even £81.90, is measly and does not scratch the surface of what carers have to put up with and pay for, particularly when many carers are caring for more than one person?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point, which I appreciate as I have been in that situation of caring for two people. The primary purpose of the carer’s allowance is to provide a measure of financial support and recognition for people unable to work full time because of their caring responsibilities. I know there are very strong views on this. I am looking forward to meeting with Carers UK just after recess—I am afraid I cannot do so before, due to a funeral—and hearing the varying views and how we can continue to support our carers, who in every constituency and community do an amazing job.

Jessica Morden Portrait Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab)
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8. Whether his Department is taking steps to reduce the time taken for personal independence payment mandatory reconsideration decisions to be made.

Mims Davies Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Mims Davies)
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We have reduced clearance times from the peak of 79 days in 2021 to 36 days in October 2023 by improving processes and increasing decision-making capacity. We will continue to improve efficiency while ensuring effective decision making for all reconsiderations.

Jessica Morden Portrait Jessica Morden
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In July last year, a constituent was not able to correctly fill out their PIP review form, which led to their payments being stopped. It took until last Thursday—six months from the mandatory reconsideration going in—for the payments to finally be restored. Because of the delay, my constituent fell into debt and became suicidal. Why are the Government not eliminating the delays that are letting down the most vulnerable constituents?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I am very sorry to hear about the hon. Lady’s constituent. Our aim is always to make the right decision as early as possible in the claim journey, and I would be keen to see the full details of that particular situation. On decisions, it is important to consider the context: 2.9 million initial decisions following an assessment have been made between June 2018 and July 2023; 5% have resulted in a completed tribunal hearing, with 3% overturned. I would be very keen to see what has happened in the case that the hon. Lady mentions.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Vicky Foxcroft Portrait Vicky Foxcroft (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab)
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As my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) has just highlighted, the Department is in chaos and that is having a huge impact on claimants’ lives. As of October, there were 294,000 new personal independence payment claims waiting to be processed, with a further 445,000 claimants awaiting an award review. As of November, 24,339 people were awaiting Access to Work decisions. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of disabled people left in financial limbo, with tens of thousands waiting to start work. What message does the Minister think these huge backlogs send to disabled people, and how does she finally plan to get a grip of them?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I thank the hon. Lady for making the important point about the numbers. I agree that behind each of those is somebody we should be concerned about, and I am absolutely looking at this point. We are continuing to learn from decisions overturned by appeal, and we will continue to make improvements to our decision-making processes to help people to get the correct decision earlier in their claim journey, and to be able to work and have the support where it is needed. Not everybody on PIP is out of work, so we need to be listening to the needs of the people in those queues. I am conscious that every one of them is not a statistic but a person who needs our support.

Andrew Western Portrait Andrew Western (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab)
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9. What estimate his Department has made of the cost to the public purse of economic inactivity due to ill health.

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Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab)
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15. If he will take steps to simplify the benefits claims process for cancer patients.

Mims Davies Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Mims Davies)
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Understandably, such a health diagnosis can be a shock for individuals, their families and, indeed, their finances—and I am conscious of saying this just after World Cancer Day. It is important to ensure that people have the right support as soon as possible, and as part of our reforms we will simplify the system to reduce the assessment burden and improve people’s experiences of assessments.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
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I thank the Minister for her response, but those changes cannot come too soon for my constituent Emily, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in November, is too ill to work, and is finding the benefits system impossible to navigate. DWP officials have pushed her from pillar to post, unable to decide whether she is eligible for employment and support allowance and universal credit. She has been forced to fill in countless forms, and was even required to attend a jobcentre appointment over Christmas, despite being seriously unwell. Does the Minister agree this is simply not good enough, and that we need to put those changes in place so that people like Emily do not have to go through this?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I am sorry to hear about Emily’s situation. I would remind others in her situation that there is a help to claim service available through Citizens Advice and also a benefits calculator on gov.uk, but I would also be extremely keen to see the details of what has happened. I would be happy to meet the hon. Lady or to look at the details, whatever she would prefer.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
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17. What steps he plans to take to increase levels of employment in Cumbria.

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Alistair Strathern Portrait Alistair Strathern (Mid Bedfordshire) (Lab)
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From unanswered emails to unreturned calls, it has been heartbreaking to hear from so many vulnerable constituents who are in a state of limbo and distress, and trying to chase up personal independence payments. When will Ministers ensure that people can get the support that they need in a timely and straightforward manner?

Mims Davies Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Mims Davies)
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If the hon. Gentleman has specific examples, I would be keen to hear from him and to look into them.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee.

Disability Action Plan: Publication

Mims Davies Excerpts
Monday 5th February 2024

(2 weeks, 4 days ago)

Written Statements
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Mims Davies Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Mims Davies)
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Later today I shall make an oral statement on this subject.

[HCWS242]

Disability Action Plan

Mims Davies Excerpts
Monday 5th February 2024

(2 weeks, 4 days ago)

Commons Chamber
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Mims Davies Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Mims Davies)
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Today, and in British Sign Language for those watching on Parliament Live, I am delighted to deliver on the Government’s commitment to transform the everyday lives of disabled people across the country for the better. We as a Government are working to make this country the most accessible place in the world for disabled people to live, work and thrive, and today I am proud to announce another important milestone: the publication of the disability action plan, which will actively make a difference to disabled people’s daily lives.

In December 2022 my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove), announced the intention to develop a new disability action plan to set out the practical, immediate actions that Ministers across Government will take to improve disabled people’s daily lives. Following that, my Department and the Disability Unit did a huge amount of work, and I thank everyone involved. Since coming into the role I have spent time listening, engaging and continuing to ensure that the voices of disabled people are properly heard, as that is an important priority for the Government. That is why in July 2023 we consulted on the draft disability action plan, setting out a range of proposals where we felt we could take immediate action or lay the foundations for longer-term change. We rightly wanted to give everyone, and most importantly disabled people, disabled people’s organisations and other key charities and stakeholders, the chance to have their say on the draft plan.

The consultation ran for 12 weeks and I am immensely grateful to every single person who took the time to respond. In the consultation we set out 12 areas for action. Each area proposed how the Disability Unit, together with my Department, other Government Departments and partners, would take action to drive improvements in those areas. Since the consultation closed in October, we have been carefully working through more than 1,300 responses, which pleasingly showed broad support for almost all our proposals. We have used these responses, along with feedback from a series of events and discussions during the consultation period, to finalise the proposals, adding a number of new measures to respond specifically to these consultation findings. An independent analysis of the consultation findings will be published on gov.uk today alongside the final plan when I conclude my statement.

The disability action plan we are publishing today sets out 32 practical actions, which I will lead across Government to take forward over the next 12 months with disabled people, disabled people’s organisations, other Government Departments and public service providers to improve the everyday lives of disabled people. These actions sit across 14 different areas, aiming to: better support disabled people who want to be elected to public office; include disabled people’s needs more effectively in emergency and resilience planning; include disabled people’s needs in climate-related policies; improve information and outcomes for families in which someone is or becomes disabled; make playgrounds more accessible for everybody; help our businesses of all sizes and sectors to understand the needs of, and deliver improvements for, disabled people; explore if the UK could host the Special Olympics world summer games in 2031; improve support for people who have guide or assistance dogs; help the Government to measure how effective their policies and services are for disabled people; research issues facing disabled people in the future so the that Government can be more proactive in addressing them; make Government publications and communications more accessible; improve understanding of the cost of living for disabled people; promote better understanding across Government of the United Nations convention on the rights of persons with disabilities; and monitor and report progress of the disability action plan. I can confirm that we will provide Parliament with updates on our progress in delivering against these actions in the plan in both six and 12 months’ time.

The disability action plan will be taken forward in parallel with the national disability strategy. Published in 2021, this wider strategy sets out the long-term vision to transform disabled people’s lives for the better. A written ministerial statement to Parliament on 18 September 2023 provided an update on progress on those commitments. Taken together, the disability action plan and the national disability strategy demonstrate this Government’s clear focus on improving disabled people’s daily lives in the here and now, and in the years to come.

As well as the disability action plan and the national disability strategy, the Government are already delivering significant work in areas that disabled people have told us are a priority, including reforms to employment and welfare through “Transforming Support”, the health and disability White Paper, and the back to work plan, and improving health and social care through the “People at the Heart of Care” White Paper. Further ongoing work by Departments includes cost of living support through Help for Households, as well as the SEND and alternative provision improvement plan.

Today’s new disability action plan is another vital pillar in improving disabled people’s everyday lives. Working with disabled people and their representative organisations, and with my colleagues across Government in my roles as lead for the disability unit and chair of the cross-Government ministerial disability champions, we will take immediate action now and in the coming months to achieve real, tangible improvements for disabled people, to help to deliver on their needs and to change disabled people’s daily lives for the better.

I commend this statement to the House.

Roger Gale Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Roger Gale)
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I call the shadow Minister.

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Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I thank the hon. Lady for what, I think, was a warm welcome in there somewhere—

Vicky Foxcroft Portrait Vicky Foxcroft
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indicated dissent.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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Not so much, she says, so there we go. I reiterate that the disability action plan is not just another consultation, but real, tangible action to change people’s daily lives, with 13 practical actions across 14 different areas. It is about building a society that works for everyone.

The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) is right to point out that day-to-day life is too difficult for disabled people and their families; I agree with her. That is why we have taken the opportunities we can take in this round, alongside the wider national disabilities strategy. I would love to boil the ocean and to have fixed everything in the month or so I have been in the role, but I assure hon. Members that irrespective of the perceived level of the role, I have the convening power and support across Government. I am delighted that the hon. Lady keeps pushing for my elevation, but under the previous Labour Administration the Minister for Disabled People was an Under-Secretary of State. I am extremely proud to be an Under-Secretary of State—

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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Thank you, I will take that. Under our Government, the role has been mixed, which does not mean that we do not take it seriously. I take it extremely seriously.

I have come to the role with my own personal experience of living with my father, who became disabled and lived under the Court of Protection. When I was growing up, my mum worked with disabled adults, getting them into work. She was an early part of the Riding for the Disabled Association and the Special Olympics movement. No matter what rank I have in the Government, I bring that experience and interest to the role. I say to people watching that the pay cheque or the rank simply do not matter—I am in this for them.

The Under-Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Amanda Solloway), and I have met to discuss the point made by the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford about the cost of energy. My hon. Friend is a disability champion across Government, as am I, so we will continue to engage. I reiterate that the cost of living payments will start again tomorrow. Some 6.4 million people across the UK have been able to claim an extra £150 in addition to their disability benefits, as the hon. Lady mentioned.

It is, of course, a challenging time for everybody. We put in place the furlough scheme and the other support for businesses and communities across the country to try to keep people on their feet. Between 2022 and 2025, we provided £104 billion to help people with the cost of living. To anybody who has a disability, a health condition or any other need, I say: please look at the benefits calculator on gov.uk. They should look at the household support fund, which runs for a full year—a whole six months longer than the previous one. There is a huge amount of interest in it, so I urge people to contact their local authority about it. I am delighted that many people with caring responsibilities and those looking after disabled people have been helped in this way.

Finally, the help-to-claim service is there as well, provided by the DWP working with Citizens Advice, to make sure that those in need do not have to worry, because the Government, both locally and nationally, are there for them.

Roger Gale Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Roger Gale)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee.

Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sure that as an ambassador for the Special Olympics, my constituent the great Lawrie McMenemy will welcome the announcement that my hon. Friend has just made. Specifically, she has announced 32 practical actions across 14 separate areas. That gives an idea of the scale of the challenge when it comes to co-ordination and accountability. There are disability champions across every Government Department, and of course there is the disability unit in the Cabinet Office. How will she make sure that the challenge of co-ordination is successfully met, so that my constituents and each Member in this House will know who to turn to, and who to hold accountable, if those 32 practical actions are not delivered?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
- Hansard - -

I thank my right hon. Friend for her point about the Special Olympics. When I was Sports Minister, I had the honour of meeting her constituent. I share his passion for a very important movement. It is potentially life changing, which is why I am delighted that it is in this plan.

My right hon. Friend asks about the evidence and data around the disability action plan. The plan is there to improve the quality of Government health data, and to increase insight into the needs and barriers that affect disabled people’s daily lives. Ultimately, we will evaluate the impact of these policies and services, and we will use data, when they are available, to monitor and assess the outcomes of the plan. We will start work on developing more comprehensive evaluation. I know that, through her role as the Chair of the Select Committee, she will absolutely measure me and my role in this. I assure her, the House and all those watching that the plan is absolutely about learning, and delivering on this challenge.

Roger Gale Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Roger Gale)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the SNP spokesperson.

Marion Fellows Portrait Marion Fellows (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for prior sight of her statement. This disability action plan is not a plan; it is a mishmash of short-term policies. Some of the proposals are welcome and should have been sorted out long ago. Others are unclear and simply do not address the most pressing concerns of disabled people.

In my submission to the DAP consultation, I listed key areas that had been overlooked. Cost of living and welfare support are still missing, even though these areas were consistently raised by disability organisations and individuals. The Minister says that the Government will improve understanding of the cost of living for disabled people. What better understanding do they need? For the past two years, disabled people have been crying out for more targeted financial support to assist with their additional cost of living needs.

The Minister said that the Government will promote better understanding of the United Nations convention on the rights of persons with disabilities across Government. What does that actually mean? In 2016, the UK Government were found to have systematically failed disabled people. That is still happening. The work capability assessment reforms will subject more disabled people to the cruel, punitive, and ineffective sanctions regime. Why? If the Government are serious about improving the lives of those with disabilities, they should start by scrapping the proposals ahead of the 6 March Budget. How much of this plan will actually be enacted before the general election?

In contrast, the Scottish Government are acting within budgetary constraints to improve the lives of disabled people through the adult disability payment and child disability payment. The independent living fund, with an initial investment of up to £9 million, will enable people with disabilities to improve their life. Finally, no offence, but the downgrading of the role of Minister for disabilities indicates this Government’s disregard for people with disabilities.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Lady for her response; I am glad that advanced sight of the statement was welcome, at least. I reiterate to those watching that this plan is one pillar of the work that we are doing across all Government Departments to help disabled people to succeed, and to make this the most accessible place to live, work and thrive.

The work capability assessment will be changed. My engagement so far has been very much about what disabled people feel. I was in Aberdeen on Thursday, chatting to some of our claimants and those working with a local charity. Many of those disabled people were so frustrated that they cannot get a chance to work, and to try things. The action plan is not about punitive sanctions; it is about giving disabled people the opportunity to take part in wider daily life, which we all take for granted. I point her to the cost of living support, and the around £200 million in Barnett consequentials for her Government. I have consistently asked where the money is going and how they are spending it. I would love to have pointed that out to those I met on Thursday.

This issue is not about party-political barneying in this Chamber; the hon. Lady and I share the view that it is about supporting disabled people in their daily life. I strongly believe that these measures will change their daily life. We will report in six months—if she knows more than me, and the next election is before that, then it will not be me doing so—and in 12 months. Of course, she and I will continue to discuss these matters until the election. I am sure that where we can work together, we will.

Chloe Smith Portrait Chloe Smith (Norwich North) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, in respect of a charity to do with deaf people and cancer. I welcome my hon. Friend to her post. I know from many years of working with her that she is a very capable Minister who will take the job extremely seriously and give it her all. Disabled people have told me very clearly that they need a senior, serious voice in Government. Will she say a little more about how she will be that voice, and how she will listen to disabled people and reflect their needs inside Government? Also, to echo my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, I press the Minister to say a little more about how she will ensure that disabled people’s issues of accessibility are not an afterthought in Government but are put first, so that inclusion is by design, and important aims are all achieved.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I thank my right hon. Friend for her kind words, and for her incredible, impeccable support; she took the British Sign Language Act 2022 through Parliament, and I thank her for the work that she has done in my Department, and her continuing interest in these matters. Fundamentally, the disability action plan is about disabled people’s daily lives, and their needs not being an afterthought in any part of Government.

I will be honest: coming into this role, I found getting messages out extremely challenging. I will take that forward by promoting accessible communications, monitoring standards and training, and ensuring full inclusion. The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) mentioned the No. 10 Downing Street briefings. It is so important that everybody knows the central messages; everyone needs to be included. That is why one of the actions comes down to local resilience forums, and having the right engagement at a local level in times of needs. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) will welcome that, too.

Roger Gale Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Roger Gale)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee.

Stephen Timms Portrait Sir Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab)
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The Select Committee called for a review of the underperforming Disability Confident scheme. That review was delayed by the pandemic, but in October we were told that officials were refining the recommendations. Can the Minister tell us what the plan says about Disability Confident, and does it hold out the prospect of shorter waiting times for Access to Work?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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It was remiss of me not to reply just now to the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) about the strong voice across Government. That is, of course, the Secretary of State, who sits in the Cabinet and works alongside me to represent disabled people’s voices.

To respond to the Chair of the Select Committee, Access to Work grants, which helping with extra costs beyond standard reasonable adjustments, are important for my Department as we smash the employment goal and try to do more on disability employment. He is right to ask about that and to challenge Disability Confident. It is not just a nice thing that companies put on their website; it needs to deliver change for disabled people in the workplace. We will look at the disability employment goal; I am looking at Access to Work, and I will look at Disability Confident, just as the Select Committee has done. I urge him to watch this space.

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon) (Con)
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I welcome these proposals, and I thank the fantastic disability unit team, and the stakeholders who have helped to shape them—in particular, the proposals on accessible play parks. I have been working with organisations such as Benjamin’s Smile and Mums on a Mission, both in my constituency. Swindon is leading by example when it comes to making sure that children’s play parks are accessible to all, and hopefully we can make that a given across the whole country. One of the key points of the national disability strategy was that there would be an annual review, so that we could be held to account on what we achieved and where we needed to work harder. It would also allow us to set out the next range of ambitious targets, co-ordinated by the Minister through the departmental disability champions. Can I have assurance that, good as these proposals are, we will review them on an annual basis, as well as having a new, fresh set? I also join the calls to see my hon. Friend made a Minister of State, because if she is to co-ordinate efforts across Government, in areas beyond her direct influence, she needs to have that gravitas in that room, so that she can demand what is needed to remove barriers for disabled people.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his experience and insight. I have met the ministerial disability champions already to ensure: that disability inclusion is a priority and is ultimately delivered in their Departments’ work; that they continue to be accountable for their contribution to the development and delivery of the national disability strategy and the disability action plan; and that they continue to show their commitment to disabled people by creating opportunities, protecting their rights and ensuring action on everything that we have spoken about today, in terms of contributions to society.

On making playgrounds more accessible and my hon. Friend’s impeccable work in his constituency, there is a lot of information on disability inclusion in organised sport, physical activity and exercise, but information on making playgrounds accessible is unfortunately not easily available. We want to make it available, work with the partners he mentioned and achieve best practice among local authorities. That will be part of this plan, and we will measure its delivery in six months and 12 months.

Debbie Abrahams Portrait Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have huge regard for the Minister, but I gently say to her that we must recognise the context of this disability action plan. Between 2011 and 2020, the equivalent of £20 billion was cut from working-age people, predominantly disabled people. Individually, they lost thousands of pounds every year, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) pointed out. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s “UK Poverty 2024” report identified that disabled people have been disproportionately impacted by that, and are likely to suffer deep poverty and destitution. On the Government’s commitment, I hope that the Minister can reassure me: it is approaching two years since the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that the Department was discriminating against disabled people and issued a section 23 notice, and we still have heard nothing from the Department on that. Could the Minister reassure us that it will publish something on that in the next few weeks, and certainly before the second anniversary of that notice?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I thank the hon. Lady for her points. I know that she has long been pushing for a response, and I will write to her further on that matter. As I said to the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft), there has been substantial cost of living support, but I understand the point about disability costs that has been made today. Again, I point people towards the household support fund, which is there for exactly those additional costs. In fact, we are doing research and evaluation on where that support is going, and it is making a difference to people’s daily lives. I want those people to know that, beyond the cost of living payments, which start again tomorrow, further support is available through their local authorities or from devolved moneys.

Alicia Kearns Portrait Alicia Kearns (Rutland and Melton) (Con)
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I welcome the disability action plan. It follows the British Sign Language Act 2022 and the Down Syndrome Act 2022, which have supported 2 million more disabled people into work, as well as the cost of living disability payments, which begin tomorrow. I will be holding a disability forum in my home county of Rutland on 28 June, where I will bring together people living with disabilities, and their families and carers, so that we can create a plan for our county. Will my hon. Friend, who has brought such strength and passion to her role, share what support might be available to help roll out such action plans at a local level?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I thank my hon. Friend for making that important point. Something announced here in Westminster might sound great, but what does it mean in Rutland and beyond? That is an important part of the next steps. Of course, we have support in our jobcentres, with further work coach support and disability employment advisers offering advice and expertise, and I have mentioned Access to Work, Disability Confident and our future employment goal. If she sent me an invite, I would be delighted to listen in on what her constituents and those advocating would like to hear and understand.

Jeremy Corbyn Portrait Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Ind)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I note that the Minister mentioned in her statement the aim to

“promote better understanding across Government of the United Nations convention on the rights of persons with disabilities”,

which is very welcome. How exactly will she do that with each Department, both in their roles as employers of a large number of people around the country, and in the policies that they promote, such as disability benefits—including those relating to mental health—and the provision of housing for people with disabilities? If she finds that the Departments are not coming up to the mark in achieving what she wants of them, how will she ensure that they are forced to carry out her policy, to ensure that there is real equality for people with disabilities in our society?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point about cross-Government working and delivering on the action plan. I stress to him and to those watching that the plan is one pillar of the work that we are doing. We will, for example, work to increase disability-inclusive approaches to emergency and resilience planning and climate adaptions, through working strategically with teams on that. We will always work with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to ensure that disability inclusion is increased. As I have said, it is increasingly vital that ministerial champions deliver and are accountable in their Departments—that is what I will be doing. It will mean that disabled people can benefit from everything that Government and community do, and can rightly contribute to every aspect of our society.

Alec Shelbrooke Portrait Sir Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con)
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I welcome my hon. Friend’s statement. I am particularly pleased about the aim to

“help our businesses of all sizes and sectors to understand the needs of, and deliver improvements for, disabled people”.

One group of people who feel that they should be recognised in disability plans are those with advanced endometriosis. In a debate that I led on endometriosis in the workplace, we heard that some of the issues that women face at that advanced stage are really disabilities, but because they are not listed as such, many women lose their jobs owing to poor attendance through sick days and so on. I very much welcome the strategy, but will my hon. Friend consider expanding it to those women’s health issues that are totally disabling?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. Research shows that disabled people are more likely to experience difficulties and barriers in accessing products and services, which results in a lack of confidence —whether that is on the high street, in going to work, or elsewhere. The consultation proposes a voluntary accreditation scheme for businesses to train their staff in disability awareness. The benefits to business are absolutely clear: Purple says that the spending power of disabled households is £284 billion a year.

As my right hon. Friend knows, I lead on women’s health and on the wider issue of keeping women in the workforce within the Department for Work and Pensions. The debilitating impact of the menopause and the wider impact of menstruation in the oil and gas sector, for example, were issues raised in Aberdeen just last week, which links into our women’s health strategy. This is the second time that endometriosis has been mentioned in the Chamber recently. I would be happy to meet my right hon. Friend and others to discuss how we link it into our understanding.

Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

There is much to welcome in the plan, but there are also a few things that are missing. One specific thing that the Minister has included in her 14 areas for action is helping businesses of all sizes and sectors to understand the needs of, and deliver improvements for, disabled people. One of my constituents came to me recently because, as a user of an electric wheelchair, she has found it almost impossible to know what businesses—specifically hotels—mean by “accessible”. It means something different to every business: wheelchair users can find themselves going into a business and then being unable to move around. If they are in a hotel, they can get to their hotel room, but cannot move around within that room. Can the Minister tell us whether the Government are going to take action to set out exactly what is needed if a business is going to use the term “accessible”?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Lady for making that point, which also applies to businesses’ recruitment: they talk about recruiting differently, and they want to do so, but then they regress. That tends to be due to a lack of understanding. The Disability Unit will work to better define what businesses need to do, building on the main issues raised in the consultation responses. That work will also look at evidence gaps; at where existing schemes are already doing things and there may be duplication; and, as the hon. Lady said and as I described earlier, at where people think they are doing the right thing but it does not match the reality of the experience for disabled people using a service or having a day out or a night away. That is part of the work covered by actions 18 and 19 in the plan, and I would be delighted to hear from the hon. Lady what that means to her constituents.

Mark Pritchard Portrait Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome the disability action plan. The Minister mentioned the cost of living; I wondered what more could be done to speed up the transition to personal independence payments for those living on disability living allowance. One of my constituents has just waited over a year for that transition to take place.

I welcome the fact that access to playgrounds is in the action plan, but following on from the questions asked by my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) and the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), what more can be done to ensure that these points are delivered, both at a local government level—perhaps by making it a statutory responsibility for local councils to provide at least a minimum level of disability access for some play areas and playgrounds—and at a national level? What cross-departmental committees or working is the Minister already involved with?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
- Hansard - -

I thank my right hon. Friend for making some really pertinent points. In regard to his point about playgrounds, that is why there will be a portal and some best practice. Some local authorities are already delivering; others will be able to learn from those interventions, so that families can enjoy playing together in the way that everybody else would take for granted. That should be available in every community.

My right hon. Friend also mentioned the wider structural changes. I am happy to look at the specific case he raised. If he would kindly send me the details, I would be very grateful. This plan is part of the wider national disability strategy, including changes to the work capability assessment. The engagement I have had with disabled people and their organisations has made clear that there are some very vulnerable people who are very keen to be protected and supported, and there are other groups who are very keen to get the opportunities and chances they need. This Government are determined to get the approach right for everybody and every community.

Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Portrait Mr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

According to the charity Sense, 85% of people with complex disabilities are worried about the rising cost of living. The Minister’s predecessor said that the disability action plan would outline the “immediate” action this Government would take to make the lives of disabled people better, so why does the disability action plan do so little to address the cost of living crisis now?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
- Hansard - -

I would point the hon. Gentleman to the next stage of the cost of living payments, which start tomorrow, and again to the household support fund, which we see, evidentially, is supporting carers and those with disabilities at a really difficult time. We have ensured the energy price guarantee remains in place as an additional safety net until March this year. It will hold bills down, and I hope, as energy prices fall, it will help low-paid workers or disabled people, as he describes. The Government are providing millions of households with further cost of living payments, as I say, and there is a £104 billion package to support households until 2025. I am engaged with the other disability champion, the Under-Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Amanda Solloway), on this matter. That is wider than this specific plan, but the hon. Gentleman can be assured that we continue to engage on this matter.

Virginia Crosbie Portrait Virginia Crosbie (Ynys Môn) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

May I say llongyfarchiadau—congratulations—to the Minister on the launch of the disability action plan? I visited Ysgol Llanfawr in Morawelon, Holyhead, where teacher Ceri Wyn Jones’s year 6 class excitedly shared with me how important playgrounds are to them and their families, and they would love a splash park. Can the Minister reassure students such as Phoebe Owen and Alecia Hughes that she will work with her devolved partners to ensure that playgrounds across Ynys Môn are made more accessible for everyone?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
- Hansard - -

Diolch yn fawr—and iechyd da! That is a fantastic opportunity for those local children to have a really inclusive and positive playground. This afternoon, I wrote to my counterparts in the Welsh Government to tell them about the plan, and to thank them for their engagement. We want to support action in all playgrounds to make sure disabled children and their families have that sense of belonging and that experience, and there is no greater sense of belonging than when it comes to Ynys Môn. We want to make sure that learning comes from play, which is why, when that splash pad is being designed, the portal and the best practice could make it more inclusive than anyone could have dreamed of before today.

John McDonnell Portrait John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the action plan address the specific issue raised by the excellent John Pring of the Disability News Service, which is the 14-year pattern of the DWP dismissing the concerns expressed by coroners over the deaths of disabled claimants?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
- Hansard - -

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the point he makes. Of course, we in our Department deal with some very vulnerable people in very difficult situations, but this is a time of 30-plus actions and some changes that are extremely positive. We have made sure that we have put safeguarding at the heart of what we do, and I will write to him specifically about that matter.

Layla Moran Portrait Layla Moran (Oxford West and Abingdon) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Botley Road in Oxford has been closed for nearly a year, with another six months to go. While that is an inconvenience for residents, for our disabled residents it has been an absolute blight on their lives. The one thing that was put in place for them has been reduced to just one hour in the day, and they have felt completely left out, while some have not even left their homes. Will this plan include provisions for local residents affected by infrastructure projects—in this case, run by Network Rail, which is making the decisions—because I cannot see where that is included in the plan?

--- Later in debate ---
Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
- Hansard - -

If the hon. Lady send me the details, I would be happy to have a look at the specific issue and that particular group. In this disability action plan, the Government truly believe that considering disabled people’s needs in policy making makes for better and more inclusive outcomes for everyone. That is why reaching net zero by 2050 is engaged in actions 7 to 11. There is also our work on clean air zones and ultra low emission zones, including making sure that disabled people’s access needs are fully balanced when creating such schemes. When it comes to access—whether it is about road closures, or rail—that is exactly what this plan is about, and I am keen to look at the details she mentioned.

Tulip Siddiq Portrait Tulip Siddiq (Hampstead and Kilburn) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

A constituent of mine who has been hospitalised multiple times over the past 20 years as a result of a serious bipolar disorder was deemed ineligible for PIP. He received absolutely no help navigating the complex PIP process and had to go through a lengthy tribunal until he was finally deemed eligible. How will this plan bring about any meaningful change when the Government have repeatedly failed to get to grips with the long-standing failures in the disability benefits system?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
- Hansard - -

That sounds like a very concerning case. This action plan is part of a wider structural reform on health and disability. We know from our research that one in five people with a disability or health condition is not expected to engage in work preparation, but they might want to work. The hon. Lady’s constituent is seemingly very vulnerable, and this is a difficult process to navigate. We have our help to claim service and other support for vulnerable claimants, and I am happy to look at this issue for the hon. Lady. The White Paper transformations include a new potential passporting to UC health element through PIP, but I am conscious that every PIP delay or PIP challenge involves a person and a situation and is very concerning, and I am making that a priority in this role.

Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I want to follow up on the earlier questions about accessible play areas, which I am pleased are a part of the disability action plan. I do not think having a website will go far enough in delivering what we all want to see, which is far more accessible play areas. There needs to be a strategy backed with resources underneath this website to deliver on the aspiration that we all share. The Minister will know that local authorities are on their knees in terms of funding, so will the Department put in any money to make sure that all our children are able to access play areas?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
- Hansard - -

Sport England is undertaking work on best practice and that is precisely about opening up that portal and making this a reality for youngsters. We know that all children’s wellbeing is absolutely about their social activities and opportunities to learn through play, and this plan should not and will not be a talking shop resulting in no change. I will keenly make sure that this information on accessible playgrounds makes a difference, and that will be part of the reports we do at six and 12 months.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for her statement; it was most helpful. Several of my disabled constituents have raised an issue that I am sure is replicated in every constituency across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and which is not clear in the action plan: help to insulate homes to aid with energy costs for those who need health-related upgrades or ongoing help with energy costs rather than a one-off bonus payment. What consideration have the Government given to the issue of warm homes for our disabled constituents—something that they do not necessarily have?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
- Hansard - -

I wrote to counterparts in Northern Ireland again today, as I did to all devolved groups, and the hon. Gentleman is right about the challenges we have heard in the Chamber today, and I am happy to look at the extra support available for his community. As usual, he makes a pertinent point about ensuring that everybody has that warm home and that support. This is of course devolved in a slightly different way in his community, but I am happy to share the details with him.

Richard Burgon Portrait Richard Burgon (Leeds East) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The truth is that disabled people have been at the sharp end of this Government’s cruel policies: their austerity and their attacks on social security and public services. Disabled people are also among the hardest hit by the cost of living crisis, but this disability action plan fails to introduce the emergency measures demanded by disabled people to directly address the crisis, never mind the decade of attacks they have faced; isn’t that the case?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
- Hansard - -

I do not appreciate the characterisation—[Interruption.] Excuse me, the hon. Gentleman seems to be distracted. As I was saying, I do not understand his characterisation. There are 32 actions over the next 12 months in 14 different areas where we have listened and engaged with disabled people. We have heard what they want, and those actions are in parallel with our national disability strategy. His is exactly the kind of rhetoric—“The Government are against you and not supporting you”—that makes disabled people feel more isolated and concerned for their welfare. I want to say squarely to people listening today that we have an absolute focus on what we can do to make sure that disabled people’s daily lives are better and that there is support and help there for them. This is one of the pillars of support that this Government are absolutely committed to. When he reads the full plan, he will see that it will make disabled people’s daily lives better, and that is what this Government are determined to deliver.

Roger Gale Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Roger Gale)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister and those on the Opposition Front Bench for their presence.

Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme Levy 2023-24

Mims Davies Excerpts
Wednesday 31st January 2024

(3 weeks, 2 days ago)

Written Statements
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Mims Davies Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Mims Davies)
- Hansard - -

The Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme (Levy) Regulations 2014 require active employers’ liability insurers to pay an annual levy, based on their relative market share, for the purpose of meeting the costs of the DMPS. This is in line with the insurance industry’s commitment to fund a scheme of last resort for persons diagnosed with diffuse mesothelioma who have been unable to trace their employer or their employer’s insurer.



Today I can announce that the total amount of the levy to be charged for 2023-24, the 10th year of the DMPS, is £27.3 million. The amount will be payable by active insurers by the end of March 2024.



Individual active insurers will be notified in writing of their share of the levy, together with how the amount was calculated and the payment arrangements. Insurers should be aware that it is a legal requirement to pay the levy within the set timescales.



I am pleased that the DMPS has seen nine successful years of operation, assisting many hundreds of people who have been diagnosed with diffuse mesothelioma. The ninth annual report for the scheme, along with the annual statistics, was published on 28 November 2023 and is available on the www.gov.uk website. The report was also deposited in the Libraries of both Houses. I hope that Members of both Houses will welcome this announcement and give the DMPS their continued support.

[HCWS227]

Musculoskeletal Conditions and Employment

Mims Davies Excerpts
Wednesday 10th January 2024

(1 month, 2 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Mims Davies Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Mims Davies)
- Hansard - -

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Dame Caroline, and I thank the hon. Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood) for introducing today’s debate in a constructive, positive and very interesting way. As the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, it is an honour early on in my tenure to talk about the Government’s commitment to enabling people with musculoskeletal conditions to start work, stay in work, and importantly succeed in work, which is what today’s debate is about, and it was an honour to hear from Members on all those matters. As the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) said, the spirit and context of the debate is extremely important. I thank the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft). We have always had a very constructive and positive relationship. I look forward to working with her on her challenges to us, and all her asks across Government; I note all of these. As hon. Members might note, I have a lot of material here. Whether I can get to all of it we will see, but I hope to share the Government’s ambition for this society as one where disabled people and those with health conditions can fulfil their potential when it comes to employment, and one where they have the fair rights and access that we all want for them.

My mum lived with osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis, and she worked with disabled adults; my dad lived with a head injury for more than 25 years under the Court of Protection, and I am a coeliac, so despite the height of my role, I want to reassure those in the Gallery and those listening to the debate that my convening power is no less and my commitment is no less, but I understand the asks from the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford—and on her advocacy for my promotion, one could ask for nothing else.

The joint Department for Work and Pensions and Department of Health and Social Care work and health directorate was set up in 2015 to recognise the extremely strong links between work and health and the importance for health of good work, which has been highlighted today. I pay tribute to those doing the “Better Bones” campaign. As the Minister who was predominantly responsible for the HSE for a number of years, I assure the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) that I have paid close attention to the issue, and I hope that the HSE’s representatives will come to Parliament shortly to give us all an update on their work. The responsibility sits with my noble Friend Lord Younger now, but I will be working very strongly with him.

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Tom Randall) and others on the subjects of prevention, tackling stigma and keenly engaging with those who understand this matter. Supporting and empowering those with MSK conditions is very important to me—I hope I have outlined why—both in this new role and in my capacity as a local MP. In fact, in that capacity, I invited my ministerial predecessor, who is now the Minister for Legal Migration and the Border, my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove)— I pay tribute to his work and his commitment on this subject—to visit VIM Health. This gives me an opportunity to mention Tom from VIM Health and all his team, all his patients and the work done in this specialist neurological rehabilitation centre and MSK therapy service, which I have seen. My hon. Friend and I agreed that it was incredibly inspiring to see how innovative technologies can make healthcare more accessible, enjoyable and transformative. This gym helps with rehab, and also makes accessible exercise, and other things that many of us take for granted. We talked about the pools, and I will come on to that later.

I am looking forward to meeting representatives of Versus Arthritis later this month; I met them at the party conference. Like others, I extend my thanks to third sector organisations for the important work that they do, and the knowledge that they impart to us in Westminster, to raise awareness and to support people living with MSK conditions, helping them to fulfil their potential in the workplace. As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling, this is about a change of mindset. Work is so much more than a pay packet. It increases people’s wellbeing; it increases their network and their confidence. At times when their health is perhaps failing or fluctuating, nothing is more important than having confidence, a network and support, and that very much comes from work.

Margaret Greenwood Portrait Margaret Greenwood
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I appreciate the tone that the Minister is taking in the debate. On that point about mindset, would she look at perhaps requiring employers to inform new employees about Access to Work when they start, to make it quite a routine thing, and so that people know about it and can have an up-front conversation about all areas of their health, but particularly MSK health? I ask because from the point of view of the person who is suffering, it can be extremely difficult to raise an issue that they know will cause bother for their manager, perhaps cost them money and so on.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Lady for that point. In fact, in preparing for this debate and seeking to understand the issue further, this was something that we discussed and I was interested in. Gatwick is not far away from my constituency, and many constituents work there, and some of them work in passenger assist, getting people on and off planes. Being able to talk to employers confidently and comfortably is really important.

When someone’s health changes, it is often a bolt from the blue. How do they manage that with their employer? That is something that I am very focused on, and it covers the Access to Work programme and the Disability Confident scheme.

I will come on to Disability Confident, but we need to move this from being a nice thing on a website to a reality for people working in whatever sector and with all employers. We have taken that approach with menopause and the debilitating impact that it can have for women of all ages, including in the workplace. All of this, in the round, is very important when it comes to staying in work and thriving in work, which is what we ultimately want for everybody.

For context, around a third of the UK population—over 20 million people—live with an MSK condition. As we said, we do not want people to feel that leaving employment is the only option, and the Government absolutely recognise that good work is generally good for health, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling and the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford. MSK interventions to improve workforce participation were key when it comes to the £400 million health package in the 2023 spring Budget.

Let me go through some what the Government are doing. We are introducing employment advisers within MSK services to support people with conditions to thrive in work, help them to have those conversations and, above all, assist with engaging with employers. We are developing and scaling up MSK hubs in the community. Building on existing local practice, hubs will offer people with MSK conditions access to physical activity interventions in leisure centre or community settings—as we have heard—and we will explore how to embed vocational advice too. We will also be making the most of digital health technologies to support people with MSK conditions to better manage those symptoms and remain in work, and that will include digital therapeutics.

The reality is we are all living longer, and long-term sickness is a common reason for economic inactivity among the working-age population. Therefore, the Government rightly have an ambitious programme to support disabled people and those with health conditions, including MSK, to start, stay and succeed in work. That includes variety of interventions, which we have heard about today: Disability Confident, the Access to Work grants, the Work and Health Programme, and a digital information service for employers in relation this. Employers knowing how to manage and to have those conversations equally with employees will make a real difference, and of course there are also our own disability employment advisers in DWP. I will be engaging directly with all groups and stakeholders to make sure this works, and I will be putting myself, as I always do, in the place of our claimants and of those people that that need help.

Margaret Greenwood Portrait Margaret Greenwood
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for giving way; she is being very generous.

On helping people to engage in activities that will improve their health, the closure of swimming pools is really serious. In my constituency, we have lost the swimming pool in the Woodchurch estate. I met users there—we were fighting against the closure—and they were clear that they were using the pool to deal with two things: mental health issues and arthritis. That particular estate has a higher-than-average level of deprivation, a higher-than-average level of disability, and more older people living there. For them, the closure has been catastrophic. I recognise that that is not the Minister’s Department, but will she talk with ministerial colleagues and look again at the provision of sport and leisure facilities, particularly in areas of deprivation, so that those people can improve their own health?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Lady for reiterating that point for her constituents. These hubs in the community will deliver both that physical activity and those interventions. I understand her point, and I know that support for pools has come to councils from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. What the hon. Member has said is very specific, and I will take that away in the cross-Government work that I am doing. I think, as well, that it is a lesson for many of our local authorities to think very carefully about the decisions they make and how they affect the whole community. It is vital that people understand that the wider impact might involve losing more than just swimming lessons—and that is not easy in itself. The hon. Member has rightly put that on the record for her constituents.

Employment advice and NHS talking therapies will be included in our interventions, along with individual placement and support in primary care and increasing work coach time in jobcentres. The hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw spoke about making sure that we listen to and engage with people, and do it in the right way, and I wholeheartedly agree with that individual approach.

All these investments are part of a much wider agenda to tackle inactivity due to long-term sickness. We also announced our Back to Work plan in the autumn statement. It includes doubling the number of universal support employment programme places; increasing occupational health take-up in businesses, including SMEs, which is absolutely key; testing new ways of providing individuals receiving a fit note with timely access to their key support; and supporting people with health-related barriers to work through the 15 WorkWell pilot areas that we are working on. WorkWell is accepting applications for funding from local areas across England, with pilot areas due to be announced in April and more details in the autumn. I will be working with the Minister for Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) on this matter.

Vicky Foxcroft Portrait Vicky Foxcroft
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for giving way. She has pointed to a number of Government pilots and I know there are other pilots. In my contribution, I asked whether the Government would be transparent and publish data on those pilots. Does the Minister want to put on the record whether the Government would be willing to do that?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I thank the hon. Lady for that ask. This is still being worked out. I am conscious that one of my predecessors in DWP warned about having “more pilots than easyJet” and about making sure that they work and are right. Once we have more details, I am sure we will be in a position to share them with her, so I will come back to her on that matter. It is early in my tenure, and I want to get to grips with this. When I am in a position to share, of course I will do so.

We have talked about the impact of poor MSK health on individuals and employers. We know that over 20% of employees and self-employed people have an MSK condition and that it is a leading cause of working days being lost through sickness and absence, accounting for over 23 million lost working days. My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling spelt that out strongly. Tackling these disparities and managing these conditions are absolutely key.

When it comes to women, the older population and certain ethnic groups, understanding the prevalence and the impact of the condition and doing more on prevention are key in terms of managing and supporting people. A predominant symptom is pain, which limits people’s mobility and dexterity. Living with pain is awful, managing it is incredibly stark, and it is very difficult for people to fully participate in society, so we need to make sure that people have a healthier home and working life.

We know that osteoporosis, which causes fragility and leads to fractures, disproportionately affects women. The Government’s women’s health strategy is key to understanding specific actions to improve women’s experiences and outcomes in relation to osteoporosis. I look forward to meeting Dame Lesley Regan, our women’s health ambassador, on this matter as soon as our diaries allow. I know she is very focused on this, and we will raise the profile of those issues. I have been very engaged with her in my work on menopause and employment action, and I will continue to do that.

I have talked about supporting employers and workplaces as key enablers for disabled people with health conditions to remain in work, so let me briefly cover prevention. Adults in employment spend a large proportion of their time in work. How we are engaged with in our jobs and workplaces has a massive impact on our health. Therefore, in 2022, the Government and the Society of Occupational Medicine published the MSK health toolkit for employers and further education institutions, which encourages employers to support adolescents and young adults with MSK conditions. We have also produced the MSK toolkit for employers, which has been developed in partnership with Business in the Community and provides practical information for employers of all sizes to address MSK conditions in the workplace for the working age population. We need to look at the adjustments and support there.

I thank Thriiver in my constituency, which is a brilliant group of people who deliver around £4 million to £5 million of support through the Access to Work scheme. They gave me a stark insight into what they feel should be done, which I fed back to my predecessor. We know that the grant scheme plays a key role in enabling people. The point about literacy and digital skills has been noted. I also note that the Chairman is looking at me, so I will conclude.

There are a few matters that I might write to Members about. I think we have all agreed that poor MSK health has a significant impact. The delays to Access to Work are improving—we have been forensic on that. People need support from employers, from Government, the wider economy and the NHS. We will continue to focus on good jobs to help everybody thrive and have fulfilling lives, with the benefit of health and wellbeing behind them. That is the best route out of poverty.

Work and Pensions

Mims Davies Excerpts
Tuesday 19th December 2023

(2 months ago)

Ministerial Corrections
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John Penrose Portrait John Penrose
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Minister agree that the difference between insecure or exploitative work and going plural with a portfolio of well-paid freelance or part-time roles depends on how valuable someone’s skills are? Ministers are rightly offering fresh opportunities for jobseekers to improve their skills, but in a post-pandemic world that is very different from what went before, what plans does she have to revisit and update the recommendations of the Taylor review to protect people whose skills have not yet been upgraded?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
- Hansard - -

I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. As someone who was self-employed for not far off 15 years, I understand where he is coming from. Our work coaches at Jobcentre Plus offices engage with claimants to support access to skills provision. They get a comprehensive range of support, which includes apprenticeships, skills bootcamps, vocational and basic training skills, and careers advice, so that they can work in a way that suits them. Less than 1% of workers on zero-hours contracts want more hours—it is more about caring or other flexibilities—but I am happy to look at the points he has raised in the Chamber today.

[Official Report, 18 December 2023, Vol. 742, c. 1111.]

Letter of correction from the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies).

An error has been identified in the response I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose).

The correct response should have been:

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
- Hansard - -

I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. As someone who was self-employed for not far off 15 years, I understand where he is coming from. Our work coaches at Jobcentre Plus offices engage with claimants to support access to skills provision. They get a comprehensive range of support, which includes apprenticeships, skills bootcamps, vocational and basic training skills, and careers advice, so that they can work in a way that suits them. Less than 1% of workers are on zero-hours contracts and want more hours—it is more about caring or other flexibilities—but I am happy to look at the points he has raised in the Chamber today.

Oral Answers to Questions

Mims Davies Excerpts
Monday 18th December 2023

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

2. What steps his Department is taking to reduce waiting times for Access to Work assessments.

Mims Davies Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mims Davies)
- Hansard - -

Access to Work remains in high demand. We are increasing the number of staff processing Access to Work claims, and prioritising renewal applications for those with a job start within four weeks. We are improving the service through increased digitisation to improve the time from application through to decision.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for her answer. Back in September, I asked the then Minister about the impact of long waiting times for Access to Work assessments on the neurodiverse, and I would like to press further on the impact of long waits for assessments in the NHS. What analysis has been done, and does the Minister appreciate the cost to the economy of not making the right adjustments to unlock such unused potential?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I thank the hon. Member for his point. I, too, pressed the previous Minister on this matter, and I shall be pressing myself going forward. In fact, we met and fed in work involving Thriiver in my constituency, and we have been working with stakeholders, partners and employer organisations to make sure this link is joined up. We are determined that Access to Work will continue to be fit for purpose, and that we will deliver a modern and efficient digital service. Our new online portal is part of that. I think it is key to hear the experiences and to link up with other Departments.

Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome my hon. Friend to her new expanded role in the Department for Work and Pensions. The last time I raised Access to Work with her, it was about a particular blockage in my constituency, and I thank her for resolving that. She will know as well as I do that one of the biggest challenges for young disabled people is the transition into work. What reassurance can she give me that she is prioritising the applications of young people, so that when they move into their first job, that is not impeded by too slow a reaction from Access to Work?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
- Hansard - -

I thank my right hon. Friend, and I hope I am the Minister for getting things done in this brief, as I have been in all my other briefs in my almost five years at the DWP. I will be leaning very much into those details. I will be very clear with the House that the focus on youth transitions is really important for the sector and for the individual people we are talking about. I agree with my right hon. Friend, and I will be looking into that in the new year.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the shadow Minister.

Vicky Foxcroft Portrait Vicky Foxcroft (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to welcome the new Minister to her post. After a week of no news, I was starting to worry that the Prime Minister was not going to appoint anyone. I think she is aware of the huge Access to Work backlog her predecessor failed to tackle. Over the last year, it has reduced by only 942, with a staggering 24,339 still waiting, so hardly a dent has been made. What will she do to speed this up and ensure that thousands of disabled people are not left waiting months to start work?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Lady for her welcome to this post, and I hope that I have already spelled out my commitment to delivering in this brief. I think that prioritising the process of Access to Work claims, renewals and job starts within four weeks is key, as is making sure that those with mental health support needs get additional support and that those who are deaf or hard of hearing also get that focus and that reach. I assure the hon. Lady that we have increased the number of staff in this space. On my handover from the previous Minister, I would take issue with the hon. Lady about the focus he had on reforming Access to Work and making sure it was fit for purpose, but I am happy to engage with her further.

Vicky Foxcroft Portrait Vicky Foxcroft
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

All we see from this Government are delays: delays processing Access to Work applications; delays publishing the disability action plan; and now delays in appointing the new Minister. When her new role was finally announced, it had been downgraded from Minister of State to Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State. What message does she think that sends to disabled people, and will she push to be made Minister of State like her predecessor?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Lady for lobbying for my elevation and rank in this House. I am delighted to respond by making it clear to the lobby and to those we are talking about and looking after that that makes no material difference to their day-to-day life. There is no difference in my convening power or in the day-to-day work. Our next cross-Government ministerial disability champions meeting is in the new year. Let me be clear: this is not about rank. We are sent to this House to serve people and to engage and listen, and I will do that whatever the title or rank.

Louie French Portrait Mr Louie French (Old Bexley and Sidcup) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

3. What steps his Department is taking to support the long-term unemployed into work.

--- Later in debate ---
John Penrose Portrait John Penrose (Weston-super-Mare) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

6. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of insecure employment on people in poverty.

Mims Davies Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mims Davies)
- Hansard - -

This Government have made it clear that we believe that work is the best route out of poverty. It is important for different types of work to exist, as each individual worker’s circumstances are personal to them, and DWP has an in-work progression offer to support low-paid claimants to progress into better-paid and more secure employment.

John Penrose Portrait John Penrose
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Minister agree that the difference between insecure or exploitative work and going plural with a portfolio of well-paid freelance or part-time roles depends on how valuable someone’s skills are? Ministers are rightly offering fresh opportunities for jobseekers to improve their skills, but in a post-pandemic world that is very different from what went before, what plans does she have to revisit and update the recommendations of the Taylor review to protect people whose skills have not yet been upgraded?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
- Hansard - -

I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. As someone who was self-employed for not far off 15 years, I understand where he is coming from. Our work coaches at Jobcentre Plus offices engage with claimants to support access to skills provision. They get a comprehensive range of support, which includes apprenticeships, skills bootcamps, vocational and basic training skills, and careers advice, so that they can work in a way that suits them. Less than 1% of workers on zero-hours contracts want more hours—it is more about caring or other flexibilities—but I am happy to look at the points he has raised in the Chamber today.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the Chair of the Select Committee.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
- Hansard - -

I thank the Chair of the Select Committee for his question. In fact, I have an Uber T-shirt from my time as employment Minister, which the company gave me when it brought in the pension. I applaud the work that Uber has done to support its workforce. The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point, which is actually for another Department, but I will take those messages away.

Andrew Western Portrait Andrew Western (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

8. What steps his Department is taking to help reduce the number of children in poverty.

Mary Glindon Portrait Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

20. What steps his Department is taking to help reduce the number of children in poverty.

Mims Davies Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mims Davies)
- Hansard - -

In 2023-24 we are spending around £124 billion through the welfare system on people of working age and children. Evidence shows the importance of work in reducing the risk of child poverty. With over 900,000 vacancies across the UK, our focus is on supporting parents into, and to progress within, work. Our recent autumn statement announcements, which included the back to work plan, increasing benefits and increasing the national living wage, are all part of our clear approach to ensuring that everybody gets the right support to progress and thrive.

Andrew Western Portrait Andrew Western
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hear what the Minister says, but a recent report from UNICEF showed that of 39 OECD and EU countries, the UK came last in terms of improvements in child poverty between 2012 and 2021. As a result, one in five children in my constituency of Stretford and Urmston are growing up in poverty. What more can the Minister do to address this truly appalling situation?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that report. I have looked at it, and it is important that we react to it. I point to our record of action. When it comes to further support for households with low incomes, we have heard in the Chamber—indeed, the Secretary of State mentioned this—about raising local housing allowance back to the 30th percentile, which will benefit 1.6 million low-income households by, on average, £800 a year in 2024-25. When that is added to the national living wage, the uprating of benefits and the availability of work, we are determined that those families will progress.

Janet Daby Portrait Janet Daby
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

According to End Child Poverty, 30% of children in Lewisham East were in poverty in 2021-22, while Lewisham food banks have seen a 42% increase compared to 2022. That comes after 13 years of this Conservative Government. To make matters worse, the reported cut to the national household support fund means that more than £13 million for households across Lewisham have been taken away. Is the Minister really serious about showing the leadership needed to stop families in my constituency from falling into destitution?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
- Hansard - -

I am really serious about supporting our young people. In fact, in Lewisham the household support fund, which is my domain, has allocated an additional £13.3 million to support the hon. Lady’s constituents. There are local hubs for debt management and engagement with the local authority, and warm welcome hubs. I say to anybody struggling in her constituency to look at the benefits calculators, and indeed help for households, on gov.uk.

Mary Glindon Portrait Mary Glindon
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Figures from the Trussell Trust show that in the six months between April and September, food banks in the north-east provided a record 26,000 emergency food parcels for children, with the need having doubled over the past five years. The majority of families who turn to food banks do so because their income, whether from social security or from wages, is too low to afford the basic essentials. Will the Minister explain why the current design of universal credit is failing these families?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
- Hansard - -

As we have heard from the Secretary of State, 400,000 fewer children are in absolute poverty, and we thank our food banks for the work they do in supporting our communities. We do take this seriously. We have added food security questions to the family resources survey, and we will absolutely look at that. I would point to the hon. Member’s constituency having been allocated an additional £8 million in the last household support fund for exactly those families.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the shadow Secretary of State.

Liz Kendall Portrait Liz Kendall (Leicester West) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On Friday, pupils at Shaftesbury Junior School in my constituency gave me the lovely Christmas earrings that I am wearing, which they made themselves using computer-aided design. I am so proud of all their achievements, especially when more than a third of Leicester’s children are growing up in poverty, with all the challenges that brings. As my hon. Friends have said, figures from UNICEF show that under this Government the UK has had the biggest increase in child poverty out of the world’s 40 wealthiest countries. My question is simple: what is the Minister going to do about it?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady will have heard about our work on the LHA. I am extremely proud of the difference that it will make to families in her constituency and mine. With almost 1 million job vacancies across the UK, our firm believe is that supporting all families to progress and do well is the right thing to do. That comes with the full uprating that we have done this year on working-age benefits and supporting the LHA. The hon. Lady made the point that it has been a difficult time, and the household support fund and the cost of living payments, which start again on 6 February, will assist.

Liz Kendall Portrait Liz Kendall
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister is completely out of touch with the reality facing families in Britain today: 3.8 million people face severe hardship this year, including 1 million children. Quite frankly, that is a shameful figure that has almost trebled since this Government abolished Labour’s Child Poverty Act 2010. Millions of parents are now worried about how they will feed, clothe or keep their children warm this Christmas, let along how they will buy them presents. When will the Minister change course, follow Labour’s lead and deliver a cross-Government child poverty strategy that gives every child the start in life that they deserve?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
- Hansard - -

We will absolutely not follow Labour’s lead—let us look at their record. People might be worried ahead of Christmas. Cost of living payments, the household support fund, the benefits calculator and help for households are all out there. I want the people watching now to know that support is there. Progression will vary depending on circumstances; we have a tailored approach. We have 37 district progression leads to help exactly those families that the hon. Lady talks about.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the Scottish National party spokesperson.

David Linden Portrait David Linden (Glasgow East) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The actions that we take to lift children out of poverty say an awful lot about our values. In Scotland, we have lifted 90,000 children out of poverty, with measures such as the game-changing Scottish child payment. Here in London, we have a Westminster Government, supported by the Labour party, wedded to a two-child policy that pushes 250,000 children into poverty. What does the Minister think it says about Westminster’s values on child poverty that they are wedded to a two-child policy with a rape clause?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
- Hansard - -

Adults in workless households are seven times more likely to be in poverty than those in working households. That is why our focus is on work. The Scotland Act 2016 gave the Scottish Parliament the powers that have been invoked, including on the child payment, and that is very pleasing for us. The Act transferred those powers for carers and disability benefits, worth £3.3 billion. The hon. Gentleman and his Government can make the decisions that suit their communities. That is the right approach.

Damien Moore Portrait Damien Moore (Southport) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

9. What steps his Department is taking to help pensioners with the cost of living.

--- Later in debate ---
Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)
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12. Whether he has made an assessment of the potential implications for his policies of UNICEF’s report entitled “Child Poverty in the Midst of Wealth”.

Mims Davies Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mims Davies)
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The overall number of children in absolute poverty after housing costs remained stable between 2020-21 and 2021-22. The latest statistics show that in 2021-22 there were 400,000 fewer children in absolute poverty, after housing costs, than in 2009-10. The Government continue to provide comprehensive support to help people find, progress in and thrive in work, recognising that that has to be sustainable in tackling poverty.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)
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A couple of weeks ago, when I asked the Prime Minister why 34% of children in Stockton North live in poverty, he claimed that child poverty was down. But even if we rely on his and his Government’s unique measuring tool, child poverty is still up, considerably, across every part of the north-east under his watch. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 1 million British children have suffered destitution in the past year. When will the Prime Minister and his Ministers stop pretending that they care and make way for a Labour Government who will sort out the mess that shames the Tories?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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The Government are determined to ensure that all children, wherever they come from, have the best start in life. We are committed to supporting families and helping them into work. The full uprating, this year and last, is the signal.

Richard Burgon Portrait Richard Burgon (Leeds East) (Lab)
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14. What steps his Department is taking to help reduce the number of people experiencing destitution.

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Virginia Crosbie Portrait Virginia Crosbie (Ynys Môn) (Con)
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21. What steps his Department is taking to encourage people who are economically inactive owing to long-term sickness and disability to return to work.

Mims Davies Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mims Davies)
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The Government have a range of initiatives to help disabled people and people with health conditions to start, stay in and succeed in work. We built on that in the autumn statement by expanding universal support, launching WorkWell pilots, reforming the fit note and establishing an expert group on occupational health.

Virginia Crosbie Portrait Virginia Crosbie
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Does the Minister agree that the Disability Confident jobs fair that I am hosting in Holyhead with my brilliant Anglesey DWP team is an opportunity for excellent local businesses such as Hafan y Môr and Llechwedd Meats, and organisations such as Môn Communities Forward and the Menter Môn enterprise hub, to help people with disabilities back into work, and will she lobby the Secretary of State to visit Ynys Môn in February to open the disability jobs fair?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I do not want to commit the Secretary of State, but I have a feeling that he will be in Ynys Môn in February. I thank my hon. Friend for the huge amount of work that she does in respect of local jobcentres, and for her work with those employers. I met her just last week to discuss her focus on young people. Her Local Jobs for Local People campaign is a great example of her tireless work for the future of the community in Ynys Môn—so, iechyd da!

Siobhan Baillie Portrait Siobhan Baillie (Stroud) (Con)
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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

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Mike Penning Portrait Sir Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con)
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I have patiently sat through questions, and I have not heard Disability Confident mentioned once. Disability Confident was, and I hope still is, a very successful scheme that I launched when I was a Minister—I went around the country with Simon Weston. Can I have confidence that the scheme is still in place?

Mims Davies Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mims Davies)
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My right hon. Friend will be delighted to know it is at the heart of the work that the Employment Minister spoke about today. It is at the heart of our disability action plan, which Members will hear more about in the new year. I advise all employers to focus on being disability confident and employing with confidence, rather than just writing about it on a website.

Marion Fellows Portrait Marion Fellows (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)
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After the UK Government appallingly downgraded the dedicated role of disabilities Minister, Scope’s executive director, James Taylor, wrote to the Prime Minister saying that

“the UK’s 16 million disabled people deserve so much better than this treatment.”

It is a clear message that the UK Government do not view disabled people as a priority. Will this Government urgently reverse their decision and reinstate the role?

Robert Buckland Portrait Sir Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con)
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I warmly welcome the new disabilities Minister, as I know she shares my passion for closing the autism employment gap. Will she work with me, as we reach the closing stages of my independent review of autism and employment, to make sure that the publication of the report will be the beginning of a process whereby we can dramatically tackle the scandal of having fewer than three in 10 autistic adults in employment?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for the opportunity to build on that incredible work, which will be life-changing for many of our constituents. The people we are talking about today are not statistics; they are humans, and they need to have a real difference in their lives. For Opposition Members, and everyone else listening today, let me say that I am determined to make sure that those people have a voice across Government and that I use my experience to deliver.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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Further to the point made by the hon. Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon), a recent report by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research suggested that destitution in Northern Ireland is set to rise to 67%. That is a truly horrific and worrying figure. What discussions has the Minister had with partners back home in Northern Ireland on this matter?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this point. Our focus is on tackling poverty and making sure that work supports everyone across the UK. I am delighted to be coming to Northern Ireland fairly soon, when I will pick up those discussions further.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con)
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The great working city of Gloucester has a high employment rate, but we still have some people who could help to fill vacancies in both city and county. So the Gloucester opportunities fair on 23 February provides a great opportunity not just for all my constituents, including to get free advice on debt, volunteering and benefits, but perhaps for the new Employment Minister, whom I welcome to her place, to come to join us in celebrating the availability in Gloucester and the support for those working there.

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Tim Loughton Portrait Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con)
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May I add my warm welcome to my near neighbour, the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex, as the new disabilities Minister? Does she acknowledge that one feature of covid has been a big increase in the incidence of mental health issues, particularly among younger people? What is her Department doing to tailor its programmes to get those non-working parts of the population who have not been working since covid and are suffering from mental health challenges back into the workforce?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I thank my hon. Friend for welcoming me to this brief. I will still be very much focused on young people and those key transitions in their lives. We have our reform relating to universal support, our fit note reform and our WorkWell partnerships, which launched on 16 November and will support 60,000 long-term sick and disabled people to start, stay and succeed in work. The youth hubs we have at the Department for Work and Pensions, which are focused on the under-25s, zero in on this issue in particular.

Work and Pensions

Mims Davies Excerpts
Thursday 16th November 2023

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Ministerial Corrections
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lee Anderson Portrait Lee Anderson
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I visit businesses on a weekly basis, and one thing they tell me in Ashfield is that they struggle to recruit apprentices. One of the barriers is the requirement for English and maths, because a lot of these young people would make great apprentices but they either messed about at school or have not had that support. What more can we do to get those young people into apprenticeships, and then support them with their maths and English at a later stage?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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We fund apprentices to achieve English and maths qualifications by the end of their apprenticeships. We understand how important they are for people’s long-term career prospects, and we are boosting the rate for those qualifications by 54% from January. We are also piloting flexible English and maths requirements for young people with learning difficulties or disabilities, to ensure that they are not overlooked when it comes to apprenticeship opportunities.

[Official Report, 13 November 2023, Vol. 740, c. 366.]

Letter of correction from the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies).

An error has been identified in my response to my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Lee Anderson). The correct response should have been:

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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We fund apprentices to achieve English and maths qualifications by the end of their apprenticeships. We understand how important they are for people’s long-term career prospects, and we are boosting the funding rate for those qualifications by 54% from January. We are also piloting flexible English and maths requirements for young people with learning difficulties or disabilities, to ensure that they are not overlooked when it comes to apprenticeship opportunities.