Work, health and disability statement

30th November 2017

David Gauke makes a statement on the Government Command Paper on work, health and disability.

With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the Command Paper being published today by my Department and the Department of Health.

Good work promotes good health. It enables people to be economically independent, and gives them more choices and opportunities to fulfil other ambitions in life. A country that works for everyone needs to ensure that all who can work or undertake meaningful activity have the chance to do so, and that the right care and support is in place to enable all to thrive in work throughout their lives. Our labour market is in its strongest position for years, with the United Kingdom’s employment rate at a near historic high of 75% and around 600,000 more disabled people in work than four years ago. Despite this, only around half of disabled people are in work, but many disabled people and people with health conditions can and want to work. That means that too many people are missing the opportunity to develop their talents and connect with the world of work, and the range of positive impacts that come from doing so, including good health and social outcomes. That is why it is important that we act now.

With around one in six working-age adults reporting a disability, it is clear that health and disability issues affect the working lives of millions of people. The majority of long-term health conditions are acquired in adulthood, and inclusive workplaces are imperative in an ageing population. That is why in our manifesto, the Government pledged to see 1 million more disabled people in work over the next 10 years. That is as much about preventing people from falling out of work as it is about supporting them into work, and it requires a comprehensive and wide-ranging programme of action.

Last year, we published “Improving Lives: The Work, Health and Disability Green Paper”, which set out the Government’s new and ambitious approach to the issue and marked the start of a new era in joint working between the welfare and health systems. Our 15-week consultation on the next 10 years of reform sought input from disabled people and those with health conditions, their families, employers and a range of stakeholders. The consultation was supported by 166 accessible events, and received around 6,000 responses. Today, we are publishing “Improving Lives: the Future of Work, Health and Disability”, setting out our responses to the Green Paper consultation, as well as the next steps we will take to deliver our vision.

Changes in the nature of work, and more flexible working models, benefit a wider range of people, and new advances in technology offer more opportunities than ever before. For example, accessible hardware and software, and developments in apps and wearable technology, make it easier for employers to offer flexibility and adaptations to their staff. Small businesses and large employers alike are already implementing these solutions for their employees, and it is for Government to help set the direction and stimulate good ideas.

We know that the barriers to moving into work and staying in work are different for each person, depending on the nature of their health condition or disability, their aspirations and their individual circumstances. We need to work directly with people who experience these barriers to identify solutions that will work. We want to build an approach that is responsive and caters for every scenario, with the individual at its heart.

The change needed is not one that the Government can deliver on their own. Across the country, there are striking examples of what can be achieved when employers, charities and healthcare professionals work together locally, but Government can help create the conditions for success.

In the workplace, employers should have the confidence to recruit and retain disabled people and those with health conditions, and to create healthy and inclusive workplaces where all employees can thrive and progress. The best employers have already realised the business benefits of hiring disabled people, and while there are many examples of good practice, we want to go further.

This Command Paper responds to what we heard in the consultation and to the findings of “Thriving at work: The Stevenson/Farmer review of mental health and employers”. We will improve advice and support for employers of all sizes, working in partnership with them, together with disabled people and other stake- holders, to bring together information and advice that meet businesses’ needs. We will also make significant enhancements to the Access to Work scheme, including by increasing the capacity of its mental health support service.

To support a key recommendation of the Stevenson/Farmer review, we will establish a voluntary framework approach for large employers to report on mental health and disability within their workforce. We are also preparing a consultation on changes to statutory sick pay, and we will run a cross-Government programme of analysis and research to examine the incentives and expectations that influence employers’ decisions in this area. We will report back on the preliminary work next year.

We will build on the key role that the welfare system plays in supporting disabled people and those with health conditions to enter work where possible, by developing a more personalised and tailored approach to employment support. We will continue to learn, for example, through voluntary trials to help us build an effective offer of support that meets the needs of those in the support group. We will also continue to improve the assessment process, while building our evidence base, including by working with external stakeholders to take forward reform of the work capability assessment.

Health and care professionals are vital to supporting disabled people and those with health conditions to achieve their employment potential. We will work with and support health professionals with the tools and techniques they need to have supportive conversations with patients about work and health. We are doubling the number of work and health champions and investing about £39 million to more than double the number of employment advisors in improving access to psychological therapies services. We will also conduct large-scale randomised controlled trials delivering employment support in a health setting in the west midlands and the Sheffield city region, beginning by March 2018.

Alongside this Command Paper, I am also announcing the next steps for the Fit for Work service. Established in December 2014, it offers general health and work advice to employees, employers and GPs through a phone line, a webchat service and a website. Since 2015 it has also provided occupational health assessments for employees at risk of long-term sickness absence, with advice on how they can be supported to return to work and remain in employment.

However, referrals of cases to the service by employers and GPs have been much lower than expected. For instance, there have been only 650 referrals a month in England and Wales, compared with the 34,000 forecast, and 100 a month in Scotland, compared with the estimated 4,200. By contrast, use of the advice line, webchats and Fit for Work website has exceeded expectations. I am therefore ending the contracts for the provision of the assessments service in England and Wales and in Scotland, while ensuring continued access to the Fit for Work online and phone services, which will continue to offer general health and work advice as well as support on sickness absence.

The Government are also announcing the appointment of an expert working group on occupational health to champion and drive a programme of work, taking an in-depth look at the sector.

To inform policy development, we have commissioned research to better understand current market supply and the delivery of occupational health provision. This research will look at local partnership models to integrate health and wider support, and it will report in 2019. We will also take account of the lessons from the Fit for Work service as we move forward.

The Government are laying the foundations for a 10-year programme of change. Everyone has their own part to play to achieve this ambitious vision of a society in which all disabled people and people with long-term health conditions are able to go as far as their talents will take them. I commend this statement to the House.

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David holds regular surgeries at various places in the constituency, including Rickmansworth, South Oxhey, Berkhamsted and Tring. 
Forthcoming dates:


23rd February, South Oxhey
9th March, Berkhamsted
23rd March, Rickmansworth
6th April, Tring
20th April, South Oxhey
4th May, Berkhamsted
18th May, Rickmansworth
8th June, Tring
22nd June, South Oxhey
6th July, Berkhamsted
20th July, Rickmansworth

Call 01923 771781 to make an appointment.

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