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Wednesday, 31 July, 2002, 16:23 GMT 17:23 UK
Action urged over jobless disabled
Disabled protesters
The committee's report praised some areas of policy
Disabled and sick job seekers feel "written off" and require urgent government help to get them back into work, says a committee of MPs.

The Work and Pensions select committee say that the UK has the highest working-age sickness in the EU.


The government's employment strategy lies at the heart of the social and economic agenda

Archie Kirkwood
Committee chairman
The committee says there should be yearly interviews with employment service staff to help with practical problems but that those interviews should not be linked to benefits.

"Considerable anxiety" existed among sick and disabled people that they would have benefits stopped if the issue of work was even raised.

Last year saw a political row over plans for MOT-style tests for disabled and sick benefit claimants.

Archie Kirkwood
Mr Kirkwood is the committee's chairman
They meant that claimants had to attend an interview or their benefit claims will be stopped.

The MPs report said: "Urgent and sympathetic action is needed by the government to address worklessness among sick and disabled people, too many of whom feel written off by society despite their desire to work."

While there was general support from the cross-party committee for government employment policies the MPs recommended a shake-up of the New Deal and urged action to boost ethnic minority employment levels.

Currently they run at 17% below the average.

Income by 500m

Committee chairman, Liberal Democrat Archy Kirkwood, acknowledged there had been "impressive" strides in reducing youth unemployment thanks to the New Deal.

That fall had increased national income by around 500m a year.

Now it was time to shift the focus of the New Deal towards older unemployed people, benefit claimants, lone parents and other disadvantaged groups.

There was also a call in the report for streamlining of the benefits system to allow employment advisers more flexibility so help could be tailored to individual and local needs.

The committee said lessons could be learned from both the US and Dutch systems which help those ready to enter the job market to find work quickly.

Other help could be provided in terms of training and also the development of soft skills such as good time keeping, being of smart appearance and getting on with colleagues.

"Intensive personal help" could also be provided to people with extra problems such as to drug abusers and former offenders.

Existing schemes aimed at tackling unemployment hotspots should be extended to a further 15 areas, the MPs said.

Entrepreneurial spirit?

New measures such as encouraging people to set up their own businesses should be considered.

Mr Kirkwood said: "The Government's employment strategy lies at the heart of the social and economic agenda.

"Although the committee were generally satisfied with the strategy, the report contains proposals for a considerable number of improvements."

See also:

04 Jul 01 | Politics
22 Oct 01 | Politics
17 Jul 02 | Business
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