§ 5. Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)
What targets his Department has for getting people who claim incapacity benefit into work. 
§ The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Andrew Smith)
None in that form. Our target is to increase the employment rate of disabled people, and to reduce the gap between their rate of employment and the overall employment rate. The proposals in our Green Paper "Pathways to Work" aim to help more people in receipt of incapacity benefit move into jobs.
§ Mr. Gray
The Government may have no targets now, but when they launched the new deal for disabled people their target was to return 90,000 disabled people to jobs within three years. However, Disability Now magazine—which I am sure the Minister respects as much as I do—tells me that the current figure is not 90,000 but 1,400. Why is that?
§ Mr. Smith
If I recall correctly, 8,000 people have moved into jobs through the new deal for disabled people. We need to do more in terms of our overall policy, but we are making good progress on the employment rates of disabled people.
The employment rate for disabled people rose by 4.5 per cent. between 1998 and 2002, and the difference between the disabled and the overall employment rate has fallen by 3 per cent., so the gap is being narrowed. Of course we want to do more—for example, by acting against discrimination against disabled people through building on the experience of the new deal and through the new pilots that we are launching later this year.
§ Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford)
I recently visited the social security office that provides services for my constituency. The staff there embraced and welcomed the new Jobcentre Plus approach. They are on the third phase, but there was a concern that those on the final stages of the roll- out of the new programme will not necessarily get the benefits that those involved in the pilot programme will receive. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that those at the end of the programme will be as well furbished and established in our constituencies as those who are at the beginning?
§ Mr. Smith
Yes, indeed. The whole object, as we develop new programmes and pilot new initiatives, is to learn from experience so that we can ensure that the service improves—for example, through the programme support and personal advisory support that is available, and which, reports tell me, is greatly appreciated by clients of our services.
§ Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)
I am sure that the Secretary of State and, in this respect at least, the whole House may wish to agree with the Prime Minister, who said in a speech last year that it was "a scandal" that 2.7 million people on incapacity or other disability benefits arewritten off, left to drift into long-term incapacity and unemployment".395 After the Conservatives introduced changes in 1995, the incapacity benefit count fell inexorably for five years. Is it not, therefore, genuinely disturbing that, under Labour, it has now bounced back to above the level at which it started, and that the trend, despite the Prime Minister's remarks, is resolutely upwards? When can we have slightly less consultation from the Secretary of State—be it pathways to work, or whatever—and slightly more effective action to tackle this scandal?
§ Mr. Smith
We have already had action, which is why the annual inflow on to incapacity benefit fell by one quarter between 1997 and last year, from 840,000 a year to 640,000. That compares with an inflow rate of 940,000 a year when the Conservatives were in government. Of course we want and need to do more to help people on incapacity benefit who want to work, and are able to work, to get into jobs. Some 150,000 a year move into work at the moment, and I would have hoped that there would be support from the Conservative Front Bench and, indeed, from all hon. Members, for helping still more disabled people to fulfil their potential through work.