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I will highlight some key steps that we have taken towards achieving that aim. In 2005, we launched the report Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People, which clearly set out our commitment to delivering equality for disabled people by 2025. We have established the Office for Disability Issues to co-ordinate work across government. We have ensured that the voices of disabled people will be at the heart of policy development in the future through the creation of Equality 2025, an independent group of disabled people set up to advise government about policy and how services are delivered in reality. We are investing an extra £430 million over the next three years to transform services for disabled children and their parents, in part to fund a transition support programme, the need for which the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, referred to. We are committed to improving such services.

In early March, we published a five-year cross-government strategy for independent living, to which much reference has been made today. I must pay credit to the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, who is sadly unable to be with us today, and the expert panel for their efforts in shaping the independent living strategy. The strategy sets out how government will work with disabled people, and their organisations, to enable them to live autonomous lives and to have the same choice, freedom, dignity and control over their lives as the rest of society takes as a given. It focuses on every aspect of a person’s life and is about using existing funding better to support independent living. It also brings together initiatives, amounting to over £1 billion of new funding, which will enable people to have more choice and control.

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The strategy represents a unique milestone on the road towards our goal of equality by 2025. We have moved away from debating what independent living means to the question of how we make independent living a reality. We have also, through this strategy, achieved a real cross-government commitment to working together across departmental boundaries to address the barriers to independent living. We co-produced the strategy with disabled people, which has set an important precedent in how we develop policy that impacts on the lives of disabled people.

We fully intend to continue this partnership with disabled people as we move towards implementing and monitoring the strategy. Yesterday, we held a major consultation event to hear the views of disabled people on how best to do this. At that event, we also announced funding of £900,000 to support a second wave of action and learning sites from January 2009 as part of the user-led organisations project. This is on top of the funding of £750,000 that has been shared between 12 user-led organisations to help them to become action and learning sites from March 2008. These action and learning sites are a key contribution to delivering on our commitment that by 2010 each local authority area should have a user-led organisation modelled on existing centres for independent living.

We have also confirmed our intention to publish a welfare reform Green Paper later this summer to outline proposals on transforming the welfare state from a dependency culture to an empowering culture to enable people to live independently, building on the Welfare Reform Bill to which the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, referred—several noble Lords referred to the replacement of incapacity benefit with the employment and support allowance as part of this strategy. We are focusing on what people can do—their capacity—rather than on what they cannot. I can confirm to my noble friend Lord Corbett that on transition nobody will face a cash cut in their benefit. The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, talked in his brief intervention about the importance of work and some of the challenges that that brings. The connection between work and health and helping people out of poverty is key to the focus of our policies.

As noble Lords said, the Government have also launched a national debate on reform of the care and support system in England. We believe that a radical rethink is required to meet the challenges of the 21st century to deliver more integrated services that are easy to access, fair, of a high quality and sustainable. While we remain open-minded about solutions, we are clear that there must be three principles for reform. The new system must promote independence, choice and control for everyone who uses care and support services, must ensure that everyone can receive the high-quality care and support that they need and must be affordable for government, individuals and families in the long term.

My noble friend Lord Morris referred to historic levels of spend. Total spending on disability living allowance in 2007-08 was just under £10 billion. We also spent £4.4 billion on attendance allowance and £1.262 billion on carer’s allowance. My noble friend Lord Corbett referred to blue badges. There has been

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an increase between March 2006 and March 2007 and there are now some 2.3 million badges. He also stressed the importance of the consultation that has taken place to ensure that we facilitate the provision of badges to those who need them but do not get them and ensure that those who have them and abuse them are not able to continue to do so.

Noble Lords commented on the need for legislation on independent living. My noble friend Lord Ashley must be commended for his commitment to this agenda, as the noble Lord, Lord Rix, said. The Government’s position was clearly set out at Second Reading of my noble friend’s Bill and it has not changed. We do not believe that it is necessary or desirable to take a legislative solution to delivering equality and inclusion for disabled people at this time. However, the independent living strategy sets out our firm commitment to monitoring progress on independent living on an annual basis to ensure that measurable change is made. We will review the need for legislation if sufficient progress has not been made.

The National Centre for Independent Living’s report on the impact of charging for social care was published yesterday. We have asked officials to study it carefully and to consider what policy implications it has. I assure the House that final decisions on the reform of social care funding will take account of the interaction between charging policies, benefits and employment support programmes and the impact on disability equality.

The Government have acknowledged that we face challenges in our care and support systems. As I said, we have launched an extensive process of engagement on the future of that system, leading to a Green Paper. One of the questions within this important national debate tackles the issues raised here: whether we have the right balance between national consistency and the need for local authorities to respond to local differences. We will consider the issues raised today within that context.

Noble Lords will be aware that the UK was among the first states to sign up to the UN convention on its first day of opening—30 March 2007—at the United Nations. Signing the convention demonstrated the UK’s commitment to human rights for disabled people and showed our intention to proceed to ratification without undue delay. I confirm that our aim is to ratify by the end of the year, which is ambitious given that the average time for the UK to ratify conventions of this kind after signature is around four years. We have carefully scrutinised the laws, policies, practices and procedures against the rights under the convention. The process has inevitably taken time, but that phase of the work is now over and we are carefully considering the emerging findings. The position on our progress was set out in the Statement made by the Minister for Disabled People on 6 May 2008, which identified the areas where reservations are still under consideration.

I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Low, noted that reservations can help ratification. For example, the Department for Children, Schools and Families has indicated that there is a need to recognise that the general education system in the UK has a range of provision including mainstream and special schools,

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which will require an interpretive declaration. A reservation will also be needed in respect of disabled children whose needs are best met through specialist provision, which may be some way away from their home. The Government are aware of the importance that many disabled people attach to the optional protocol and we are carefully considering the position as part of the convention ratification process.

As I said, we have committed to introduce a single equality Bill within the lifetime of this Parliament and have included it in the draft legislative programme for 2008-09. When we launched the consultation document last June, we also gave a commitment that there would be no erosion of existing protection. We remain committed to that. I hope that that reassures noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Addington. I am unable to comment on specific proposals while policy discussions continue, but I reassure noble Lords that the Government’s response to the White Paper will be published shortly.

The noble Lord, Lord Rix, spoke with great authority about the challenges faced by those with learning disabilities. The consultation on Valuing People Now, which sets out the key priorities for people with learning disabilities over the next three years, closed on 28 March 2008. There has been a huge response. We have had more than 2,000 responses, with the total number of people involved in them being more than 10,000. The University of Lancaster is in the process of analysing those responses and we want to give due consideration to both the quantity and the quality of responses received.

The noble Lord, Lord Rix, asked when the Government would implement health checks for all people with a learning disability. In Our Health, Our Care, Our Say, which was published in 2006, the Government committed to introduce regular and comprehensive health checks as soon as possible for people with learning disabilities. We are delivering a programme of work to promote a PCT framework to support comprehensive health checks. This is key to achieving our aims of reducing health inequalities. The noble Lord also asked whether we would assess people who have learning difficulties for eligibility for social care. Everyone is entitled to an assessment of need by social care professionals. Should someone not meet the local authority’s criteria for financial support, the local authority should signpost that person towards other support. If the condition of the person changes, they are entitled to subsequent assessments. The Government have asked the Commission for Social Care Inspection to review the application of eligibility criteria to make recommendations about how we can improve practice.

I reiterate the Government’s commitment to equality and to removing the obstacles that prevent disabled people from having full choice and control about how they go about their lives. I hope that the wide range of initiatives that I have been able to outline in my short contribution today serves to demonstrate that. I will read the record and, if I have not answered any of the points raised, I will write to noble Lords.

My brief does not have quite the historical sweep of the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, but I agree with

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the thrust of his point that we should now be focused on delivery. There is a strong framework overall and we will have the single Act in the next Session. The noble Lord asked about the employment and support allowance, which we debated when the regulations were prayed against in this House. The Government’s position on that is clearly set down. He cannot quite equate the structure of incapacity benefit with that of the employment and support allowance, because that is focused on a different system; it is focused on supporting people, helping people to identify what they can do, as we discussed earlier, and helping people who can work back towards the labour market.

In closing, I reiterate that I am under no illusion about how much more we have to do before we deliver our commitment to achieving equality for disabled people by 2025, but I firmly believe that we are on the right path towards meeting that commitment. We owe it to those pioneers and heroes to do so.

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Sport and Physical Education

2.01 pm

Lord Pendry rose to call attention to the case for a new sport and physical education strategy; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I raised the important subject of sport and physical recreation in a debate in this House some months ago. I make no apologies for raising the issue again today, as sport and physical activity are so important to the nation’s well-being. That cannot be overstated.

In my 38 years as a Member of this House and of the other place, I have long argued the case for a higher government priority to be given to sport and the promotion of physical activity. What has happened over the past 10 years? There have been huge advances under this Government. I was shadow Minister for Sport for five years up to the 1997 general election, and I was the author of the sport manifesto Labour’s Sporting Nation. It is particularly pleasing to me, therefore, to see that so many of the commitments that we made in that manifesto have come to fruition.

I refer in particular to the pledge that an incoming Labour Government would work tirelessly to bring major sporting events to the UK; how well we have delivered on that front. We staged the enormously successful Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002, and of course London won the opportunity to stage the 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games. Only this week, we heard that the International Olympic Committee has given the preparations for London 2012 near-perfect marks following a three-day inspection visit. If we add to that the Prime Minister’s personal support for making it a top priority to secure football’s

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World Cup in 2018, it is clear that the Government are succeeding in putting this country firmly on the world’s sporting map.

It is not all about elite sport and world-class events, however. Sport and physical activity are just as important at grass-roots level. The Government are well aware of that importance and have acted to secure its delivery. Increasing participation and providing high standard facilities together make the bedrock of our sports policy. We recognised in that early manifesto that the provision of school sport was vital to the nation’s young people. Schoolchildren must have access to sports facilities, and the curriculum must provide time for sport and physical activity.

That is why I am so pleased that the Youth Sport Trust has revolutionised school sport and now has its sights set on delivering five hours of physical activity for the nation’s youngsters. It is in that context that school playing fields have been such an emotive issue in past years. I am pleased to note that government policy ensures that access and participation are safeguarded in any proposal to develop school playing fields. That was another commitment made in Labour’s Sporting Nation.

Another body that plays a vital role in school sport is the Football Foundation. Here I declare an interest, since I speak as a former chairman and now as its president. It is a partnership between government and football, and it has been hugely successful in providing grass-roots facilities in our schools and parks. Since its launch at No. 10 Downing Street in 2000, the foundation has supported more than 5,000 projects worth nearly £700 million with grant aid totalling more than £300 million. There is another £114 million-worth of projects in the pipeline. I commend the work of the foundation, and I am proud of its achievements.

Returning for a moment to the manifesto, we also undertook to tackle the issue of ticket touting. Again, I welcome the progress that has been made. I also welcome the recent policy announcement by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State that he wants to see more action taken against touting at major sporting events. I led a delegation to him earlier this year, when we explained the frustration that sports governing bodies have at people who rip off the ordinary sports fan. We must make sure that young people have the opportunity to see top class sporting events at prices that they can afford. I therefore urge the Minister to expedite the work that he is doing to secure voluntary agreements from secondary ticket agents. Those companies have a final chance to show that they can control the secondary market. If they cannot do so, they must understand that they face further regulation of their activities.

With that as a background, let me now turn to some of the other issues facing us. We can be proud that we have in this country a sector skills council that is a leading light in developing sport and physical activity. SkillsActive has a crucial role to play in ensuring that there are enough coaches out there to meet demand. The Government’s recent approval of the planned national skills academy for sport and active leisure will assist in that aim. All of that is a far cry from what the Government inherited in 1997.

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Of course, there are areas where more improvements can still be made. Participation rates are still too low. Painful as it may be, we in this House have to face up to the fact that 65 per cent of men and 76 per cent of women do not reach the government minimum for physical activity. That is estimated to cost £8.2 billion per year. The economy is further hit by £13.2 billion per year in sickness absence alone. Individuals who are active are 1.9 times less likely to have a heart attack than their inactive counterparts. I could go on, but your Lordships will be clear about the picture that I am painting.

Over the past 50 years, as a nation, we have seen the systematic removal of physical activity from our daily lives, and the cost of that is adding up. The Foresight report on future trends in obesity predicted a cost, at current trends, amounting to £50 billion per year. That is what is at stake. Make no mistake: that places an unbearable strain on our National Health Service. To reinforce that view, there are 1.5 million sufferers of type 2 diabetes in this country, and 90 per cent of all diabetes sufferers are type 2. That has a cost to the National Health Service of some £3.5 billion a year, and no lack of human suffering.

Two weeks ago, the medical journal the Lancet said that exercise lifestyle interventions over six years can prevent or delay diabetes for up to 14 years after the intervention period. We know that an active lifestyle can lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by between 33 per cent and 50 per cent. Last week Cancer Research UK told us that active men are 34 per cent less likely to develop cancer than their inactive counterparts, and I have not even mentioned asthma, stroke or osteoporosis. According to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, up to 20 ailments and conditions could be alleviated, prevented or cured by opportunities to be more active.

We must also not forget the psychological impact. Physical activity is like fresh air to the brain. All of this is a message that can get across loud and clear, and we should get it across. Is it is not an impossible task to change a culture, and my proof is that it has already been done. We should look at Finland. Back in the 1970s it was in a similar predicament. It had among the highest rate of smokers and drinkers in Europe and the highest rate of deaths from coronary heart disease in the world. It set in place real, concerted actions around promoting physical activity. If more people are more active more often in any shape or form, more people play sport. Finland provided exercise on prescription across the country. It opened up extensive cycling and walking programmes. Look at Finland now. By 2008 there had been a 65 per cent reduction in deaths from coronary heart and lung disease—yes, 65 per cent. It now has one of the lowest rates of smoking in the world. Most compellingly, average life expectancy has increased by six and a half years on average across the population.

Just think of the effects that such a policy would have here. The British Heart Foundation says that coronary heart disease costs every single person in this country £250 per year—a total of £3.5 billion. Lives and plenty of resources can be saved at the same time. I am sure that the Government are aware of the

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issues that I raise and I hope that they will take appropriate action. To reinforce that view, the Prime Minister, in his speech in January, said that to ensure the future of the National Health Service, prevention has to figure higher on the agenda. As an average, 60 per cent of waking hours are spent at work, which is, therefore, an ideal place to encourage increased physical activity. Sickness absence cost the economy £13.4 billion in 2006, the equivalent of 175 million working days. Someone on incapacity benefit for six months has only a 50 per cent chance of returning to work. After 12 months off, that sinks to 30 per cent. Ninety per cent of the time, someone on incapacity benefit for between six and 12 months will end up out of employment for five years. Unless these people are provided with the opportunities to rehabilitate physically, they and their children are likely to remain in poverty—by which I mean economic, social and cultural poverty, let alone in terms of self-respect. Poverty is exactly what I mean.

One has to be reminded that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has published evidence to show that physical activity can help alleviate and prevent 20 lifestyle diseases and reduce absenteeism by up to 30 per cent. The national crisis around health and obesity requires urgent and concerted action and—credit where credit is due—the Government are aware of this need. There has been a £372 million pledge from Alan Johnson and Ed Balls to fight the problem of obesity.

Delivery needs national, regional and local impact. Delivery needs effective networks to help the hardest to reach. Delivery needs a high level of customer service. It needs consistency and reliability in implementation. The achievement of many social outcomes requires greater engagement and participation from citizens and an understanding that governments cannot do it on their own. There are powerful moral and political arguments for protecting and enhancing personal responsibility. I am sure that the Government are not only aware of the opportunities at their disposal but determined to make use of them.

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