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I welcome the fact that James Purnell MP, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, has said that the Access to Work scheme, which provides equipment and support for people with disabilities both into and at work, will carry on. Plans to replace invalidity benefit with employment support allowance for new claimants are meant to put the focus on assisting disabled people into jobs. Mr Purnell told the magazine Disability Now, published by Scope:

What that means, of course, is that—I hope that my noble friend can give the House an assurance on this—as people already on invalidity benefit are

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transferred to the new scheme over time, the Government must give a clear commitment that there will be no losers in the process. As I said, disabled people are already at the bottom of the employment heap, so it would be unfair to make anyone seriously out of pocket over this.

The Social Market Foundation, in its report Disability, Skills and Work: Raising Our Ambitions, which was published last year, found that improving the skills of disabled people and increasing job prospects would add an estimated £35 billion to the economy over 30 years. Around one in four disabled people aged 19 are not in any form of employment, education or training, which is three times the national average, although, by the way, the national average is nothing to be proud of. The foundation strongly makes the point that I have made about the urgent need to try to upskill people with disabilities.

The Government are investing an extra £430 million over the next three years on transforming services for disabled children and their families, including £370 million on improving short break services. They are creating a new duty on local authorities to help parents caring for disabled children by giving them breaks from their care responsibilities, which is extremely important. They are also extending the Family Fund, which helps the families of disabled children by offering support up to the age of 18.

A consultation has been launched to find the best way of increasing the reach of the disabled parking blue badge scheme to include more people who need it and to make it easier to take action against those thoughtless people who park in reserved parking places, not least in those next to supermarkets. I hope very much that the major supermarket outlets across the country will now start to take this responsibility as seriously as they should. I regret the need for that, because people ought to recognise that those spaces, although they may be empty when the person pulls up, are absolutely vital to those who are entitled to use them. I look to the supermarkets to respond, collectively if necessary, by getting together to see what can be done to improve enforcement. It is all very well having bouncers on the supermarket doors, especially late at night, but let us have some bouncers patrolling the car parks to show people that we mean business.

My feeling is that the biggest challenge for electors, citizens and the Government is the reform of adult social care. It is a joint challenge. RADAR tells me that the Government know, and BBC Radio 4’s “Today” reports this week have demonstrated, that adult social care is in urgent need of change. The reports have uncovered some shocking stories of neglect, abuse and lack of respect, as well as the need for better staff training in places of refuge where people live.

The critical point revealed by the reports is the dreadful lack of systematic enforcement after inspection by the Commission for Social Care Inspection. Indeed, I heard someone say on the “Today” programme this morning that the commission simply does not have the resources necessary to get into the enforcement business. Although I am tempted to, I will not ask why, if you

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cannot properly enforce the putting right of what has been found to be wrong, you inspect in the first place. I would rather turn it around and say that there has to be a clear duty on someone, after inspections reveal what prove to be extremely serious problems, of enforcement. I want to suggest that it is done either by local authority social services departments or possibly—and why not?—in partnership with the care home owners’ associations. They, too, have a responsibility here and I suggest that, if they do not have powers to expel members who do not respond properly to the findings of inspections, they should consider getting them. That would underline the point that they, too, are on the side of proper respect, care and treatment in these homes.

On the issue of social care, RADAR says that the Government’s independent living strategy, published in March this year, acknowledges the growing gulf between the real experiences of disabled people. The strategy sets out a five-year cross-government plan for closing the gap, so ensuring the right of all disabled people to live independently. The argument for extending choice and control for users of social care through developments such as self-directed support, independent advocacy and individual budgets has been won. As I said, this is not simply a matter for the Government or for local government. These are hugely complex and important issues that the public themselves have to get to grips with and try to find the answers to. If we want proper levels of care, sustained and increased over time, someone will have to pay the bill; there are no ifs or buts about it. The public have to engage in the discussion and try to sort out where to draw the line between what used to happen donkey’s years ago when families lived closer together and were able to take more responsibility for looking after elderly relatives in need of help—that has long since fractured in many areas of this country—and what is done by the taxpayer.

I said at the start that this debate is about celebrating the successes. I believe that in many ways we lead the world in this area. Let us just keep doing that, because we are not there yet. A great deal has been done to transform the lives and life chances of people with different abilities, but there is a lot more to do. However, let us for a moment celebrate what we have achieved in order to spur us on to do even more.

1 pm

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, not only on initiating this important debate but on his long parliamentary struggle on behalf of disabled people and his personal contribution to legislation over the years. In the 1970s I found myself as an assistant director of social services in the difficult borough of Lambeth trying to implement some of the legislation, so some of the things that I am going to say later will not be said without knowledge of what it is like to try to put services on the ground in a local authority. My great regret is that some of the work done in those early years in the 1970s—particularly in collating information—was not systematically carried on for the next few years. If that had been so, we

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would be in a much better position today with that baseline information to provide strategic services for the future.

I came into this debate rather under the bar. When I came to sign on I was told that the list had been frozen—it was the first time I had found myself with hypothermia—but a helpful young women helped to get me on it. That was because I discovered that many of what the noble Lord, Lord Low, calls “the fraternity” would not be here today. I had always felt that they would speak with greater authority than I and, with everyone else, I wish them all well. I particularly wish to mention my dear friend, the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, because he has helped and mentored me down the years. He is not in his place today but, were he here and had I had a chance to speak to him before the debate, he would have said, “Valerie, keep on harassing the Government”. I cannot harass the Government with his charm or find myself in fits of giggles while telling them off, but I shall do my best to raise the issues that he would have raised.

As many other speakers have already indicated, there has never been a better time to campaign for genuine change for disabled people. A 20-year vision has been published; there is new disability discrimination legislation; and a new Commission for Equality and Human Rights has been established, together with the new Office for Disability Issues. I have no doubt of the good intentions of the Government or of their wish to improve the quality of life of disabled people, but, as Jack Ashley would have done, I shall keep on harassing and ask this question: if all of this is in place, why do we continue to have a yawning gap between these aspirations and implementation on the ground?

I declare an interest as chair of Livability, the charity formed from the merger of the long-established Grooms and Shaftesbury organisations. Earlier this year we produced a report entitled Freedom to Live about the lives of severely disabled young people. It tells how these youngsters hope for the same things as other young people—to travel, to get a good job, to start a family and live independently. They want a voice, leisure and a social life. They want to be involved as active and valued citizens and to make their own contribution, as I have found they can when I have shared platforms with severely disabled people and they have managed the situation as well as I.

However, the stark reality is that for far too many of them, their hopes and dreams are thwarted by a system that denies them their basic human rights. Because huge strides have been made in the past 30 years in raising the aspirations of disabled children and young people—we have encouraged them to aim higher—when they face the cruel reality of the battle to make it happen, it is no wonder they are disappointed and frustrated. Becoming an adult should open a world of opportunity and excitement; for most disabled young people their world becomes smaller and more limited. As one young man put it “It is less a move from childhood into adulthood and more a move from childhood into retirement”. Many severely disabled young people leave the security of educational establishments to sit at home for days on end with no services.



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Let me give some more facts. As I said previously, after 30 years of legislation, there is still no reliable evidence as to where young disabled people are currently housed, meaning that transition plans from youth to adulthood are not based on fact. Only recently have reasonable statistics begun to be collated again. It is estimated that 40 per cent of young disabled people are inappropriately accommodated. The local authority of one young man for whom my organisation is responsible thinks that it is appropriate in the holidays not to pay the fees that would keep him active in his school but to place him in an old people’s home on the basis that it is an alternative—but actually it is much cheaper.

At 17 years of age, young disabled people are twice as likely as their able counterparts to be unemployed or not in training. By the time they are 26 it will have risen to four times as likely.

The most vulnerable point in the lives of young people is when they make the transfer from education to adulthood; from childhood services to adult services. This bears repeating because there is, to say the least, patchy advice as well as poor support and information about life choices for many of them. I have spoken directly to them about this. They will have little or no choice over where they live, who they live with and how they spend their time. What would we think of that? Packages of care and support should be in place well in advance of the transition so that the process does not become a nightmare from which the young person takes years to recover. They should have access to independent advocacy and not be forced to fight the system alone or with their parents. The transition process is complicated enough but there is a lack of clarity about who is responsible and who makes decisions. Given all the agencies involved, this can lead to considerable confusion.

What are the Government doing to ensure that this happens? I do not want them to tell me that there are lists of guidance and enactments—I have them—and that there is plenty of information available; I want them to say how that becomes reflected in the experience of these young people. I do not underestimate the difficulty of making these changes and I realise that the Minister may say that this is the responsibility of the local authority, but what are the Government going to do to try to change the culture to ensure that a person is treated with dignity and respect?

I can give other examples of local authorities and other agencies not carrying through legislation. For example, the legislation on direct payments was not being consistently implemented by councils across the country. In one of our reports we found that regulations that came into force in 2003 requiring all councils to offer direct payments to all users of community case services had been patchily implemented. At the time of the study, only 32 of the 75 authorities participating had a strategy in place to ensure that all eligible groups were able to access direct payments. I hope the Minister can tell me that the situation has now seriously improved.

Despite legislation and guidance dictating that the young person’s views must be sought and recorded during transition planning, a fifth of the disabled people questioned in one study said that they left

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school without a transition plan. Time and time again I have spoken to young people who have been engaged in a conversation with someone but found that it was not really an engagement. As one young person said to me, “They had their plan in their mind when they talked to me and that was the plan I was going to end up with”. However, it was not the plan she ended up with because she fought for a different plan.

My final example of poor implementation is the GLA’s strategy on accessible housing. It stipulates that all new housing must be built to the lifetime homes standards, with 10 per cent to the higher wheelchair standard. However, research conducted by John Grooms just before our merger revealed that only four of the 31 London boroughs had accurately recorded the target in their housing strategies. It is particularly disappointing to note that two of those boroughs included the target in their housing strategies only when faced with legal action. Again, I hope we are seeing some improvement in that area.

Another reason I may feel not quite as prepared as I would like, having come late into the stocks, is that I spent some time last evening at a briefing on the Education and Skills Bill. I was rather disappointed, having looked forward to new legislation, that disabled people seemed not to feature at all. Yet our Freedom to Live campaign calls for training programmes for disability employment advisers; those programmes should contain specific modules on meeting the particular needs of disabled young people. Steps should be taken to ensure that young people in their local schools receive proper advice and that they should also have access to the same kind of training programmes that the Bill proposes for young people from 18 to 19 and onwards. For young people with severe disabilities, that usually has to go on for even longer.

As we celebrate 30 years of disability legislation—I think we should celebrate, despite what I have said—we must now concentrate on making it work on implementation. There are some excellent examples of practice that should become the norm, but there are far too many examples that leave disabled people frustrated and disappointed. I quote:

Surely what we are trying to do in the Every Child Matters agenda and through our work with young people is to give them a sense of hope.

As we look forward to plans for the future, let us hope for legislation that not only seeks to change the lives of disabled people but really does so. Rejoicing in what has been achieved, I look forward to it being even better.

1.11 pm

The Earl of Erroll: My Lords, I rise in the gap to make a couple of quick points that stem from various speeches that have been made. This is something from the sharp end because I am the parent of a Down’s Syndrome daughter, who at the moment is with an organisation down in Yeovil.



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The first part of what I have to say stems from some problems that that organisation has hit with the current complexity of the rules. While I can easily empathise with the aspirations of all the disability rights legislation, the trouble is that often the outcome is not what was intended. When it comes to the financing of these people, they get a small payment of about £21.15 a week to live on—that is the pocket money. That goes to disabled people in residential care. That may be fine for an elderly person, but, for a young adult with social needs who can semi-integrate into normal society and who wants to go out for a drink—I do not necessarily mean an alcoholic beverage—with friends once or twice a week, go to a film and indulge in one or two things like that, it is not a lot of money to live on. Everything else is handled elsewhere or dealt with by the local authority.

The next problem is that it helps enormously if such people—this stems from what the noble Lord, Lord Rix, said—can work. The noble Lord, Lord Low, also mentioned this. It helps their self-esteem. For instance, my daughter attends college in Yeovil to learn how to work. The trouble is that because she is in residential care, education at the college is not free. At the moment, fortunately, the college can find funding, but that could stop at any moment; in fact, it may stop this year. In our case, we might be able to do something about that, but that will not be the case for a lot of other children. That is very stupid, because that is what we are trying to do.

The next problem is that when they get a job somewhere—this happened when another of the organisation’s students had a job at Marks & Spencer, which was very good at looking after them—the national minimum wage cuts in. At the point where that happens, apparently you lose your incapacity benefit. If I have got this wrong, I am sure someone will correct it later. So, suddenly you have a different problem. Sorry, I have got that the wrong way round—you lose your incapacity benefit at that point. Or it may be the other way round and you lose your residential care. It does not really matter. The point is that it is very complex and you lose benefit when you do other things.

If you are an employer with equal responsibilities and you have someone who, to be absolutely honest, cannot do a real person’s full work, while on the other hand you can get someone who can do a full job for the minimum wage, which one are you going to employ at the end of the day? The trouble is that if you suggest that disabled people should work at a level below the minimum wage, people will scream, “Exploitation!”. But it is not. Some of these people are members of a community. They have friends from work. I heard of a case where one of these people fell ill with cancer and their workmates travelled a long way to see them in hospital. They felt part of society and part of the community. There is a huge value to be had from this.

Somewhere, other well-meaning legislation is causing problems. We have lost our common sense. That is the problem with the whole thing. Sometimes someone needs to stand back and say, “Look, what’s the objective? Let’s show some common sense. Let’s

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ensure that we can enable these things to happen”. The residential care workers are quite capable of knowing if someone is being exploited or not, if they are any good—otherwise they should not be doing the job.

The only other thing I have to say is totally separate. I have done a lot of work with Dr John Gill, who works for the RNIB. Sometimes when we try to do one thing for the disabled, it causes problems for another lot. For instance, we may drop all our automatic teller machines and door access down to wheelchair height, but people with sight or back problems may not be able to stoop down and see the screens properly. Sometimes you have to be careful that you do not do things for one group that cause problems for another. Common sense is required all round.

1.15 pm

Baroness Thomas of Winchester: My Lords, I declare an interest as a recipient of the disability living allowance. It is entirely fitting, now that we have come to the wind-up of this debate, that we should have used the debate to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act applying to the whole of the United Kingdom, and to review the progress of disability rights legislation since then. I join others in paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, whose Private Member’s Bill it was in the first place. I pay my own tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, who I hope will soon be back with us, and to the noble Lord, Lord Rix, who has been so influential in this whole field over the past 30 years. Finally, I join others in remembering Lady Darcy de Knayth, a founder member of the powerful and influential wheelchair lobby in this House, who is so much missed today.

Although many issues have been raised in this debate, all the speeches have recognised the progress made in the past 30 years and the importance of increasing awareness of what still needs to be done in the future. In the next Queen’s Speech we now know to expect the equality Bill, as others have mentioned, which not only will consolidate legislation in this field but, we hope, will take it further—for example, in promoting independent living and in building on the disability equality duty that requires public sector bodies to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people, a matter raised particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Low. We hope that this legislation will take disability rights further forward and, in doing so, will help the process of lifting disabled people out of poverty. That is such an important thing, as the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, recognised. I am sure everyone here will play their part in working on the new Bill.

There is no doubt that there has been a sea change in attitudes to all forms of disability in the past 30 years, thanks to the 1970 Act. I think all speakers have acknowledged that. As we all know, legislation is only ever part of the answer to any question about people’s rights, but it does more than anything else to change the climate of opinion. People instinctively

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know that the Government are serious about something if they legislate for non-compliance eventually to be breaking the law, even if precious few cases are taken to law, as the noble Lord, Lord Low, has said.


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