I understand that disabled people and their families can encounter many hidden costs, from specialised equipment to travel expenditure.
For this reason, I was delighted to see the publication of the Health and Disability Green Paper. The Green Paper considers how to improve the DWP’s current services so they are better and easier to use, explore how extra support can help people navigate the system as well as what can be done to better support disabled people into employment. Spending in this area increased by almost 5 per cent in 2020 from £19 billion to £20 billion. I look forward to reading the Government's response to the consultation that accompanied the Green Paper when it is published later this year.
I also note that the Chancellor has increased the Household Support Fund by an extra £500 million, taking total funding to £1.5 billion for vulnerable households who need some extra support over the coming months with the cost of essentials. The fund has been available to councils in England since October with councils able to distribute funding within local areas to directly help those who need it most.
To help with travel costs, many councils also offer free or discounted fares and I am encouraged by updates to the Access to Work programme which enable people to access a blended offer that provides support both at home and at someone’s normal place of work.
It is vital that our welfare system supports those who need it and would emphasise that a record £64 billion will be spent this year on benefits to support disabled people and those with health conditions. I know my colleagues across government continue to monitor research and campaigning from a wide variety of sources as they consider the future of welfare and disability policy.
If a home needs to be adapted to meet a child’s needs, I understand that a Disabled Facilities Grant can be paid.
You may be aware that the Government has published a National Disability Strategy, which focuses on the issues that disabled people say affect them the most across all aspects and phases of life, including education, housing and transport. I understand that the Strategy has been challenged in the courts, and that while the Government is appealing the decision, Ministers remain focused on their continued commitment to disabled people.
Although there are no plans to officially use the term 'people of determination' as has been done in the United Arab Emirates, I strongly welcome plans to develop a UK-wide campaign to increase public awareness and understanding of disability, to dispel stereotypes and to promote the diverse contributions that disabled people have made, and continue to make, to public life.
I welcome that the Government has exceeded its target of seeing 1 million more disabled into work by 2027 almost five years ahead of schedule, with 1.3 million more disabled people in work as of May 2022 than in 2017. A wide range of initiatives are available to support disabled people to stay in work or move into work, including contracted employment support including Access to Work, Disability Confident, and initiatives in partnership with the health system. The Government’s Plan for Jobs provides new funding to ensure more people, including those with health conditions get tailored Jobcentre Plus support to help them find work and to build the skills they need to get into work.
This includes £895m for 13,500 additional Work Coaches who have been successfully recruited. The Restart Programme will support individuals who have been unemployed for over 12 months and through regular, personalised support providers will work with participants to identify the best way to support them into sustained employment.
If employees with epilepsy need workplace support beyond the cost of reasonable adjustment, Access to Work can help. Access to Work is supporting thousands more people with disabilities and health conditions than ever before. In 2019, Access to Work funded tailored and flexible support for 43,000 people, a 20 per cent increase on the previous year.
I understand that from April 2021, the Disability Employment Advisors (DEA) Direct Support have been strengthened to include an element of Direct Support to customers with health condition or disability who require additional support over and above the ESA and Universal Credit core offer.
Finally, I understand that any question of changing the tax regime is a matter for the Treasury and I understand careful consideration will be given to any proposed amendments to current tax rates. I shall be following the developments on this issue closely, and I will ensure my colleagues at the Treasury are aware of the strength of feeling on this issue.