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Disabled Workers (Medway)

Volume 931: debated on Tuesday 3 May 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the latest figure for unemployment amongst registered disabled workers in the Medway employment area; what percentage of all registered disabled workers in the area this represents; and what are the corresponding figures for general unemployment in the area.

I am advised by the Manpower Services Commission that on 14th April 1,022 or 18·4 per cent. of registered disabled people were unemployed in the Medway employment area. The corresponding figures for general unemployment in the area were 13,459 or 5·7 per cent. My hon. Friend will wish to note that the latter percentage relates to an area which includes Dartford as well as the Medway area.

Does the Minister accept that those figures reveal a disgraceful situation that is common throughout the country and that they reflect the failure of industry to meet quota obligations? Is it not now time to introduce legislation instructing the Employment Services Agency to publish the names of firms which refuse to meet their quota obligations?

The numbers of registered disabled people unemployed in the Medway area dropped between March and April, contrary to general trends.

It was not a large drop, but it is encouraging. The Employment Services Agency has accepted the need for a sheltered workshop in that area to be provided by Remploy. I do not know whether my hon. Friend was aware of that. Finally, it is not an offence to be below the quota, although I agree that that is an unsatisfactory situation.

I think my hon. Friend will agree that the main effort must be to get disabled people into jobs, and the Government have been advised by the National Advisory Council for the Employment of the Disabled and by the Manpower Services Commission that they favour persuasion rather than coercion. However, there must be a more positive policy of persuasion, and to that end we have announced measures in recent weeks—the capital grants scheme and the job introduction scheme. Later this month the Manpower Services Commission will be launching an employers' guide. I hope that the measures will be effective and that my hon. Friend will support them.

Is the Minister aware that the whole House is extremely worried about unemployment rates among the disabled, particularly because the Government have not taken up their share? Can he give us any further information about the Government taking up their quota, as we all hope will happen?

It is too soon to answer the latter part of the right hon. Gentleman's question. However, I have been in touch with all my ministerial colleagues and urged them to take up the matter in turn with the industries for which they have responsibilities and to draw attention to the situation. I have also written to the chairmen of disablement advisory committees asking them to take this matter up with local authorities, because local authorities leave much to be desired. It is too soon, however, to give any more figures that could be helpful to the House.

Did not the Minister hear the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Ovenden)? He asked the Minister to publish the names. That was the essence of the question, to which we want an answer. Is the Minister aware that the Government have no moral justification in pressing private firms to employ their quota when every Government Department except two has failed to employ its quota of 3 per cent. disabled people?

I have already replied to the latter part of that question, and I have answered the first part by pointing out that the Government, the Manpower Services Commission and the National Advisory Council are against the kind of suggestion that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Ovenden), because that would cut across the efforts that they intend to make—particularly positive efforts—to achieve greater employment for the disabled through more persuasive policies.

Is the Minister aware that a number of sheltered workshops for the disabled throughout the country are short of orders, partly because of the general economic climate and lack of industrial output but also because Government Departments are not placing orders with them? Will Government Departments and nationalised industries give orders to them?

This is under active consideration. A working party has been set up by the Manpower Services Commission in conjunction with the National Advisory Council on a priority supply scheme. I hope that we shall have some firm proposals on that in the near future.