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Speech Impediments (Young People)

Volume 467: debated on Monday 19 November 2007

Most people are able to make use of the mainstream employment placing services provided by Jobcentre Plus to find a job. However, for those who need more specialist help, such as someone with a speech impediment, Jobcentre Plus provides a range of tailored disability measures via our highly trained disability employment advisers.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer, but what would she say to a 17-year-old constituent of mine with a severe stammer who could be helped by a SpeechEasy device to get into employment—it would help him make telephone calls, attend interviews and so on—and yet has received just one piece of advice: that he should go on jobseeker’s allowance and then people will look at helping him? He is a bright young man who is eager to work, and a small investment now would repay the taxpayer many times over in the future. Can we not look at providing more help for people such as him who want to contribute to society?

I recognise the picture that my hon. Friend has painted. Through Jobcentre Plus and our disability employment advisers, there are ways in which a young man in such a position can be assisted through the training and interview processes. If they are successful in getting a job there is also, of course, our successful “access to work” programme to address ways of supporting them in employment. I know that my hon. Friend has written to me on the specifics of her constituency case and I will respond on that as soon as possible.

Anyone who has a speech impediment or communication difficulty, whether it results from a physical disability or a psychological problem, should ideally be able to access speech therapy long before they reach the stage when they want to attend a job interview. I would include in that many young people who do not have a speech impediment but who have barely intelligible speech. They need to have that made known to them, so that they present themselves well and to best advantage when they go for a job.

I understood the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones), and likewise I understand exactly what the hon. Lady is saying. I hope that she welcomed the recent statement in the pre-Budget report supporting enhanced facilities for speech therapy. We recognise that communication is important in getting through the interview process and getting a job. That is why Jobcentre Plus works with the individual, particularly if they have a speech impediment, to see what is most appropriate to take them through that quite difficult process,

Does the Minister think that a young person who has a severe speech impediment would qualify for incapacity benefit under the new assessment announced today, or would she include such a person in being part of the sick-note culture? Would it not be better for all concerned if the Government concentrated on putting their efforts into providing tailored support for such people to get back into work, as proposed in the Freud review, which Ministers have now ditched, rather than on demonising disabled people by using negative stereotypes of the type that we have read about again in the papers today?

I regret the sort of angle from which the hon. Gentleman has come at this issue, because when we debated the Welfare Reform Bill in Committee, we were clear that the way in which we would work in future would be to consider and support the individual, and to identify their needs to ensure that they moved into work with the proper support when that was appropriate. Of course, it would be ludicrous for me to say that one person would be able to qualify for the new employment and support allowance whereas someone else would not, because it is very much tailored to individual needs, including training needs, individual aspirations and how those people move into work. For the hon. Gentleman’s information, we are implementing the recommendations of the Freud report.

My question follows the point ably made by the hon. Member for Warrington, North, and is similar. The Minister will know that last week Scope launched its “no voice, no choice” campaign, which specifically examines the need of many disabled people for communication devices, both to have much more fulfilled lives and to get into employment. Is she able to update the House on the steps that she and her colleagues are taking to improve that situation to deal with both the constituency case that has been mentioned and people more widely?

Obviously, I have read Scope’s report. We have clearly identified communication as an issue for many people, which is why we have support workers for many people who have a visual impairment and why Braille is part of the working environment—that is supported through our access to work programme. For those who have a hearing impairment, we provide British Sign Language signers and we examine different ways in which we can support technology to maintain people in their employment. Of course, I would be delighted to update the hon. Gentleman, in his new capacity as shadow spokesperson on disability, at an appropriate future time.