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Column 966Disability--is commendable, but the Government, working in concert with local authorities, could do much more to ensure that both private homes and public buildings are adapted to meet the needs of disabled people. I hope that the Minister will ensure that that happens in future.
In Kelso, in my constituency, disabled people must travel for long distances to use the specially-adapted toilets. A regional councillor told me that they are charged £5 for a key to give them access to a national system of public toilets for the disabled. I consider it entirely unnecessary to charge disabled people such sums for the use of facilities that they are bound to need when they are out and about, and I hope that such matters will not be far from the Minister's agenda.
The benefits for which "The Way Ahead" provides fall considerably short of what is needed. I do not underestimate the difficulties. I welcome the OPCS reports. We shall be able to draw on them in the weeks and months to come. They will inform our debates, which will be better for the information that the OPCS reports provide. The Government's response has been niggardly in a number of respects. I hope that the Minister for Social Security will say at the earliest possible opportunity that "The Way Ahead" is not the last word. I agree that there is a difference between the machinery that is devised to deliver financial assistance to disabled people and the levels at which benefits are set. I accept that the framework must be right before we can deal with the levels of benefit, about which we might argue. However, we must devise a more comprehensive disability income scheme. "The Way Ahead" is a move in the right direction, with the new credit system and the new disability allowance, but the opportunity that the publication of the OPCS reports provides will not come again for a long time. We must seize it. We must consult the disability pressure groups and those who understand, from their direct personal experience, what the problems are and ensure that the machinery is right. Even if we cannot agree on the money that should be devoted immediately to the problem, the machinery must be right.
The publication of "The Way Ahead" must lead to real consultation. That does not mean that the Minister for Social Security just sits with his door open all the time, as he keeps saying. I am sure that his door is always open and that the central heating system in Richmond house ensures that he does not sit in a draught, but when people come through his door he must listen to them and take account of what is said to him so that the machinery is right and comprehensive and able to deal with the problems.
The existing system is complex. We must try to do away with the many anomalies. The amount of benefit varies, depending on the type of disability, the age at which the disability occurred and the national insurance contributions that have been paid. That leads to vast differences in the amount of benefit received, even though the problems that people have to overcome in their daily lives are much the same. The amount can vary by as much as £200. We must seize this opportunity to get rid of those anomalies. Opposition spokesmen will always argue that the amount of money that is devoted by the Government in the short term to the needs of the disabled is inadequate. A comprehensive system is needed. It will be a crying shame if we do not seize the opportunity that the OPCS reports provide to tackle the problem.
Column 967The Government have dealt only with the cost of attendance and mobility allowances. Apart from those costs, the need to have a carer and the need to obtain assistance in order to be mobile are urgent and must be provided for. If the Government intend to be fair to the disabled and to allow them to contribute to the life of their local communities, the additional costs that would allow them to do so must be met. They cannot run away from the fact that the disabled suffer from considerable disadvantages if they wish to participate in the life of their local communities.
As for the Government's plans for the elderly, we must not get into the habit of thinking that disability is a normal part of the aging process. It is not. Old age is not a disease. All too easily we slip into the way of thinking that because people are old it is natural that they should be disabled. That is an absurd assumption. The three steps that the Government have announced for dealing with disability in the immediate future erect age hurdles in the case of some disabilities in a way that is unjustified and completely unfair. The severe disablement allowance levels are far too low. They should be increased at least to the level of the state retirement pension. That would help significantly the elderly who are also disabled. As for carers, I have spoken to a number of pressure groups that represent the interests of carers. They believe that they have been left completely out of the proposals. The Minister could reasonably point to the £10 premium and to the other ways in which he intends to help them. He acknowledges that there is a problem. However, the carers feel that they have been let down. They were promised that the consultations that would follow publication of the OPCS reports would involve them closely. They are bitterly disappointed that little attention has been paid to their needs. I share their disappointment. The Government will have to return soon to the problem. Other hon. Members have referred to the difficulties that are experienced by carers. I am sure that the point will be returned to again later in the debate.
The carers' organisation has put forward a perfectly reasonable plan. It would lead to carers being recompensed. They are not looking for a real income. However, they do not want to be financially disadvantaged. I hope that the Minister will consider commissioning research that is similar to one of the six OPCS studies. I should like him to examine the financial implications of the cost of caring. The information that is available to me does not enable me to judge how much it would cost to extend a flat rate, non-means-tested allowance to carers. It might amount to a considerable sum of money. We may be unable immediately to remove age hurdles and to deliver financial assistance to carers. It is dangerous to refer to such changes unless we know how much money is involved. At the moment we do not know how much money is involved, nor does the Department. The OPCS reports have highlighted that problem. I hope that the Government will find an opportunity to remedy that omission. We need to move as quickly as possible to a three-way financial package for the disabled. It will embrace, first, a pension for those who cannot work ; secondly, an adequate partial capacity benefit for those who can work, but only
Column 968a little ; and, thirdly, a full-costs allowance to recognise the additional costs incurred by disabled people because of their disability. If these benefits were set at adequate levels they would guarantee that the disabled would not be denied participation in the communities in which they live.
Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton) : I listened with interest to what the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) said about carers. The recognition of their role and the increased help that we are giving them featured in the Secretary of State's statement last autumn. Both sides of the House admire the Minister of State's effective concern for the disabled and particularly the position of carers, and I hope that he will be able to respond to the hon. Gentleman at the end of the debate.
I was moved by the speech made by the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse), and I share his interest in the matter. My maternal grandfather, who died before I was born, suffered from similar problems because he was gassed in the first world war. I remember my mother telling me about the treatment and handling that he needed in the foggy, nasty autumn and winter weather that can occur near Manchester, where they lived. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will be able to respond effectively to the hon. Gentleman.
So far, the debate has been reasonably bipartisan, but allegations about success, or the lack of it, under different Administrations have been made. Over the past 10 years, the Government have greatly improved care for the long-term sick and disabled. Total expenditure on cash benefits increased by almost 100 per cent. in real terms between 1979 and 1989. As my right hon. Friend the Minister of State said, the average annual real increase in spending on the long-term sick and disabled was £220 million under the Labour Government and has been £370 million during the 10 years of this Government. These are important contrasts to bear in mind, although the money is being spent on more disabled people. We need to investigate why this Government have been so successful at drawing out people to claim these benefits.
We should not allow ourselves to be too gloomy, although I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price) said in his final words. Seventy per cent. of disabled people told the second OPCS survey, published in November 1988, that they were satisfied with their standard of living. Only 8 per cent. of disabled householders said that they were getting into financial difficulties. However, most disabled adults do incur extra costs as a result of their disability, and we are grateful to OPCS for pointing that out. The second report also stated that almost 70 per cent. of disabled adults were aged 60 or more, but that disabled pensioners enjoyed roughly the same level of income as other pensioners. It is important to remember that.
The Government have successfully increased provision for the social services, which is a local authority function. Funding for community care services has risen by 68 per cent. since 1979 ; capital expenditure on social services has risen by 40 per cent. in real terms in the same period.
Community services have been vastly increased. Since 1980, the number of meals on wheels delivered has risen by 11 per cent. and the number of home helps by 28 per cent. The number of field social workers has increased by 22 per
Column 969cent. and the number of those treated by district nurses by 14 per cent. Between 1978 and 1988, the number of places in residential homes for the mentally handicapped doubled from 14,000 to 28,500. Those are significant successes.
I am glad that the Government are continuing to give strong support to the voluntary sector. Grants to charities, as a result of tax incentives in various Budgets, have increased by 75 per cent. more than inflation since 1979.
Twenty or so years ago, I worked as a civil servant in the Department of Employment and I want to mention the success of the Department in assisting disabled people, particularly through employment training. Between 1984 and 1989 the number of people with disabilities who participated in the Department's training programmes rose from 10,500 to more than 44,000.
My right hon. Friend mentioned that certain transport facilities are helping disabled people. Certainly, British Rail has introduced facilities for the disabled at InterCity stations and on main line services, but at many stations, including at Taunton, there are still gruesome steps for disabled people to negotiate. I must pay tribute to British Rail. More than a year ago I took up a constituency case of a disabled person being brought down from London with helpers. On the previous journey there had been a mess-up and the person's disability had not been recognised, but as a result of my intervention excellent help was offered on subsequent journeys. I must also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), who cannot be here today, but who is interested in this subject. He is beginning a campaign to ensure that new homes take account of the needs of various minorities with disabilities. For example, many new homes are built with ridiculously narrow doorways that are extremely difficult for wheelchairs to negotiate. Finally, I wish to refer to how the community charge will affect disabled people, a number of whom enjoyed some relief under the previous, property-related rateable system. Conservative Members must recognise that some will lose their relief and not have it replaced under the new individual, service-related system. I have corresponded about such cases in my constituency. We must, however recognise that disabled people on low incomes who qualify will receive generous rebates and favourable terms under the transitional arrangements, and for that we are grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities.
I want to repeat a point about pensions that I have raised with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State before, but this time in the context of the disabled. It concerns the capital threshold, which has caused problems with rebates for community charge-paying pensioners. This applies particularly to disabled people who own sums of money. Some, for example, may have been badly injured in motor accidents and will thus have been paid --not necessarily large sums of compensation. We all agree that if someone has more than, say, £12,000, he should not qualify for assistance from other taxpayers ; but many people hovering around the £8,000 limit do not qualify for housing benefit rebates under the present rules and will not qualify for community charge rebates. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be able to do more about that.
We must remember that disabled people often cannot take part in community activities for which the community charge will pay. We must, however, point out to them that
Column 970the charge will substantially fund education, social services, the police and fire services which all members of the community enjoy whether or not they are disabled. I hope that we shall be able to persuade more local authorities to improve access to libraries, swimming pools and other facilities so that disabled people can enjoy them.
I began by pointing out the Government's spending achievements over the past 10 years. Those successes were achieved on the back of major economic success. Only if we retain a Government who can continue this economic success will we be able to meet the high objectives that my hon. Friend the Minister has set himself.
Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South) : We had a good debate on disablement on Monday. I do not propose to repeat my condemnation of the Social Security Bill, but I should like to consider some of the basic problems faced by disabled people. Their main difficulties are poverty, lack of rights, discrimination and unemployment. The Government have failed to tackle those problems effectively. We all know that most disabled people are poor. The main source of income for 75 per cent. of them is state benefits. The income of the few who are employed is significantly less than that of able-bodied workers. The Government are at fault for not doing enough for disabled people. The average real value of benefits that disabled people receive has risen by less than 1 per cent. in the past decade, while the value of average male earnings has risen 36.5 per cent. That is a cause for shame and shows the Government's neglect of disabled people.
We need--and this has been spelt out time and again--a comprehensive disablement income, payable to all disabled people according to the severity of their disablement and not according to means. As important as incomes are rights. The Minister for Social Security assured us that he is in the process of implementing the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986--the Tom Clarke Act, as we call it, which is a major measure on disabled people's rights which should have been implemented fully long ago.
With low incomes and few rights, it is not surprising that disabled people suffer discrimination. Judging from the discussions that I have had with many disabled people and their organisations, they are discriminated against every day of their lives. Discrimination severely affects disabled people. Government statements that there is insufficient evidence of discrimination are pure gobbledegook ; I can testify to the damage that it causes. Disabled people are not allowed access to public buildings ; they are not allowed to take holidays in the places where they want ; they are sometimes not allowed into pubs and clubs ; and they are not allowed jobs for which they are fitted. Such discrimination against disabled people in the 1990s is appalling. How do we deal with it? We do so not by begging, pleading or urging but by demanding that they be given new rights under legislation. Such rights are given by most member states of the European Community. Last year, the United States' Senate passed a marvellous Bill giving disabled people entirely new rights. The United States is leading the world and is not allowing disabled people to be treated as second-class citizens. Those rights are tremendous advances on measures in other countries.
Column 971The Bill has outlawed discrimination against disabled people and protected them from discrimination in transport, employment, public accommodation, hotels, restaurants, shops, telecommunications and services provided by state and local government.
Why cannot Britain give such a lead instead of falling behind European Community countries and the United States? We have so often led the world in the past, but now we are not even following those countries. Whenever Bills have been introduced to outlaw not only general discrimination but unjustified discrimination, the Government have rejected them. I am sorry that the Government chose to do that, but I hope that the Minister for Social Security and his colleagues will change their minds.
Discrimination is most visible in the realm of employment. No fewer than 70 per cent. of Britain's disabled people of working age have no job. Evidence shows that many of them are unemployed because of discrimination.
The Minister will know--my political opponent but good friend the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) joins me in this--that the all-party disablement group has been anxious to preserve the quota system. For the past 15 years, we have opposed attempts by successive Governments to dismantle it. It is not a perfect system and we do not stick rigidly to it, but we insist that that legislative safeguard should remain in force and should be properly enforced and implemented. That is not being done at present, and we believe that the Government should pay far more attention to it. They should stop throwing permits around like confetti ; the Labour Government also showered permits around like confetti. We should like to see the quota system enforced and a few prosecutions of bad employers. We should like Britain to follow the example of Germany, where a levy is imposed on employers who do not fulfil their quota. Those are reasonable demands to make. We are after jobs for disabled people. My final point--I shall not keep saying that this is my final point--is that in seeking rights and opportunities for disabled people we must include those for whom care and support are vital. We should remember the case of Beverley Lewis, the deaf-blind woman who starved to death in appalling conditions. We must find out how and why that happened and how we can avoid such tragedies in the future. The only way of doing so is to hold a public inquiry. I hope that the Minister will agree to that. I hope that whoever replies to the debate will answer that point.
This is a package of constructive proposals and I offer it to the House with all good will. The proposals are designed to further the wellbeing of disabled people. If they are adopted, we will have gone a long way towards a better deal for the disabled. I hope that the Minister and his colleagues will act on them.
Mr. John Hannam (Exeter) : I am very pleased to follow the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) in the debate. I would like to have a fiver for every time I have followed him in similar disablement debates in the past 15 years. He has made some valid points with
Column 972which I agree. I welcome the opportunity to debate the needs of disabled people and I only wish that we had more time available to go into many more of the relevant issues.
I do not, however, welcome the terms of the Opposition motion, which fails to reflect the tremendous improvements that have taken place under this Government : nor does it reflect the opportunities that still lie ahead. When I first became involved in working with disabled people in the late 1960s, very few disability organisations existed and only a handful of benefits were available for people with handicaps. As my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price) pointed out, what a change has taken place in the intervening years. The all-party disablement group recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. It is worth remembering that the group was established to help promote the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, which was piloted through Parliament by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris). Since then we have seen disabled people brought out of the shadows and given their right to play a full role in our community. The Opposition have tried tonight--and I believe have failed--to make a case that under the present Government the disabled have suffered setbacks. As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security pointed out in his excellent speech, that is plainly not the case, and the evidence speaks for itself in the huge increase in both the numbers of, and the cash benefits for, the long-term sick and disabled--somewhere near a 100 per cent. increase in real terms since 1979.
It is not just the increased benefits which are important, however--this is a thread running through a number of speeches this evening. The past 10 years have also seen welcome changes in attitudes towards disabled people. The accelerated moves towards independent living and community care have focused people's attention on the less fortunate who suffer from physical and mental handicaps. The historical myths associating inability with disability are gradually disappearing, especially when we think about historical figures who have suffered from such disabilities : people like Beethoven with his advancing deafness who nevertheless produced the Choral symphony, and Van Gogh who, while becoming increasingly mentally ill, painted masterpieces that are now worth a fortune. Last week I helped to launch the National Dyslexia Awareness Campaign in the company of a number of famous people who suffer from that learning handicap--Susan Hampshire, Duncan Goodhew, Beryl Reid and the architect, Richard Rodgers.
With all our involvement with various disabilities, it was therefore no surprise to me that the OPCS surveys showed that some 6.5 million people in this country suffer various degrees of handicap ; but the fact that all this activity is taking place is surely a welcome sign that we are making constant progress towards the day when disabled people are not prevented from fulfilling their maximum potential by educational, financial, employment or access barriers. Welcome changes have been achieved recently. I instance the launch of the accessible taxi, something that we are now taking for granted but which took many years of campaigning and design work to achieve. We have the extension of the mobility allowance to deaf-blind people, and many of us were involved in that campaign for some eight years. We have additional money for cochlear implants under the National Health Service, the carers'
Column 973addition in income support, and, the major landmark--and I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke)--the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986, not yet fully implemented.
The current Session is extremely important for disabled people. The Government are legislating on community care and launching their proposals for community benefits ; they will shortly publish the conclusions of the review of employment services for disabled people ; and the House will soon have an opportunity to debate the recommendations of the Warnock report in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill and the contributions that such research can make to the prevention of genetically-inherited disabling diseases. We also have the issue of student loans which gives us the opportunity to consider the amount of support currently given to disabled students in higher education.
It is important that these Bills should improve and facilitate the full integration of disabled people and continue to break down the barriers which still abound.
I would like to touch on some current issues and put forward what I hope will be constructive pointers for the future.
On disability benefits, although I accept that there has been some criticism of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for not going far enough towards the goal of a disablement cost allowance, I believe that he has made substantial progress, given the financial constraints on the economy. He personally exerted maximum pressure on the Treasury and gained enough resources to establish the basis for further progress over the coming years. There is now a political consensus across parties and the disablement lobby that independent living is good and should be welcomed and encouraged. However, it is vital that this move is accompanied by adequate income for disabled people, or we could face the same problems that we face with the discharged mentally handicapped in the community.
There is some concern that the White Paper's proposals fall short of the disablement cost allowance which has long been advocated, especially as they do not cover costs for such things as extra heating, laundry, diet and unprescribed medication and do not meet the needs of the severely disabled people, whose costs can be substantially greater than the OPCS reports showed. I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has partially recognised that point in the White Paper by stating that supplementary arrangements may be necessary for a small group of disabled people. I hope that there will now be full consultation with the various organisations involved to make this work effectively and become reality.
I welcome also the introduction of a partial incapacity benefit through employment credit. I hope that it will be followed by full consultation with disability organisations to ensure that we get the system right. I welcome the increases to the severe disablement allowance, although they are not yet enough to achieve the level of the equivalent contributory benefit--invalidity benefit. We promised that in our 1979 manifesto, and I hope that it remains the Government's eventual aim. It would be helpful if this and other aims were spelt out, resources identified and target dates set for their achievement, otherwise there is a danger of piecemeal, ad hoc reform of the system. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State does not intend or want that.
Column 974I mentioned the student loans legislation. I welcome the Government's commitment to wider access to higher education. Recently, the all-party group had a meeting with various bodies involved in education for the handicapped and with the education Minister. We pointed out that the current arrangements for disabled students were in desperate need of review and that there was a danger that the student loans proposals would inhibit access for disabled students. They face extra costs during their time at university or college and, of course, after graduation. That must be taken into account when judging the level of disabled students allowance and of loan repayments. I am grateful to the Parliamentary Under- Secretary of State for Education and Science for the consultations that he has set up with disability organisations and for his commitment to review the disabled students allowance. It is vital that more consideration is also given to the proposals for a fourth access fund for disabled students.
We see evidence of the progress being made when we look at community care. The Government rightly recognise that community care services must be consumer-led and must, as they say in the White Paper,
"respond flexibly and sensitively to individual needs and allow a range of options for consumers".
Disabled people do not want to be passive recipients of services that are determined by local authorities. They want genuine consumer choice, like the rest of society. The Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986 would help to ensure that that choice of service exists and that services are sensitive to the needs of disabled people, more appropriate and more effective. Sections 1, 2 and 3 of the Act give disabled people the right to consultation and to appeal against decisions taken by the local authority as well as the right to have an advocate acting on their behalf--for example, a member of the family or a friend who can truly represent their interests in all their dealings with the local authority. That surely must be the best method of securing help that is appropriate, effective and efficient for the disabled person. We have all had constituency examples of the wrong aids and adaptations being imposed upon people. A typical example that I came across recently was of an elderly woman who needed help to get around the house. A social worker insisted that she had rails put on most of the walls. Of course, that involved a great deal of expenditure and labour. The woman did not want that and, even with the rails, had great difficulty in getting around the house. Two months later, after much fuss, she was reassessed and given a simple zimmer walking frame, which was precisely what she wanted. All is well, but think of the waste of resources.
Another example of the sense of good advocacy involved a person who was caring for a disabled person. The carer asked for respite care to be provided. After a joint assessment meeting took place, it was found that all that was needed was a volunteer sitter on Saturday evenings. That was provided. Again there was a great saving of resources.
When I asked the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health at Question Time yesterday whether he accepted the need for the implementation of the important sections 1, 2 and 3 of the 1986 Act, he promised, as has been reiterated today by my hon. Friend, a speedy review of those sections. I welcome that commitment. I am sure
Column 975that it pleased the hon. Member for Monklands, West, who must be frustrated at having given birth to a baby which is allowed only half the time.
The shortness of the debate prevents my mentioning many other disability issues such as the need for ring fencing of community care grants to local authorities. We have already heard on BBC "Panorama" one social services director stating that he was cutting services to the elderly disabled in order to provide social workers for child abuse cases. If we do not have ring fencing of resources for disabled people, the problem will get worse. The recent tragic case of the 23-year-old deaf-blind girl, Beverley Lewis, highlights the problem. I share the view of the right hon. Member for Stoke -on-Trent, South that there should be a public inquiry into that appalling case and its implications.
On the preventive side of disability, the embryology issue will be controversial and emotional. I am convinced that properly controlled and monitored research will help in future to detect specific disorders such as muscular dystrophy, Down's syndrome, cystic fibrosis, Huntington's chorea and some 50 types of severe congenital disease which one day may be detectable by pre-embryo screening. We shall be debating that in detail in a few weeks' time. I hope that hon. Members will study all the medical evidence carefully before casting their vote.
As someone who in my disablement work with Rehabilitation International has the opportunity to travel to many countries and talk to disabled people all over the world, I know how advanced we are in our provision for handicapped people. There is still a great deal to be done. I know that my right hon. Friends will continue to push the frontiers outwards, and I give them my full support this evening.
Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby) : I appreciated very much some of the comments of the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price). When, just over six years ago, I introduced the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons (Amendment) Bill to outlaw discrimination against disabled people, I did not have a relative who was disabled. Since then, unfortunately, as many hon. Members know, I have lost my wife. She was disabled and worked in the House of Commons. If the Minister with responsibility for the disabled intends to co-ordinate his activities with those of other Ministers, he might start by approaching the Leader of the House to point out how difficult it is for disabled people who work in the Houses of Parliament to get from the office where they are working even for a bite of food or drink of coffee. There is much to be done for disabled people in the mother of Parliaments.
I have vivid memories of the way in which the Government deliberately thwarted the will of many people, probably a majority in the country, when I tried in November 1983 to outlaw discrimination against disabled people. I was told by the present Secretary of State, who at that time was in a more junior capacity in the Department, that all we needed was education and persuasion. All we needed was to persuade people to adopt a better attitude towards the disabled. All the evidence of the past six years proves that that is not the way to deal with the problem. The problem has not gone away. How
Column 976much have the Government spent on education and persuasion since November 1983 to convince people that they should have a proper attitude to disabled people?
The Spastics Society has produced two surveys that show that there is massive discrimination in employment against disabled people. The British Deaf Association published a similar report. We know from the evidence of many individual cases that people are discriminated against, either consciously or unconsciously, simply because they have a disability. We know from the labour force survey in the spring of 1988 that, whereas there was 7.9 per cent. unemployment among able-bodied people, 19 per cent. of disabled people of working age were jobless ; 360,000 disabled people of working age were, at that time, unemployed, yet some 22 per cent. of them had either academic or vocational qualifications of at least GCE A-level standard, and many had university degrees.
Since 1986, employment for the disabled should have become easier, because there has been an increase in the use of microtechnology and, although we know that the Government have fiddled the statistics, we accept that there has been a reduction in the number of jobless in the country.
There are also demographic changes. We were told by the former Secretary of State for Employment that by the year 1995 there would be 500,000 fewer young people under 25 in the labour force, so there should be plenty of scope to provide employment for the disabled. We know also that the Government have a campaign to promote a code of practice among employers to ensure that they do their job in taking on disabled people. However, only 120,000 copies of that code have ever been distributed, if the answer given on 13 November by the Secretary of State is correct.
The OPCS surveys have shown that, because of the experience of being discriminated against, many disabled people regard themselves as unemployable. They define themselves as unable to find work. That is because of their experiences of being constantly turned down in their search for a job. Has the Minister read the evidence in the Spastics Society's recent report? If he has, he must come to only one conclusion-- that the Government have a responsibility, beyond any code of practice, to legislate against such discrimination.
The National Economic Development Office--a Government agency--published a document last year called "Defusing the demographic time bomb". It said that people with disabilities in employment are not being used to their full capabilities and that employers are doing relatively little to attract people with disabilities. Has the Minister taken cognisance of that evidence? Disabled people realise that the quota system is not being used properly. There have been only 10 prosecutions since the passing of the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944 and few convictions. The total of fines for all the convictions in that time has been about £4,000.
The message has got across to disabled people. That is why whereas in 1978, the year before the Government came to power, 494,877 people registered under the 1944 Act, last year only 366,768 registered. Every single year since the Government came to office, fewer and fewer people have registered as disabled under the legislation. Yet discrimination continues, and the quota system is not enforced. That is not a reason for abolishing the quota system ; it is a reason for enforcing and invigorating the system.
Column 977My right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on -Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) referred to the Federal Republic of Germany, which has a quota of 6 per cent. If employers do not abide by that system, they are charged a levy which provides revenue for training disabled people so that they can find employment. I should like to persuade my own party of the need for co-ordination such as the French have. In France, there is a Ministry to deal with all the problems of disabled people. I have certainly advocated that the Labour party should make such a system part of its policy. In France, the Government are to introduce an employment Bill that will include a 6 per cent. quota and a levy system, which will be in force by the time the single market is attained in 1992. As a matter of interest, the French Minister for the disabled, Michel Gillibert, was injured in a helicopter accident and is himself disabled, so he can bring his own experience to his post.
We undoubtedly need legislation. It is wrong when a paraplegic is refused access to a theatre. It is wrong when a mentally handicapped person is refused access to a hotel in a tourist resort. It is wrong when a student is refused access to a full course in a polytechnic because certain rooms are inaccessible to him. It is wrong when a deaf person is turned out of a public house because he is deaf and because someone he is with is using sign language. It is wrong when someone in a wheelchair is refused access to Wembley stadium to see the FA cup final even though he has a ticket. Such discrimination is wrong in every case, but unlike discrimination on grounds of sex or race, all those samples of discrimination are still legal. It shames our country that that should still be so.
What we need is an Act of Parliament to give legislative teeth to what is morally right, and to give disabled people real rights. Opposition Members will fight for their policy to outlaw discrimination against disabled people and to give disabled people the same liberties as those enjoyed by able-bodied people. But to disabled people I say that liberty must be fought for. We have liberty, but we were not born with it ; we had to fight for it. I believe that disabled people must fight, and fight hard, to ensure that legislation is introduced. For our part, Labour Members can say that such legislation will be forthcoming after the next general election.
Mr. John Bowis (Battersea) : The debate is about rights and opportunities for disabled people, and I welcome the constructive suggestions that have been made by hon. Members on both sides of the House. My experience of dealing with disabled people tells me that sometimes there is pain and sometimes there are tears, and that sometimes the tears and pain are shared by those who look after the disabled, but that the overwhelming impression that disabled people give is of courage, determination, cheerfulness and generosity of spirit.
I hope that, in battling for the disabled--rightly so--the Opposition will echo those qualities in their speeches. I sometimes think that, while the courage and determination may be there, the cheerfulness and generosity of spirit are not always evident.
As I have listened to the details of the Government's new benefits programme, which is bringing more help to the terminally ill, to the deaf- blind, to disabled babies and carers, and, coming soon, the additional support for the disabled at work, I have felt that I must tell the right hon.
Column 978Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) that a little more generosity of spirit would be welcome. By all means let him criticise us for not going fast enough, but he should not say that we have not got anywhere, because the Government's record is there to be seen--for example, in the doubling in real terms of long-term sick and disablement benefits. The fact that three times as many people get attendance allowance and six times as many get mobility allowance is not so much a record to be proud of as a launching pad for further effort. That is the way I judge it, and I hope that Opposition Members will look at it in the same light.
Our commitment as we debate this issue, particularly hon. Members who are present tonight, is without doubt. In fighting for the disabled, we are trying to get across the message that to be disabled is not to be unable. Our task is to enable the disabled to participate in life to the full. When the Secretary of State for Employment talks, for example, about his ambition for a skills decade, I hope that he, and we, include the disabled in that. The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) was spot on when he spoke about the need to enable the disabled to participate in job opportunities.
In enabling the disabled, we must consider the physical needs to help people to be independent ; the caring needs so that people have folk to care for them when necessary ; the mobility needs so that they can get around and make their way to work and leisure activities and so on ; and the employment needs.
The physical needs involve all the housing adaptations to which hon. Members have referred, and I particularly support the campaign of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), to which my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) referred. Housing must be suitable for the disabled.
We must pay particular attention to the aids that are provided. I have previously referred to visiting the home of an old lady who was deaf. I found her watching television without the sound on. I asked her if she had a hearing aid and she replied that she had a hearing aid, but she also had arthritic fingers and could not turn up the volume on the set.
We must make sure that the aid is not just the cheapest but is appropriate to the case. It is a matter of horses for courses when giving support to disabled people, and I support everything that has been said about access to buildings and so on.
I support all the measures that are being taken for carers, but I ask the Minister to go even further, because the problems of many carers are not yet being met by society. I think of the young carer, for example, at school who is called from school to look after the mother who has collapsed at home. Such a carer cares without complaint, but that action can interrupt school and a natural youthful life. Such people should receive special attention. We need more respite schemes to enable people to have a break and to go back refreshed and dedicated to the task before them.
I welcome the mobility allowances and improved facilities for access, including access to stations. I think of the many steps leading to the platforms at a station such as Clapham junction in my constituency.
On the issue of mobility, we could do more for the dial-a-ride system. The Minister should talk to his colleagues in the Government who are responsible for the allocation of resources to dial-a-ride so as not simply to
Column 979give more money to that scheme but to encourage the application of that money to schemes where the users have a bigger say in the sort of service that they wish to receive.
In the dial-a-ride scheme in Wandsworth, for example, 1,000 members make 15,000 journeys a year. One third of the people who use that service are wheelchair-bound and the others are disabled, frail or elderly. They choose to use one third of their journeys for shopping expeditions, one third to visit friends and one third for general outings--for example, to visit the hairdressers or the theatre. Seventy per cent. of their chosen journeys should be local and 30 per cent. should be more than five miles.
London Regional Transport stepped in and said, "That does not fit our pattern. Why should we allow Wandsworth to let its users have so many journeys over five miles? That is not the mould that we want, so they cannot have the extra bus that we are going to offer to all the other dial- a-ride users unless they meet our criteria." It should not be "our" criteria. It should not be criteria determined by the House or by the bosses of LRT--although I welcome what LRT does to support the service. The criteria should be determined by the users of the service. If they choose to have more longer journeys, so be it. I have referred recently to training for employment. Disabled people have many opportunities to participate in the job world. Reference has been made to the shortage of people with skills. Many disabled people are unable to take up skilled positions because they need to acquire the skills--sometimes basic and sometimes advanced. Organisations such as Shared Community in my constituency have a tremendous record in helping people whose cases appeared hopeless to find and keep jobs. Training establishments need to be able to plan for the number of trainee places and that certainty has not always existed. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends can ensure that such a possibility exists.
With regard to job placing, many more employers should be told to have patience. Many disabled people will hold down a job in the long run, but they need a little more time to adapt. All too often, an employer will run out of patience and get rid of the disabled person, and bang goes yet another job opportunity.
I have outlined several areas in which the Government can offer more support. I believe that we are in a new world of public awareness about disability. There is more awareness of care, access, travel and employment opportunities. There are many opportunities for the disabled and also opportunities for the Government to build on their great success to ensure that the disabled have a full role to play in society and come as near as possible to the rest of us in enjoying life to the full.
Mr. David Hinchliffe (Wakefield) : In the short time available to me, I want to refer to two specific constituency cases about which I have written to separate Government Departments. The cases illustrate the way in which the Government's policy fails to go far enough in offering practical support to disabled people to remain in their own homes while at the same time it actively encourages them
Column 980to give up their independence and enter institutional care. My constituents and I are very worried about that trend which has been evident over the past 10 years.
I want first to refer to the case of Mrs. Pauline Shaw. She is in her mid- 40s and substantially handicapped by multiple sclerosis. Her husband Jim gave up work some considerable time ago to care for her full-time in their own home. Mrs. Shaw received occasional respite care at Pinderfields hospital--and recently that care was jeopardised by the threat of closure. She received visits from a district nurse to assist her bathing and toilet needs and also social work support. I emphasise that Mr. and Mrs. Shaw are fulsome in their praise for the staff who gave their support. However, that support was insufficient. It could not prevent Mr. Shaw's health being affected ; ultimately, in the interests of his own health, he was advised to allow his wife to enter residential care.
That was the start of their problems. When she entered private residential care about 20 miles from Wakefield, where they had lived for some considerable time, she developed bed sores. Mr. Shaw, who had given his wife such good care for such a long period, moved her to a different home in a place called Barkston Ash, also some 20 miles from my constituency. Then they faced the financial problems arising from the fact that the benefits available to them were insufficient to meet the cost of the residential care that was required in her circumstances.
I wrote to the Under-Secretary of State for Health asking for some top-up payments to enable this lady to be supported in residential care, on the basis that she required full-time nursing. The Minister replied saying that that simply was not possible.
My constituent Jim Shaw, out of his invalidity benefit and state pension of around £40 a week, is supplementing the fees involved in keeping his wife in residential care. He is now trying to move to the area where she is living. At present, he travels 40 miles each day, and that is costly for somebody on state benefits. He cannot get a council house in that area, because the Tory-controlled council has, of course, sold off all the council accommodation. That is the reality of the problems facing many disabled people.
Mr. Michael Frobisher is another constituent of mine. I raised this case during the debate on Second Reading of the National Health Service and Community Care Bill because I am particularly concerned about it. This gentleman has suffered from multiple sclerosis since about 1970. He is in his early 60s. His wife Pat was a health visitor, but she gave up her employment four years ago to care for him. She has had support from a nurse and has had other domiciliary help. She had respite care for one week in six in the younger disabled unit at Pinderfields hospital, which was threatened not long ago with closure as a result of Government cuts.
Unfortunately, this was insufficient. It was not the level of care required by Mr. Frobisher, despite all the efforts that his wife put in. She says that, in 1988, she begged for more help from the health authority, but to no avail. Indeed, she collapsed in July 1989. Mr. Frobisher was then admitted to a private nursing home some 20 miles outside my constituency. This was the start of their problems. There was insufficient finance to pay £245 weekly, and the Frobishers have now had to sell the house to meet the fees. Once the fees have been paid, Mr. Frobisher has 5p a week left.
At Question Time on, I think, 27 November last, I raised cases such as that of Mr. Frobisher. The answer of
Column 981the Minister for Social Security was that he found nothing offensive in relatives helping with care costs. I do not think that I am alone in this place in finding it deeply offensive that somebody who has given care as extensive as that which has been given by this lady over so many years should have to sell her house in order to be able to meet the cost of her husband's care. I think that that is wrong, and I look forward to the Minister's reply to my direct communication to his Department about this case.
In my opinion, neither of the two constituents to whom I have referred should be in institutional care. That is the importance of this kind of case to tonight's debate. There are many thousands of similar cases throughout the country--people who are in institutional care simply because the necessary domiciliary support is not available to enable them to remain in their own homes with their families and communities, where I and they believe they ought to be. It is criminal that people who have cared for their spouses as Mrs. Frobisher and Mr. Shaw have done should be treated in this way, that because their needs are not being catered for at the local level they are suffering separation.
I stress that I am not criticising the local authority or the district health authority. The staff concerned, with the facilities available to them, have done their utmost to assist these individuals. What I am criticising is the lack of resources, both for the local authority and for the Health Service, to provide the kind of service that would enable those people to remain in their own homes.
The ultimate irony is that well over £200 of state funds is required to keep these people in institutional care. It is a fact, as the Audit Commission pointed out, that less than that amount, properly allocated for domiciliary services, would keep them in the community and in their own homes. All hon. Members believe that people such as Mrs. Shaw and Mr. Frobisher should be in their own homes and with their families. It is an appalling indictment of 10 years of Government policy on community care and the disabled that those people find themselves in institutional care 20 or 30 miles from where they have lived all their lives.