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I know that a lot was owed to the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act but, when I had occasion to flick through the Act recently for a celebration of the 40thanniversary of its introduction into Parliament, I was staggered to be reminded of just how much. As we have heard, for the first time local authorities were required to collect basic information about the numbers of disabled people in their area. The Government were required to produce an annual report on progress, with research and development of equipment designed to promote the independence of disabled people. The orange-now the blue-disabled persons' parking badge owes its origin to the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, and so does the Institute of Hearing Research. For the first time in statute, separate provision was made for children with autism and acute dyslexia. But of course the Act was centrally concerned with access, services and representation. Indeed, it did much to entrench the very concept of disability itself
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The Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act faces two ways. Like the music of Bach, it was in many ways the culmination of an era, rather than the beginning of one. Within a short time of its passage, a new paradigm would be involved, which thought more in terms of rights than welfare and of banning discrimination than providing services. We have come a long way since the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, and much of the transformation in our thinking is as a result of what the noble Lord, Lord Morris, set in train when he was the world's first Minister for Disabled People. It all goes back to the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, which paved the way for many of the changes that we have seen since. The Act has lost none of its relevance, and the services paradigm has never been more important, as local authorities' social services come under threat as never before. But it is important to look forward as well as back, and today's debate gives us a good opportunity to ask the new Minister, whom I welcome to his position, how the new Government's approach to disability issues and policy is shaping up. I have a few questions for him; I do not suppose that he shall be able to answer them all, since the answers to some of them lie outside his department, but it would be good if we could arrange meetings in the near future to follow up on some of the issues that I shall raise in areas where the Minister is unable to provide an authoritative answer this afternoon.
The best summary of the previous Government's policy, as the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, reminded us, is contained in Roadmap 2025 which, building on the 2005 Cabinet Office report Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People, set out how government departments were working towards disability equality by 2025. It showed how 14 themes prioritised by disabled people combined to make up the total vision of disability equality. These themes also reflected the commitments made in the previous Government's Independent Living strategy, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which the UK ratified last year, and departmental Secretary of State commitments. I suppose that my first question is: does this still represent the Government's policy? Are the Government willing to pick up this ball and run with it, and can they improve on it?
There is a sense out there that the life chances report, and hence the road map, were not sufficiently attentive to the needs of older people. This is a serious
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There is also a sense that the road map is lighter on some disabilities than others. Organisations representing visually impaired people-I declare my interest here as a vice-president of the RNIB-certainly feel that more needs to be made of the right to have information made available in accessible formats for people unable to read ordinary print. The Minister will know that, just before the election, we amended the Equality Bill when it passed through this House to strengthen the right to information in accessible formats. I would like to think that the Government would now work with the Equality and Human Rights Commission and organisations representing visually impaired people to ensure that this right is effectively enforced. We also need to maintain the focus on ensuring the availability of textbooks in accessible formats, because children are notoriously ill served in that area at present. The audio description targets for television need to be raised from 10 to 20 per cent and we need a help scheme for the switchover to digital radio, such as there was for television. Ofcom has left the decision on the audio description target to Ministers, so I would very much welcome an opportunity to explain to Ministers why it needs to be raised.
Venturing further afield, will the Government review the reservations which the previous Government entered upon their ratification of the UN convention, as the JCHR has recommended? The so-called equal treatment directive is making heavy weather in Europe. More enthusiastic support from the British Government could make a significant difference to its prospects and would be very welcome-especially in relation to the accessibility of manufactured goods, which can only be secured through European legislation. Similarly, we look to the British Government to support the European Parliament's extended list of non-exemptible rights under the proposed bus and coach regulation when that comes back to the Council. Coming closer, finally, to the Minister's own sphere of responsibility, where he might be able to give us some more answers, will the Office for Disability Issues remain as the vehicle for ensuring that disability is mainstream right across Government? There have been rumours that it is under threat.
One area where disabled people have the greatest need is employment, and nowhere is imagination on the part of Government more necessary. We are lucky in having the Minister responding to the debate this afternoon, because he has already brought a great deal of imagination and analysis to bear on the employment problems of disabled people, and it would be very helpful if he were able to respond to one or two questions in this area. How will the pledge on assessing people for access to work prior to a job offer be taken forward, and what plans do the Government have to make sure that employers and disabled people are made aware of this important new right? Will the Minister assure us that the previous Government's commitment to doubling the Access to Work budget is
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In terms of supporting the most vulnerable and marginalised groups into work, the Government's focus on meeting individual needs is very welcome, as are the proposals for differential payments, through which funding will be directed to sustaining in work those with the greatest needs. When can we expect more detail on the new work programme and the future of work choice contracts? How will work choice fit within the overall work programme-assuming, of course that work choice contracts will be progressed?
As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds has told us, disabled people are anxiously awaiting the Budget next week, with the possibility of cuts in their income through means-testing and restrictions on benefits such as the disability living allowance and attendance allowance. Two-thirds of blind people, for example, are not in work and live on fixed incomes, so their finances are extremely fragile. The Government must honour their pledge-this is a theme that has resounded throughout the debate today-to ensure that the most vulnerable in our society are protected from the sharp reductions in public expenditure that we all know are coming.
Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, it is difficult at this stage in the debate to avoid repetition. Inevitably, much of what I wanted to say has already been said, but I warmly endorse the praise for my noble friend Lord Corbett. I thought that his was a brilliant speech, and he said much of what many Members would want to say.
So far as the powers of the poet are concerned, the noble Lord, Lord Morris, was a marvellous guide and driver, combining the two functions in one set of activities. We are all very grateful to him for his marvellous work on that. The Bill will be a perpetual monument to his hard work in piloting it through all its stages in the House of Commons. In retrospect, that was far more difficult than it appeared-I appreciate that.
Of course, it was a team effort, which was one of the main reasons for the passage of the Bill to an Act. I add my tribute to some of the team players mentioned by my noble friend Lord Morris. In addition to the Labour MPs Lewis Carter-Jones, Laurence Pavitt and Fred Evans, there were Conservative activists who worked extensively, such as John Hannam, Neil Marten, John Astor, John Page, Jim Prior and the late Davina Darcy de Knayth, who my noble friend Lord Morris also mentioned.
We worked harmoniously during the passage of the Bill-there was no friction-and yet I would not want people to think that we were sentimental. One of the problems about disability is that some people tend to speak in dulcet, sentimental terms about the subject. They say, "We support the principle of your Bill but regret we can't support the Bill itself". Even the present Prime Minister, David Cameron, fell into that trap. In correspondence with him a few years ago, when I tried to persuade him to support my Bill on independent living for disabled people, he said,
It is good that there is so much good will there, but when it comes to the crunch where do we stand? I will write to the Prime Minister following this debate to ask him how far he has got in supporting those sentiments.
In the course of the Bill we rejected sentimentality and had a tough, hard-edged argument. One of the many achievements of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, which is rarely understood, was that it led to the foundation and success of the All-Party Group on Disability. That group has grown in influence over the years. On a personal note, I served on it for 40 years, until I retired a few weeks ago. It is now in the extremely competent hands of the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, and carries on with its influential and unostentatious work for disabled people.
One of the main achievements of the Act was that it drew attention to the subject of disability, which had hitherto been ignored completely. That meant that disabled people had been ignored as well. The Act became a hallmark and a point of reference that was absolutely crucial to progress. No one can doubt that disability is now a mainstream subject. Plenty of people are determined that it should remain so. Disabled people deserve all the attention that they can get. The Act of the noble Lord, Lord Morris, remains a major contribution to their health and welfare.
Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, for introducing this debate, and for his excellent speech. This debate is to mark the 40th anniversary of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act. It is also the 40th anniversary of my becoming a Member of your Lordships' House. The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, was in 1970 a Member of Parliament for one of the Manchester constituencies, and was lucky to win the ballot to enable him to introduce the Bill. It took much hard work and persuasion to get the Bill accepted in another place, and the noble Lord must be congratulated on his doggedly determined way of not giving up on such matters.
Looking back over the past 40 years and discussing this Act of Parliament, I am filled with nostalgia. Four of us who were disabled Members of your Lordships' House made our maiden speeches on that Bill. We all used wheelchairs. A Cross Bench was removed and we became known as the mobile Bench. My sadness is that I am the only remaining Member of that first mobile Bench, all of whom were very close friends of mine. They were Viscount Ingleby, Lord Crawshaw and Baroness Darcy de Knayth, all of whom have sadly died.
The Bill was led in this House by the late Lord Longford. Many amendments were moved in your Lordships' House and the Bill was improved. We moved amendments such as one requiring that public buildings with access for wheelchairs should be signposted. The Chief Whip from another place used to come through because he was so concerned about the
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Disability covers so many different aspects of daily living that non-disabled people take for granted. A disabled person, who may be a child, can mean a family being disabled if adequate housing and suitable aids-as well as access to public buildings, public lavatories and transport, including trains, airplanes, buses, taxis and ships-are not available. Disabled people using wheelchairs often had to travel in the guards van. The provision of telephones, the recognition of dyslexia and access to places of entertainment were all in the Bill. Now, 40 years on, we have to look forward. Aspects of life have changed. We have a new mobile Bench with other Members of your Lordships' House who are well qualified to provide their knowledge and expertise on many aspects of life.
So much has improved over the years but there is still a great deal to do, and much of it is due to the attitudes of some people. I give an example. In my local village of Masham in north Yorkshire, the chemist's has a four-inch step with no ramp. Many elderly people with varying disabilities find that step impossible to negotiate without help, but because Masham is not a large town, the chemist was told by the PCT that a ramp was not necessary. That is not satisfactory when many residents and visitors to this most attractive part of Yorkshire have a disability. Legislation is being flouted. I know how hard many Members of both Houses of Parliament worked on this legislation, so it is disappointing when a pharmacist, of all places, takes this attitude.
Many disabled people are living much longer. They are often treated as elderly but their disability is forgotten. When disabled people visit hospitals, they very often find that there is no suitable equipment for their disability. Again, it is often a question of the attitude of staff who need better training about the multitude of different disabilities. Disabled people want to be treated as persons first. However, their disability needs to be taken into consideration and they should be helped when necessary. Police and other professional people need to recognise disability so that unfortunate mistakes do not occur. It is still not possible for disabled people to use many facilities. For example, a passport photograph booth has a fixed stool, so disabled people in a wheelchair have to hunt around to find an accessible booth to have photographs taken for the many passes for which they may have to produce photographs as identification, such as the blue badge scheme.
I visited the mobile X-ray unit in London that takes X-rays of people who may have tuberculosis from among the homeless living in hostels and people in prison. It is a great asset to public health. I was pleased to see that this mobile unit had a lift to enable a person using a wheelchair, or who has difficulty climbing steps, to enter the vehicle. The mobile unit was built in Holland. I was told that the mobile units
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"Disabled people are at a substantially higher risk of poverty than non-disabled people. Nearly one in four families with a disabled member live in poverty, compared with less than one in six for families where no one is disabled".-[Official Report, 15/6/10; col. 947.]
I want your Lordships to know that many disabled people have extra expenses for wear and tear to clothes, extra heating, extra equipment that can be very expensive-such as light wheelchairs to help their carers-special food when needed, and extra help to enable them to lead a normal life if they need help getting up, going to bed, dressing and going to the lavatory. Disability can happen at any time to anyone. They can have an accident which leaves them paralysed, a stroke, a condition such as motor neurone disease, or they are born with a condition which leaves them disabled.
The Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 has helped a great deal, but there is much to do to educate new Members of Parliament, councillors, medical staff and educators to understand the very varied and sometimes complex needs of disability.
Lord Addington: My Lords, I spoke in the debate 10 years ago to celebrate this Act which allowed me to go through the state school system as a dyslexic person. I do not know how many other noble Lords in this Chamber have been directly touched in that way-I suspect that that is the case for many of those who have spoken, if not all. This Act changed the world and it is clear, from listening to those noble Lords who were there at the time, that it scared the living daylights out of everyone who was having their world changed.
Any veteran of these debates, when looking at the issue-I have a little more than two decades-worth-would say, "Wait a minute; we had to discuss that again and again". As noble Lords have said, people do not like having their lives changed. They say, "We don't have to do that; it is awfully difficult; oh, you mean there is a reasonableness test; we have better lawyers than you". I am afraid that such sentiments run through all the debates on this legislation. People in both Houses of Parliament take on these issues, listen to those outside, often have personal experience, enact legislation and then what we are doing is whittled back by those outside who do not want to change. All parties and none have been on both sides of that process. It is a matter of how much better we have become at blocking it off. It is like an ebb and flow. We have gone a long way, but there are always little defeats and there is slowness in implementation.
People usually panic. They say that everything will be terribly expensive. They say: "We can't do anything; the world will change". I remember a discussion about wheelchair access within schools. It was said: "How
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Another example is the attitude of organisations. The education issue is the first in which I became involved and is regularly raised. People say: "You mean that our class may have to stop or start five minutes early to get somebody who can't move very fast into the classroom?". So no one is allowed to get sick in your classroom, use a loo or occasionally turn up late. They are not supposed to but they do, so you adapt and carry on. I think that this type of thing underpins most of this debate. There is always that fear of the unknown and an unwillingness to change.
The noble Lord, Lord Corbett, described the Trojan horse incident using a wheelchair, getting people to react after a lot of necessary legislation had been introduced. It just goes to show how dumb people are. We have to ask what would happen if the person who wanted to buy the suit went to the shop to buy it. The person in the shop might say, "What do you mean?", to which the answer would be, "They are going to spend money in your shop. They're going to give you profits". The person in the shop would reply, "I hadn't thought of that", and would then try to get the idea into his head.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds put his finger on many of the driving forces in relation to children, including the fact that a child from a middle-class background does much better out of the system than anyone else. After he had finished his speech, I said in an aside to the right reverend Prelate that I thought the best combination was a lawyer and a journalist. People really do not like tangling with those two, and education systems, shops and local authorities have now learnt to back off.
I turn to the bailiwick of the noble Lord, Lord Freud. The real test lies with people whose backgrounds mean that they do not have that degree of access to the media or legal process at their fingertips. This is nothing new and there is a great deal of consensus about it, but it can lead to those nasty arguments that often break out within parties-we all agree on what should happen but we disagree slightly on how it should come about. It is one of those arguments where there is very little room for manoeuvre, so we tend to go for the eyes and throat.
We also know that huge costs are involved in not dealing with situations at an early stage. My own unlooked-for area of specialisation is dyslexia. We know that there are a lot of dyslexics in prison, but why is that? The answer is that if you fail in the education system and cannot fill in forms to get jobs or money outside, then crime is an option. If you do not come from a middle-class background, you do not have the necessary push or support.
We also know-indeed, today we are agreeing quite a lot with the Bishops' Benches-that mental health problems tend to occur in the groups that do not have
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With the current Government, there is one bright spot in this process, and it goes back to an initial part of the legislation. I refer to assessments in education. This does not relate directly to the Minister's department but I think that the idea of departmentalising the whole issue is nonsense. As with many problems in politics, you must look across departments. If all children are assessed to find out whether they have special educational needs, I think that autism and dyslexia will probably come top of the poll, but early identification of other needs will not hurt. Furthermore, even if it is obvious that children have a problem, the fact that it is recorded in the system will help. Can we ensure that this attitude towards carrying out skilled assessments is carried on throughout the whole system? Steps have been taken and, although matters may be better than they were before, they are not good enough yet. I do not directly criticise the Government's intention, but this will probably not be finished in the lifetime of anyone listening today.
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