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Disabled Staff

Volume 450: debated on Thursday 19 October 2006

11. What recent discussions he has had with employer representatives on attitudes towards employing disabled staff. (95039)

That is an extremely disappointing reply, given that the Government are putting the Welfare Reform Bill before the House and that one of the critical issues in the Bill is how to get more disabled people into work. Is the Minister’s hesitation in holding discussions with employers’ groups because the Government’s own record is so lamentable? Nineteen per cent. of the working age population is disabled, yet only 6.8 per cent. of DTI employees are disabled, so what urgent measures will the Minister take to restore the credibility of his Department on that important issue?

There is no embarrassment on the Government Benches. We passed the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 and established an office for disability issues. The Act requires that all public bodies have due regard to promoting disability in all their functions and also that they produce a disability equality scheme by 4 December. The DTI is on target to meet that deadline; the scheme will provide an action plan for work to provide the framework in which we will meet our duty.

One of the largest categories of long-term illness and disability is made up of those suffering from mental ill health. When I talk to groups in my constituency, they report that, despite a transformation in social attitudes to mental ill health, there remain serious problems in terms of returning to the workplace and the difficulties that people encounter in having their applications treated fairly. Will the Minister say whether he agrees and, if he does, what he hopes that our Government will do to tackle that?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. Mental ill health affects a sizeable proportion of the population. Almost every family—if not every family—has a member affected by it. It is an important aspect of our disability policy and I am sure that it will feature in all the plans that Departments make. It is a difficult area of work that requires a lot of attention to detail. I am sure that we will do that in due course.