Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Written Evidence

Memorandum 5

Submission from the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB)


About RNIB

  As the leading organisation of blind and partially sighted people in the UK, RNIB is pleased to have the opportunity to submit evidence to the Innovation, Universities and Skills Select Committee.

  We are a membership organisation with over 10,000 members who are blind, partially sighted or the friends and family of people with sight loss. Over 80 per cent of our Trustees and Assembly Members are blind or partially sighted. We encourage members to be involved in our work and regularly consult with them on government policy and their ideas for change.

  As a campaigning organisation of blind and partially sighted people, we fight for the rights of people with sight loss of all ages in each of the UK's countries. We work to:

    —  improve provision within health and social care services;

    —  increase the amount and range of accessible information;

    —  improve the lifelong learning opportunities for blind and partially sighted people;

    —  tackle discrimination in employment and support more blind and partially sighted people into work; and

    —  ensure a secure income for blind and partially sighted people unable to work or who have retired.

  We also provide expert knowledge to business and the public sector through consultancy on improving the accessibility of the built environment, technology, products and services.

Our employment work

  RNIB has contracts or sub-contracts for Pathways to Work, Work Preparation, NDDP, Access to Work, various ESF co-financed projects with Jobcentre Plus, LSC and local authorities and IAG contracts with Connexions. In 2007-08 our employment staff provided advice services to 2,574 people, trained 361 employers and supported 906 blind and partially sighted people to gain or retain work.

  We have two training centres (RNIB College Loughborough and the Employment and Learning Centre in Edinburgh) that support people with sight loss, many of whom have additional disabilities. Through this provision we support LSC funded students and also run residential training programmes for adults, funded through the Residential Training Unit (RTU).


    —  RNIB is pleased that the Government have adopted proposals outlined in "Unlocking talent, building skills for all" and Lord Leitch's Review of Skills;

    —  RNIB welcomes statutory entitlement to an apprenticeship;

    —  We believe that offering skills based learning, practical work place experience and a recognisable qualification is a valuable and useful choice for learners;

    —  Skills based learning in a working environment is especially beneficial for blind and partially sighted young people;

    —  Apprenticeships will also offer employers a positive experience of engaging blind and partially sighted learners;

    —  The Government have a duty to ensure that the Apprenticeships scheme is accessible to blind and partially sighted young people;

    —  Provision must be made to supply essential assistive technology to allow equal access for disabled apprentices from enactment of this bill (not 2013 as outlined in the draft);

    —  The Secretary(s) of State and the Learning & Skills Council (LSC) have a duty to provide apprenticeship places and appropriate support. We believe that this duty and the department's general duty for disability equality should include the provision of assistive technologies or other appropriate support;

    —  RNIB also believe that the Secretary of State has a duty to ensure accessibility of the scheme through the mechanism to approve each apprenticeship framework;

    —  The provision of assistive technology or appropriate support should be made through the Access to Work (AtW) scheme as experienced specialists although this support must be resourced separately not from existing AtW funding (or increases proposed in the Welfare Reform Green Paper);

    —  The Department's or LSC's failure to make the necessary provision or to make the apprenticeships scheme accessible could be considered a breach of the general duty to promote disability equality.

Does the Bill meet with the Government's policy objectives to set up a system of "world class" Apprenticeships in the most effective way in a reasonable timeframe?

  1.  RNIB welcomes the bill. We believe that creating a statutory entitlement to apprenticeships is a positive step towards reducing the skills gap and the change in compulsory participation age makes this bill even more critical to creating a skilled workforce. It also benefits learners by creating more learning routes. World class apprentices are achievable if they take advantage of all of the available talent, RNIB believes that the potential of blind and partially sighted people are too often overlooked.

Will the Bill lead to a renaissance in apprenticeships?

  1.  We recognise the benefits that vocational learning offers both in terms of gaining skills, work experience and broadening knowledge. These benefits have added value for blind and partially sighted learners—already distanced from the labour market. Through widening knowledge and developing practical skills blind and partially sighted apprentices and their employers will build their confidence together. Work related experiences will also help to bridge the gap between the labour market and blind and partially sighted apprentices.

  2.  RNIB would like to see a renaissance in apprenticeships that facilitates the participation of blind and partially sighted young people, widening their knowledge and developing skills that give them the same opportunities for work as their peers. We believe that if the Government takes its Disability Equality Duty seriously and makes a commitment to implementing the Special Educational Needs Discrimination Act (SENDA) in respect of the Apprenticeships Scheme than a real renaissance is possible but probable.

Is there anything missing from the draft bill?

  1.  The Government and its departments have a general duty to promote disability equality in all areas of work. Failure to make the Apprenticeship scheme accessible to all now and after creating an entitlement to an apprenticeship would be a breach of this duty.

  2.  The Secretary of State and the LSC also have an explicit duty within Clause 21 of the draft bill to "secure sufficient and appropriate" apprenticeship places, we believe that should apprenticeships not be accessible they would also breach this duty.

  3.  The Secretary of State and LSC also have a further duty to provide support and assistance under clause 22(b) Section 1:

    "...encouraging, enabling or assisting the effective participation of persons in England in employment and training provided for by apprenticeship places"

  4.  RNIB has a number of comments regarding this duty. We believe that this duty should cover the provision of support or assistive technologies to enable disabled people to access and participate in apprenticeships in the same way as any other learner, they should be given the same information and opportunities to take up an apprenticeship if they wish and apprenticeship frameworks should be developed that are accessible in terms of content, training, teaching, evaluation and examination.

  5.  RNIB are concerned that the above duty is not due to be enacted until 2013 although entitlement is due to be enacted immediately thus placing barriers to inclusion and participation in front of potentially thousands of disabled young people. In addition, we are seeking reassurance that resources will be made available to facilitate disabled learners. The department does not envisage costs to go beyond those already accounted for in departmental budgets—this does not bode well for disabled people.

  6.  To discharge the duty in Clause 22 (b) S1 RNIB believes additional resources must be allocated to provide necessary support for disabled apprentices. The Access to Work (AtW) scheme is the best vehicle for the assessment and delivery of appropriate support however,current AtW budgets nor any future increases (as outlined in the Welfare Reform Green Paper) should be used to fund this support to the detriment of other working disabled people. We believe the department and the LSC should resource this separately as part of their duties.

September 2008

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