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Danny Alexander: The hon. Lady has made an important point about health services. In pathways to work pilot areas, the condition management programme provides the sort of help that she has described for people who are already on incapacity benefit. I would like to see that speedy approach to helping people deal with their condition through the condition management programme extended to people who are in work and need help to stay in work. Will she support that proposal?

Miss Begg: I absolutely support that proposal. A mental health charity in my constituency, Momentum, has managed to obtain European social fund money to employ two specialist nurses, who go into GP surgeries and work with employees and employers to see what reasonable adjustments can be made before employees fall out of work. Very often, physical adjustments are not required, and it is a matter of talking to an employer because an individual is embarrassed to admit that they have a mental health problem, because they are frightened that their employer will automatically sack them. Working with individuals in health centres and in
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the workplace helps the overall situation. Momentum has got funding for next year, but it is looking for long-term funding, so I may write to the Minister and invite her to examine such projects. Such funding may not come from central Government, because it may already exist in the system and just need repackaging to go to such a worthwhile cause. Perhaps the Government should examine whether companies that can afford to pay for it should provide the same service for their employees, which would provide a funding stream for those whose employers do not have social or medical insurance. We are lucky in Aberdeen, because a number of large oil companies already provide medical insurance for their employees, which is one stream of funding that could be pulled down.

Social care is the responsibility of local government, and sometimes the easiest, simplest and cheapest options are not considered. For example, people who continue to live in their own homes face the problem of finding an accessible shower or bath. In some areas, the worst case scenario is that it will take six months before an occupational therapist turns up to assess the requirement for a flat shower area, when all that person needs is a £12.99 bath board from Argos. Sometimes the solution suggested by an occupational therapist costs £3,000, not including the £200 cost to the local authority of the home visit. Argos also sell a nice shower chair for £29.99—I know about those things, because I have just bought a new house that has not been adapted, and those purchases will work in the short term, until I can get the builders in.

That returns me to my point about the elite group of disabled people. I am lucky, because I have a job with a good income, so I do not have to wait for local government to come up with a grant, which may not meet the cost of a particular product. I can go out to source and pay for products myself, which means that I have a choice. That saves the state money, because it does not have to pay for those products, and it also saves time and effort. We should allow people to access a wider range of goods.

The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey—that must be the longest constituency name in the world—has pointed out that disabled people fall prey to salesman who provide fancy beds and other products at hugely inflated prices and use the hard sell technique. Such equipment costs an arm and a leg, but it does not serve disabled people very well.

Not only do we need enough specialist housing for those with profound disabilities, but we also need a register of those houses that have been adapted. Housing is probably the biggest barrier to people living independently. The creation of a disability housing register has been proposed, and I know that my local authority is examining the possibility of building a database of such houses.

Education is also important, and the Minister has discussed moving from childhood to adulthood. Disabled people often receive a lot of support at school, but once they leave school, that support seems to disappear. I pay tribute to an initiative in Aberdeen, "Moving on", which works with young people while they are at school and supports them when they move to college, university or into a job. People need specialist help to cross that divide.
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I have talked for long enough, because other hon. Members want to contribute, but I could have said so much more. However, I shall bring one Disability Rights Commission recommendation to the House's attention: the DRC has recommended that the Minister with responsibility for disabled people should be a Minister of State, and I hope to congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on her promotion in the future.

2.38 pm

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg). We disagree profoundly about a great many issues. Nevertheless, with her descriptions of her personal experiences, she brought to the debate a real flavour of what it is like to encounter some of the problems that disabled people face. She also brought it somewhat down to earth after some rather high-falutin' policy statements—I am not pointing at the Minister, but she is looking guilty—by talking about what life is really like for somebody who is disabled.

I currently experiencing, in a very minor way, what it is like to be marginally and temporarily disabled. The more observant Labour Members may have spotted that I am using a crutch. It is a self-inflicted wound in that I applied for a hip operation. I have experienced, albeit in a small way, people's attitudes towards disabled people. They do not know that I am on crutches only temporarily and that I shall, I hope, be throwing them away by October.

I am sorry that the Minister decided to be partisan on this issue, because there is a difference only of emphasis between what all parties in this House want for disabled people and how we wish to help them. This Government have done much good for disabled people, as did the last Conservative Government. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South mentioned that she had not been refused entry into a cinema for 20 years. That must have been in 1986, when those wicked Tories were in power, so changes were taking place under them as well. We are all going on this journey, and we must continue it to ensure that disabled people do not have the disadvantages that the hon. Lady described. I think that we are all united in wishing to assist those less fortunate than ourselves. Personally, I think that we have a moral duty to assist all our fellow men, particularly those who are unfortunate enough to be disabled in some way or other. That means that we must get rid of discrimination and give everybody equal opportunities, in so far as we can. That is now happening, and I applaud the Government for that, as I applaud the last Conservative Government.

I want to speak briefly about two matters: first, the importance of attitudes and proportionality towards disabled people in the UK—I noticed that much was made of attitudes in the Government's report—and then about those affected by disability in the developing world, where we truly see how disability and poverty go hand in hand.

The report states:

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To be fair, it goes on to explain the different forms—heterogeneity is the word that it uses—of disability. Nevertheless, that assertion, by overstating the case, diminishes the case for assisting disabled people. Of course, if one has depression, diabetes or back pain, that is a serious matter, but to describe everybody who has such an ailment as disabled, or to say that 24 per cent. of the adult population is disabled, would raise eyebrows in most places in this country.

Mrs. McGuire: Is the hon. Gentleman seriously saying that a condition such as diabetes, which can result in death in the event of complications, is not a disability?

Mr. Robathan: The hon. Lady is putting the wrong words into my mouth. I said that there are great differences. The needs of people in wheelchairs or on crutches, or who are blind, are hugely different from those of people who have diabetes and can live a completely normal life. I am well aware that diabetes, if untreated, can lead to severe disability, blindness and all sorts of other things.

Mrs. McGuire: Is the hon. Gentleman therefore surprised to hear that a woman who had diabetes was recently sacked from her job on the grounds that she might have fainted on the shop floor? She won a case against the company that sacked her because of its ignorance about her condition.

Mr. Robathan: I am pleased that she won her case, but that rather proves my point. There are many different conditions and needs. Most people with diabetes are able to lead their lives normally, through the treatment of insulin, without the access and mobility needs of people in wheelchairs. If one said to most people outside this place that 24 per cent. of the British adult population is disabled, they would say, "I'm not quite sure that I agree with you." Nevertheless, I am delighted that the Minister was listening to me.

Leading on from that, I should like to discuss proportionality, which sometimes gives legislation in favour of trying to assist disabled people a bad name. I want to highlight two examples. The first is public transport. What is its purpose? In London, it is for the mass transit around the city of as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. It is difficult, though not impossible, to use buses when in a wheelchair—I am sure that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South will bear me out. I suspect that it is not an attractive option in any case.

In my constituency, we have community buses—indeed, I have driven one—that assist people who are in wheelchairs and take them from door to door. One could describe them as taxis, which the community funds. I believe that it costs £1 a time. In London, the Routemaster bus, which is probably one of the best designs in the country and is much loved by everybody, has been scrapped. The Minister shakes her head, but it has been scrapped.

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