Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mrs. McGuire: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ellwood: I was about to conclude, but I am delighted to give way.

Mrs. McGuire: In light of the hon. Gentleman's comments, I take it that he will put pressure on his business managers to use Opposition time for such a debate. The Opposition have days on which they, too, could introduce a debate on disability issues, if they are as crucial to Opposition Members as they appear to have been today.

Mr. Ellwood: I am saddened by that comment because, first, Opposition-day debates are for the Opposition to hold the Government to account. The concerns expressed today show that there is a passion for this issue, and we should not have to use an Opposition-day debate to raise it. It should be a regular theme for debate.

The right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) introduced a private Member's Bill to get the Secretary of State for International Development to come to the House once a year to give account for what his Department does with regard to spending international development money. The right hon. Gentleman has also managed to secure the development target of 0.7 per cent. of gross domestic product.

That will be an annual event—we have all been involved with it—and it is a fantastic move forward to show the accountability of the Government. I would very much like them to endorse that. They should not be forced to do so by the Opposition, but should take the initiative and say, "Yes, we would be delighted to come to the House to debate those issues annually."
4 May 2006 : Column 1178

4.29 pm

Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood) (Lab): I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood), who obviously researched his contribution carefully. As someone who also represents a seaside area, I was listening for similarities between our areas. Interestingly, his reference to care homes reflects that as we get older we are more likely to be disabled. Sometimes, it is difficult to disentangle issues of the elderly from those of people with disability, which complicates matters for everybody.

I open my remarks with a degree of trepidation, as the Minister referred at the start of her contribution to the fact that the debate in 2004 centred on civil rights. It is important, however, to start off with a reference to human rights and the universal declaration of human rights, which says:

I believe that human rights and civil rights underpin today's debate. All the interesting and well-informed contributions made by Members are based on the point that people with disability should enjoy the same rights that everybody else enjoys. That should be the template against which we measure any initiatives from central Government, local government and community groups.

Before I consider the detail of the strategy unit report, I want to examine some of the definitions of disability. The Disability Rights Commission produces some helpful facts and figures and lists the many disabilities and conditions that people expect to be included by the term "disabled", from visual impairment to arthritis, cancer, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, depression—interestingly—and diabetes. Recently, the case of a man who is so obese that he finds it difficult to get through doorways or get into a bath—and who cannot bathe himself at home and therefore must go into a hospital setting for basic care—was brought to my attention. That illustrates that we must have an open mind about what constitutes disability and consider how it impairs people's everyday lives in relation to the social model.

We have already heard some statistics about the number of disabled people. As I said, disability increases with age, and as the population is ageing, we need to be aware of that. The World Trade Organisation predicts that depression will be the leading cause of disability by 2020, which links to some of the comments made about the welfare to work Green Paper. An increasing number of sick notes have depression or mental health issues on them rather than physical conditions. Only 50 per cent. of disabled people of working age are in employment compared with 81 per cent. of non-disabled people. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg), I am a member of the Work and Pensions Committee, so I shall not comment on that issue—Members will have to wait for our report, which is to be published shortly. Disabled people are unable to use 70 per cent. of buses and 40 per cent. of the rail network. Almost 50 per cent. of disabled people list transport as their main local concern, and feel that their employment opportunities have been reduced because of poor public transport. Sixty per cent. of disabled people have no car in the household, compared with just 27 per cent. of the general population.
4 May 2006 : Column 1179

We all have access to a range of statistics highlighting the nature of the problem and the importance, as well as the complexity, of addressing it. However, I do not want to underestimate or gloss over what has already been done I want to refer to some of the extensions of disability rights since 1997, of which I am immensely proud, and pay tribute to the Minister and her colleagues for all their work. Civil rights for disabled people have been strengthened in terms of access to goods and services and also public transport, although there is some way to go in that regard. We have seen the establishment of the Disability Rights Commission and, in October 2004, the extension of employment provisions in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. That will protect an additional 600,000 disabled workers from discrimination.

Many people are involved in those developments, and many people have benefited. Most recently, there have been the amendments tabled to the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, requiring public authorities to provide equality of opportunity for disabled people. All that has culminated in the strategy unit report. For a document of its size it is very readable, and it contains some very good recommendations. As other Members have said, it presents an ambitious 20-year vision, but we must start somewhere. We must also set an end date so that we can establish targets and measure successes. Otherwise, we shall have only warm words with no result at the end.

The first key area identified in the strategy is independent living, which is the central issue of our debate. It involves the human rights of people with disabilities, who should be able to make choices. Members on both sides of the House have reiterated that services should meet the needs of individuals rather than individuals fitting themselves into services.

The strategy unit's report, entitled "Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People", deals with that issue. It also states:

In a recent speech, the chairman of the Disability Rights Commission, Bert Massie, took up the same point. He said

I could not agree more.

In a previous incarnation, when I was chair of Lancashire social services, I saw the best social work in practice when it took risks and extended boundaries instead of cocooning people, but there are questions to be raised about that as well. Liberating people is not just a matter of what is provided by local social services departments, or indeed of what the Government enshrine in law; it is a matter of bringing the whole community and the whole family into the debate.

When I was chair of social services and trying to change things, and more recently over the past nine years as a Member of Parliament, I have discussed with parents the needs of their disabled children. Even when a disabled child is 40 or 50, a parent will often want to
4 May 2006 : Column 1180
protect that child. It is understandable and I do not criticise such parents, but the challenge is to give the disabled person freedom to go out into the world, to explore and to make his or her own decisions. That is not an easy task for anyone. As we change the law here and as local authorities and other providers respond, we must bring people with disabilities and their families with us. We should all be working together, and recognising the basic rights of people with disabilities to make choices, to be given freedoms, and not always to be cocooned.

I am proud to be chair of the all-party parliamentary group on social care here at Westminster. We changed our name this year from the all-party social services panel, but given what has been said about care, perhaps we should think of changing it again—possibly to something incorporating the word "independence". In any event, we should all be working together to improve the life chances of people with disabilities by promoting independence rather than dependence on care.

In enabling independent living, we should focus on four key values: choice, control, freedom and equality. That way, we will improve life chances. I welcome the move to direct payments, which will enable people to make choices, and I am looking forward to the assessments of the individual budget pilots. Bringing together sums of money from various different budget heads will give people with disability more freedom and flexibility in determining their own care packages. They will be able to purchase a package that responds to their individual needs.

Next Section IndexHome Page