The minister responsible for supporting disabled people into work has admitted he has no idea how many former incapacity benefit (IB) claimants have found jobs as a result of his government’s reforms.
Mark Hoban, the Conservative employment minister, is in charge of the government’s Work Programme, and is also responsible for the programme to re-assess 1.5 million disabled people on long-term incapacity benefit (IB) through the much-criticised work capability assessment (WCA).
He and his government have repeatedly spoken of how disabled people were left to languish on IB for years, but have said little about the need to remove the barriers in society that prevent them finding work.
Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, spoke again this week of the “1.5 million people once parked unseen on long term sickness benefits”.
Since the reassessment programme started in 2011, ministers have repeatedly tried to emphasise how many former IB claimants have been found “fit for work”.
And before the programme began, Hoban’s predecessor, Chris Grayling, told the 2010 party conference that he believed about half of those on IB “have the capacity to get back into work”.
But during a Channel 4 fringe event at this week’s Conservative party conference in Manchester, Hoban was asked by Disability News Service (DNS) how many former IB claimants had found work after being reassessed through the WCA.
He said: “I don’t have them to hand. If you look at the number claiming out of work benefits it has fallen.”
Asked again if he had any idea how many former IB claimants had found jobs, he said: “What you see for the first time is people being written off are being assessed fit for work and given the support they need to get into work.”
When asked a third time, he declined to answer, and afterwards, when asked by DNS whether there was anything more he could say, he replied: “No,” and told DNS to speak to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) press office.
DNS later asked the same question of Harriett Baldwin MP, Hoban’s parliamentary private secretary.
She said: “It’s showing up as one of the hardest challenges in terms of the Work Programme. They are as far from the workplace as you can possibly be.
“They are finding with that level of need they are some of the most challenging people they are working with.”
But she also had no idea how many former IB claimants had found jobs, despite eventually producing statistics on the Work Programme and ESA, the replacement for IB.
A DWP spokesman said later that it was “quite difficult to track people all the way from a particular benefit onto jobseeker’s allowance and then into work” because “you would not necessarily know if someone had a job”.
He said: “If someone doesn’t go on to claim another benefit, there would be no reason that they would tell us that they had got a job.”
3 October 2013