Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Tony Cunningham.]
It is a pleasure, Mr. Chope, to introduce a debate on disability poverty with you in the Chair. I am pleased that the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire), who has ministerial responsibility for disabled people, will respond to the debate.
As we all know, there have been significant reductions in poverty in the United Kingdom over the past 10 years. For example, there are 600,000 fewer children in poverty. Child poverty doubled during the previous two decades, when the country acquired one of the worst records of child poverty among the major European nations. I do not doubt for a moment the Government’s commitment to reducing poverty, any more than I doubt their commitment to improving the life chances of disabled people. However, much more needs to be done—very much more. That is particularly so, given the Government’s targets to reduce child poverty and fuel poverty, both of which suggest not only that much more needs to be done but that it needs to be done more quickly.
The immediate reason for seeking a debate on this issue was not another pre-emptive Budget bid—a rather late one—but the fact that in January Leonard Cheshire Disability produced a report entitled “Disability Poverty in the UK”. I strongly recommend that report to those who may not have had the chance to read it. I shall begin with three observations made in that report. First, official statistics show that three in 10 disabled people—or 3 million people—live in poverty. Secondly, disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty as non-disabled people. Thirdly, official figures seriously underestimate the extent of poverty among disabled people and their families. Why is that? Most obviously, it is because the data do not take account of the additional financial costs of disability.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. It is a privilege to be in the same Chamber as him, my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke), and my hon. Friend the Minister. Over the past 10 years, they have been three of the best campaigners on the subject. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Roger Berry) has acknowledged, the excellent Leonard Cheshire report points out that disability poverty is not only about financial poverty but about poverty of opportunity and aspiration.
A constituent e-mailed me yesterday evening. He said that
“it can be forgotten that a person with a disability has ambitions just like everyone else”.
He was told that he was setting his sights too high at school by wanting to study at university. The e-mail continued:
“The unfortunate fact is though, that this just underlines the bigotry that is very real and very present in our society. It certainly does a great deal of damage to self-confidence.”
Such important issues are more difficult to tackle, but they are pervasive.
I agree very much with my hon. Friend. They are real and pervasive issues.
One problem arises from the fact that, in order to fulfil their aspirations, disabled people often have to do things that others do not have to do. They may have to employ personal assistants, they may have to rely on personal care and home adaptations, and they may incur costs for the additional heating necessary to keep their homes warm. That package of things, which many disabled people have to take on board in addition to their impairment, can affect their aspirations. Given that they also have to face the prejudice that is sadly still prevalent in many parts of society, their aspirations can be deeply frustrated.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. On the important question highlighted in the Leonard Cheshire report—the extent to which poverty is deepened by the extra costs that disabled people face—will he come on to deal with the case to be made for a more objective and empirically sourced basis for the excellent disability living allowance? Important thought it is, the DLA does not meet the costs of disability facing most disabled people.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his intervention. He has made an enormous contribution in this field, and I shall come to that point later. First, however, may I make a general comment?
There are serious methodological issues in estimating the extra costs of disability. Leonard Cheshire Disability has made a good effort to come up with a modest estimate of those extra costs; it suggests something like an extra 25 per cent. above the costs of living of a non-disabled person, but I believe that that is on the conservative side. Other organisations, such the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, have over the years engaged in similar exercises and come up with higher figures. However, my right hon. Friend is right to say that the problem needs to be addressed.
If we take the modest estimate of the extra costs of disability proposed in the excellent Leonard Cheshire report, the number of disabled people living in poverty would increase from three in 10 to six. It is therefore important that we should recognise the significant extra costs of disability. We know from our constituency case work—and, no doubt, from family and friends—about the circumstances in which people on low incomes have to live, and I know of the strong feelings on the matter, both in the country and in the House. Early-day motion 637—a cross-party motion that I tabled with other Members in January—was a response to the Leonard Cheshire Disability report. It not only noted the publication of that report, but it expressed the view that the extent of disability poverty in the UK is unacceptable, and it called on the Government to give the need to tackle disability poverty a higher priority. The motion has attracted 218 signatures, and it is the seventh most heavily supported in the current Session.
I believe that those who are most deserving of praise in society are not the hugely rich, however important their contributions might be. The most deserving are those who live in poverty, who live on low incomes and who seek to do the best for their families and to make a contribution. Those whom we should praise, those whom we should support and those with whom we parliamentarians should engage most are disabled people and their families and carers, who live on incomes that Members of Parliament would find intolerable.
Although I have congratulated Leonard Cheshire Disability on its report, I wish to make a further point before moving on to other key issues. I do not seek to diminish the strength of the Leonard Cheshire report in saying that a number of the lines of argument deployed by the charity have been deployed by other organisations and individuals. Indeed, that strengthens the argument.
I have already referred to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, but many arguments made in the Leonard Cheshire report echo those made, for example, by the former Disability Rights Commission, RADAR, “Disability Now”—the monthly magazine published by Scope, which last year published a range of articles on the circumstances of disabled people living in poverty—the Disability Alliance, which is specifically concerned with the income problems of disabled people, the Every Disabled Child Matters campaign, which is currently lobbying Members of Parliament, and the Prime Minister’s strategy unit.
In his introduction to the strategy unit’s report, “Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People”, published in January 2005, the then Prime Minister said:
“Disabled people remain more likely to live in poverty, to have fewer educational qualifications, to be out of work and experience prejudice and abuse. They still routinely find themselves experiencing poorer services.”
The hon. Gentleman mentioned work, which is one of the key routes out of poverty, towards self-esteem and a better quality of life, and towards avoiding social exclusion. Does he look back, as I do, with nostalgia at the 1980s when we had the wonderful sheltered work scheme? In Poole in Dorset, I employed a number of disabled people and people with learning difficulties, and they added an enormous amount to my company. They brought more than they took from my company, and that enabled them to build their quality of life and to escape a little bit from poverty with a wage packet. Does he think that the Government should look at that scheme as a way forward?
The issue of sheltered employment as opposed to mainstream employment, which has been the focus of the debate about the future of Remploy, is a very important one. Disabled people ought to have the opportunities that suit them best. I must say that I support Remploy’s strategy to expand the number of places that they support in mainstream employment. That is precisely the reason why disability organisations, too, support the Remploy programme. In addition, one can create more jobs in mainstream employment than one can for the same expenditure in sheltered employment. The strategy of moving in that direction, which Remploy has pursued for a number of years, is right. I believe that many of the criticisms of Remploy’s recent plans are fundamentally misdirected.
Before responding to the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink), I was listing relevant organisations. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Rooney) is in the Chamber, and last week, the Work and Pensions Committee, which he chairs, published an excellent report entitled, “The best start in life? Alleviating deprivation, improving social mobility, and eradicating child poverty”. Many of the arguments that Leonard Cheshire used in its report are echoed in that Select Committee report, although no doubt my hon. Friend can speak for himself later if I have maligned him.
The problem is not that the basic facts are disputed, nor that the Government are not doing anything—they are doing a lot. The problem is that we are not doing enough. I made the point earlier that tackling disability poverty is desirable in its own right, but at the same time we need to recognise that it is absolutely necessary if other Government targets are to be met—the targets on child poverty and fuel poverty are the two obvious ones. Of the 2.8 million children living in poverty in this country, about 1 million are affected by disability. They are either disabled children, or their parents or carers are disabled. That has enormous significance for a strategy to tackle child poverty, because unless disability poverty is tackled more vigorously, we will miss our targets on child poverty.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this very important debate. Does he agree that another area of higher cost is the cost of child care for disabled children? That is a serious impediment, given the supply and the cost of such care, for parents who are trying to find work.
I agree with the hon. Lady. The cost of child care for disabled children is an issue that, for example, the Every Disabled Child Matters campaign, to which I have referred, stresses, among other matters. Child care is not only an additional cost; it is very often the most significant additional cost. When one contemplates such a scenario, the estimated 25 per cent. extra costs for a disabled family, as compared with those for a non-disabled family, seem, I repeat, a very modest assumption. In many circumstances, the additional costs for a disabled family are significantly higher.
The same is true when it comes to targets for reducing fuel poverty, particularly at a time when fuel prices are rising. As with child poverty, it is very difficult to believe that the Government’s fuel poverty targets can be met without specific measures to help disabled people and their families. What is to be done? We all know that, broadly speaking, the most effective measures to tackle poverty fall under two broad headings: on the one hand, labour market policies; and on the other hand, policies in relation to the tax and benefit system. I have always argued, as the Government have, that improving the opportunities to work is undeniably the best route out of poverty for those who are able to work. That is why full employment matters; that is why a national minimum wage matters; that is why the new deal for disabled people matters, and why Pathways to Work matters. All those initiatives are important. Undeniably, for those who can work, work is the best route out of poverty. Today, however, one in three of working age disabled adults and their families still live in poverty, because 50 per cent. of them are not in jobs and for those who are not in employment, the levels of social security benefits are simply too low.
There has been significant progress on the jobs front. Fifty per cent. of working-age disabled people are in work, which is 10 per cent. more disabled people in work than was the case 10 years ago. There is therefore no doubt that measures of the kind to which I have referred have helped to provide more employment opportunities for disabled people, but neither is there any no doubt that more effort in that area is absolutely necessary.
It is difficult to know exactly why 10 per cent. more disabled people are in work now than, say, 10 years ago. Clearly, there are 2.7 million more jobs in the economy; there have also been special measures to support disabled people in getting into work. Legislation has been introduced to outlaw discrimination in the labour market, and I believe that employers’ attitudes are changing. It is difficult to identify which of those factors has been the most important. My guess is that the rapid growth in the number of jobs overall and the specific labour market policies that have been introduced to enhance opportunities for disabled people have probably had the most impact. Thankfully, it is not much debated any more that more needs to be done to improve employment opportunities for disabled people.
However, there are still enormous problems. For example, the percentage of people of working age with a mental health condition who are in work is not 50 per cent. but 20 per cent. Similarly, the percentage of people with learning difficulties who are in work is not 50 per cent. but 25 per cent. Again, employment for people in these groups has increased, but not hugely, and they are still way behind most citizens in terms of their employment prospects and opportunities. So I strongly support the measures that are being taken—measures that should be taken—to provide more specialist and individual support for people in these circumstances.
We could debate some of the relevant programmes and the organisation of those programmes, but I do not want to do that. I think that we have got those programmes and their organisation about right, or we are getting them about right. In a sense, I am asking for more of the same there. However, the point that I would make about labour market policies is that we should not be stingy with the money. I realise that it is too late for a pre-Budget bid and some people have heard me say this before, so I hope that they will forgive me, but sometimes one repeats things because they are so obviously true.
For example, the access to work programme is referred to in the Leonard Cheshire Disability report and many of us have referred to it over the years. The Leonard Cheshire Disability report, like many other reports, calls for the Government to do more to increase awareness of the access to work programme and to increase its funding. I would not say that the access to work programme is one of the most closely guarded secrets in Whitehall, because I do not believe that people in Whitehall are deliberately not trying to promote it. However, it is astonishing that 75 per cent. of employers have never heard of the programme. It costs £64 million a year, which is more than four times as much as was being spent 10 years ago, for which the Government deserve credit, but that is about £8 a year for each disabled person of working age. It is not a lot of money.
More important, however, is what the Department for Work and Pensions gets back when it spends £1 million on access to work. I have it in writing that if the Department spends £1 million on enabling people to return to work or take up employment through the access to work programme, the Treasury will gain £1.7 million. Why? Because those people will no longer rely on the same benefits and will pay tax on their income. The Government therefore spend £1 million to get £1.7 million—it is investing to save, a no-brainer. If the Chancellor is short of a few bob tomorrow, I suggest that he puts a load of money into access to work.
There is, however, a more general point, because, in fairness, I have picked only a tiny part of the Government’s package. To their credit, the Government have said that they will take 1 million people off incapacity benefit and that that will save the Treasury £7 billion. That is obviously quite a good idea, given that supporting people to get into employment means that they pay more tax and receive less benefit. Can we not perhaps ensure that we have joined-up government and that the benefits to the Treasury of active employment programmes are recycled to enable more people to get into work? I am sure that that is what the Government have in mind and that they will be nothing other than generous in funding employment programmes, but it is always good to make the obvious point.
Much more attention should be devoted to those disabled people who are not expected to work. In recent years, there has been enormous activity on the jobs front, and the Government deserve credit for that. Although I can see their strategy for helping people out of poverty through work, I have more difficulty working out precisely what the strategy is for tackling poverty among disabled people who are not expected to work. The benefits system is critical to the quality of life of those disabled people who are not in work and it determines whether they languish in poverty.
Many disabled people who are out of work find themselves and their families in poverty for two reasons. First, many do not claim the benefits to which they are entitled, and that is particularly true of families with disabled children. Secondly, disability benefits are, to put it mildly, not generous or adequate. Much more needs to be done to promote the take-up of DLA among disabled adults and parents of disabled children, and I hope that the Minister will mention that.
As we all know from our experience, our casework and the statistics, the inadequacy of benefits is such that many people are forced to live in great poverty. For example, someone who loses their job as a result of an impairment will experience a dramatic, life-changing loss of income. Similarly, most people do not have a good insurance policy that says, “If you lose your job because of an impairment, do not worry—you are part of a system that will ensure that your income is maintained.” As a result, most people who lose their job because they acquire an impairment at work face a shattering loss of income. As Members of Parliament, we all know of people in such circumstances who have got into debt, lost their home and ended up in an appalling situation. I do not want to be misunderstood; we must, of course, do more to enable those who acquire an impairment at work to stay in employment—that is the first thing. However, we must also recognise that the social security system is the only thing that keeps many people out of poverty, and it is currently failing to do that.
I have another question for the Minister. We are moving into a new system, with employment support allowances and so on, and I hope that the Government will make sure that the higher rate of employment support allowance is enough to ensure that those who are not expected to work do not live in poverty. That is an important issue, which needs to be addressed, and I ask the Minister to comment on it.
Along with other right hon. and hon. Members, I have discussed the additional costs of disability. My right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) specifically asked whether existing benefits were adequate to take into account those additional costs, and I do not believe that they are. Perhaps more significantly, however, the recent report by the Work And Pensions Committee makes it clear that they are not adequate. In conclusion 24, for example, the Committee unanimously said:
“We are very concerned by evidence that 1 in 5 families with disabled children have had to cut back on food. In and out of work benefits must be set at a level to cover the extra costs of living with disability and ensure a decent standard of living.”
In conclusion 25, it said:
“We believe that Disability Living Allowance must be reviewed to ensure it more closely reflects the additional cost of disability.”
I very much hope that the Government will take the Committee’s comments on board, because most people would agree with them.
We are all aware of the arguments that have been used, for example, on extending the higher-rate mobility component of DLA to some blind people. There is also the issue of allowing people over 65 to claim DLA, rather than the less valuable attendance allowance. I have always found it distinctly odd that someone can claim DLA at the age of 64 and quite a few months, but that they cannot do so when they hit 65, even though they may have exactly the same mobility needs on their 65th birthday as they did the day before. There are real issues about reforming the benefits system, and DLA is one important issue that needs to be addressed. I therefore very much welcome the Committee’s report.
One of the additional costs of disability, which I have already mentioned, is heating. Many disabled people face higher-than-average fuel bills because they are likely to be at home more and their impairment may require them to maintain a consistent temperature in their home. I do not believe that the existing rates of DLA cover that, even though we are often advised that they do. I am not the only person who does not believe that claim, and nor are the disability organisations the only organisations that do not believe it. The Work and Pensions Committee does not believe it, and in conclusion 27 of its report, it says—[Laughter.] I apologise if I am stealing the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North, but repetition, as I have said before, and as I am illustrating now, is always a good way to remind people of the essential points of an argument. The Committee said:
“We also recommend that the Government considers extending winter fuel payments to families with disabled children under five in receipt of Disability Living Allowance at the middle or higher rate.”
My only criticism is that the Committee has not been ambitious enough. Over the years, many of us have argued that logic and fairness would suggest that winter fuel payments should be extended to all those under 60 who receive the middle or higher-rate care component or the higher-rate mobility component of DLA. Someone who is over 60 will obviously get their winter fuel allowance, whether they need it or not, but someone who is under 60 will not. People with high mobility or care needs demonstrably have a case for saying that their heating costs will be higher. If we are to have serious winter fuel allowances, they should seriously tackle the additional costs of disability. I hope that the Government will respond positively to the recommendation of the Work and Pensions Committee by saying that it has not been ambitious enough and that they would like to extend it further.
I come to my final point, Mr. Chope, because I am aware that a number of right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak. I want to make a quick comment about independent living, partly because the Government published an important report last Monday, which I welcome, and partly because the social care system is failing disabled people big time. While I welcome the Government’s report about independent living and about giving disabled people the same choice, control and freedom as any other citizen, I have a caveat, which is that we are not being promised legislation—at least not yet.
My right hon. and noble Friend Lord Ashley has introduced the Disabled Persons (Independent Living) Bill in the other place on two occasions. It has been through the other place, but I do not anticipate its getting through our House, although I will do my best. The Bill identifies a number of areas in which legislation is needed. I hope that the Government will look at the matter again. As Members of Parliament, we all know that needs are not being met. We know countless constituents who are not getting the support that they need from the local authorities. We also know that the system is bureaucratic and wasteful. People have to fill out so many forms. They have to fill out forms for the benefit system. They face more paperwork if they need home adaptation and they have to have another assessment for personal care. If they have an assessment in one local authority area, they cannot carry that assessment to the area next door. Assessments are not portable.
The other day, I was talking to a disabled guy who lives in Lambeth, but wants to work in Southwark. I happen to live in Southwark, so I celebrate Southwark. None the less, the man wanted to move from one local authority to another. His perception was, “Goodness gracious me—he put it a bit firmer than that—if I go from Lambeth to Southwark, I will have to have my care needs reassessed. It will take time. I may not get the same package that I currently have in Lambeth. I do not know whether it will be better or worse.” It is absurd that care packages are not portable.
As a former local councillor I can see merits in localism, but there are some areas in life in which localism is a fundamental problem. Saying to disabled people that they have to have a care assessment in their own local authority can make them feel imprisoned in their own immediate area. They feel unable to seek work elsewhere for fear of getting a less advantageous assessment, and unable to go to another local authority to live nearer friends and family. I genuinely believe that the inconsistencies in local authority provision and the lack of portable packages are a severe impediment to the freedom and choice that we all say disabled people should have. That is an area in which legislation may be necessary. There is a range of possible issues here, including the balance between national support and funding and arrangements for disabled people and local support. It is a mess at the moment. The problem is not easy to disentangle, but we need to move much more towards a national system that will make independent living a reality and that will give people the choice and dignity that they deserve.
In summary, to tackle poverty among disabled people we have to continue to do substantially more to increase opportunities for education, training and employment. We have to provide more generous in-work and out-of-work benefits. We need to simplify the benefits system, promote higher take-up and make rapid progress. I readily acknowledge the Government’s significant achievements in tackling many of the unacceptable disadvantages facing disabled people. However, the strategy for tackling disability poverty, particularly in relation to the substantial number of people who are not expected to work because they cannot work, is still one that needs to be addressed properly. Only then will disabled people have the same choice, control and freedom as other citizens.
It is a pleasure to be here under your chairmanship, Mr. Chope, and also to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Roger Berry), who introduced the debate with an excellent and well informed speech. He and I have shared many a platform, been in many a debate, and supported many a Bill. We welcome my hon. Friend the Minister and acknowledge the role that she has played in many of the achievements in this area. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood said, much more remains to be done. I appreciate that many hon. Members want to speak so I shall try to summarise the main points that I want to make.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood dealt with the issues of poverty, which afflicts disabled people and their families. He quoted from the excellent report by Leonard Cheshire. I want to address most of my remarks to the evidence of poverty among disabled children and their families. I worry, as my hon. Friend does, about the poverty of opportunity. Although income and the right level of benefits are important factors, we must look at what is happening to public expenditure and seek to ensure that there is a desire to influence the quality of life of disabled children and their families in so far as we can do so. I welcome what he said about fuel poverty. I took part in a debate on that issue a few weeks ago and I initiated one in the Chamber last January.
In the review that I chaired last year on disabled children and their families, we made a specific recommendation that the allowance should be extended to disabled children and their families. Like my hon. Friend, I think that we would have gone further and addressed disabled adults, but that was not part of our remit.
When I was talking about poverty of aspiration in our debate in Westminster Hall on 16 January, I mentioned briefly the case study of a young lad called Stephen in my own constituency. Although he had received much assistance from North Lanarkshire council, his quality of life would have been better if the policy on short breaks, which involves resources from public expenditure, had been extended in a better way to suit him. I am very pleased that since that time, he has been given respite care in a place that suits his individual needs.
I thank North Lanarkshire council and my local newspaper, The Kirkintilloch Herald—that paper tends to give move coverage to such debates than, for example, the BBC in Scotland—for helping Stephen to ensure that he gets suitable short breaks. It is all about the quality of life. We all know the demands and would love to have more time to go into them. However, I want to move beyond that. My hon. Friend the Minister will know what is coming, as will the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett). During the all-party review of support for disabled and their families, the Government response was very welcome. They allocated an additional £340 million to England and specific amounts, based on the Barnett formula, to Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland—£34 million to the latter. Again, I am appalled that we simply do not know where the Scottish Executive have put that money, which was made available by the Treasury on the basis of evidence presented and following an excellent response by the Treasury and the Department for Education and Skills.
None of us should be taken in by the red herrings about ring-fencing and the rest. That money was expected to be spent not simply on local government services—important though they are—but on the NHS in Scotland and, specifically, on disabled children and their families. Unless we have accountability, transparency and a clear indication of where that money has gone, some of us will return to the issue again and again.
I know that others are keen to speak in this important debate, so I shall simply summarise the issues that I think remain to be addressed, important though the progress is that we have made. It is right that we consider the poverty and, in particular, the quality of life of disabled children and their families. When considering public expenditure in the health service, transport, employment opportunities, the arts and creative industries, and the rest, we should set our sights much higher and focus on the millions of disabled children in Britain, including those whose needs we have addressed. In that spirit, and with an eye on tomorrow’s Budget—I know that the hour might be late—we encourage the Chancellor to consider how, in fiscal terms, he can influence the quality of life of disabled people, including by looking at energy companies, who have not done too badly in recent years, and asking them to make a contribution.
This has been a very worthwhile debate and I look forward to hearing the comments of my colleagues and the Minister. Again, I thank very warmly my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood, who has done so much in the fight for the rights of disabled people. I am sure that he will continue to do so.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Roger Berry) on securing this debate. Nobody in Parliament doubts his commitment over many years to the issues before us. I am delighted to see the Minister in the Chamber; she has often heard me say that she is the finest Minister for disabled people that we have ever had. In repeating those comments, I hope that one day she will reward my niceness to her.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) has left the Chamber, not least because he is a friend of mine, partly because he is from Keighley, which makes him a pure bred Yorkshireman—that is always good in my book. He talked about the 1980s, my memory of which is of continual recession, massive de-industrialisation and people, with and without disabilities, losing jobs in their hundreds of thousands—we touched 3 million unemployed twice. We also saw the return of the spectre of the 1930s and marches for jobs, but those marches were about white, able-bodied men getting jobs, not black and minority ethnic communities, disabled people or women. Nevertheless, it was terrifying to see that spectre return, because nobody thought that we would ever see it again.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood mentioned that 50 per cent. of disabled people are in work, but that is a false figure. The more disabled a person is, the less likely they are to be in work. There are some horrific examples of blatant discrimination, particularly against people with mental illnesses, which I shall come on to later. I want to concentrate on work for those with disabilities, because I think that it is a basic, crucial civil right. Disabled people have the same civil right to work as anybody else, but there are too many barriers in the system and too much discrimination in society. In particular, there are too many barriers in the benefits system preventing people from accessing benefits. We need to do something about that. Particularly for families with disabled children, child care is crucial. My right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) referred to last year’s package, which was extremely welcome, but for families, particularly with the most severely disabled children, the cost of child care is astronomical.
The child care tax credit, which is 80 per cent. of £175 a week, is a very welcome initiative, although the take-up has been very poor. However, £175 goes nowhere in providing child care for a disabled child. The Work and Pensions Committee report gave the example of a 60 per cent. premium on the going child care rate, if the child is disabled. We heard evidence of some institutions charging five times as much for child care for a disabled child as for an able-bodied child. Those institutions are clearly saying, “We don’t want these children, so we will price them out.” That is wrong and those institutions need to be taken to task over it.
The Select Committee’s report on incapacity benefits a couple of years ago touched on parents of disabled children going to work, and considered Pathways to Work and various other things. We reported—and this was striking—that it is seldom the disability itself that prevents an individual from going to work, but other factors, around the home or whatever. A key factor for parents with a disabled child is that that child is more likely than other children to need regular doctors or hospital appointments, requiring the parent to take time off work. The Government have been good on family-friendly policies, but they involve the right to request leave, not automatic entitlements.
Scarier is the fact that a disabled child is 16 times more likely than an able-bodied child to be excluded from school. If a parent is at work and receives a phone call at quarter-past 10 saying, “We are going to exclude your child”, they go to the school. That does not have to happen very often before an employer, understandably or not, thinks, “Hang on a minute, what’s going on here? Something needs to be done about this.” We need to take another look at the state education system to find out why those children are 16 times more likely to be excluded.
I want to touch on two things on which I think the Government have been particularly good in assisting disabled people back into work. I am really pleased to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) here, because I think that he changed the dynamics in that system during his time as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. We should pay tribute to him. The first thing was that we changed the linking rules, which meant that someone could take a job and that, within two years, they could return to the benefit that they were on before, if it did not work out. That provides security for people with disabilities so that they can see whether employment works out for them.
The second thing that the Government did was to get rid of therapeutic earnings, which were an insult to disabled people, and brought in permitted work rules, which are more flexible. However, if we are going to have permitted work, we should have one rule, not four separate regimes—a point that I have raised before. It is insulting, too, to say that, under permitted work, the maximum that can be worked is 16 hours at minimum wage, which pays about £6 an hour. If those who have been on incapacity benefit for two, five, 10 or 15 years manage to find a job, I would tell them, “You go and do that job. Come back in three or six months and tell us how it is working out. Keep your benefit and whatever wages you get. Test it out and see if it works for you.” If they manage to break that gap of many years, we must be much more flexible in how we operate the benefits system to allow such people to get back to work. There is no loss to the Treasury in doing so. There is the fantastic statistic that someone on incapacity benefit for two years is more likely to retire or die than go back to work. If people are making the effort, we should encourage them and not have artificial rules that restrict what work they can do and how much they can earn.
Returning to the issue of discrimination, we have the much improved Disability Discrimination Act 2005. We had the Disability Rights Commission and we now have the Equal Opportunities Commission. However, it is more than 30 years since we passed the Race Relations Act 1976 and, frankly, we have not abolished race discrimination. We have had the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 for about the same period and we have not abolished sex discrimination. The one advantage of disability discrimination—if I may be forgiven for putting it that way—is that sex and race discrimination are generally malicious, whereas disability discrimination is generally down to ignorance. There is therefore a better opportunity to work through that problem.
A couple of years ago, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development carried out a survey in which 70 per cent. of companies said that they would not even interview somebody who disclosed a history of mental illness. That survey was released to all media outlets, but not one of them covered it. If the survey said that 70 per cent. of companies would not interview a black person, it would have been on the front page of every newspaper; it would have been the lead story on the BBC “Nine O’clock News” and so on. If 70 per cent. of companies said that they would not interview a woman, there would have been similar press coverage. Because the survey said that companies would not interview somebody who had had a mental illness, it was buried and did not go anywhere. That is a measure of how far society still has to go on this issue.
I find it appalling that Rethink, an organisation well known to everybody in the Chamber, led a consortium that submitted to the lottery fund a bid that received £17 million to work on educating employers, as it should not have been necessary to do so. The Government should have done a lot more to educate and train employers, and to punish those who do not alter their attitudes. It is tragic that it is left to mental health charities to make a bid to the lottery fund to do what the state should be doing in the first place.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood mentioned access to work, which is a well chewed-over bone. It is the Government’s best kept secret and the way in which it operates needs to be examined. These days, given that we are increasingly engaging with the private and third sectors on the delivery of services, the access to work budget should be devolved to the providers of job placement services. A formula can easily be worked out that would not be dissimilar to how the social fund is distributed to district offices. A sum could be retained centrally to deal with crises.
If we are serious about the new approach to getting people back to work, the providers need a range of tools at their fingertips. They do not want to have to wait for three to six weeks for a response from a Department somewhere else. They would have to be put on trust because abuse must always be guarded against, but we must be much more imaginative about how we administer and use the access to work budget.
Finally, I shall make just a couple of points, because I know that other hon. Members wish to speak. It is important that we set the support allowance at a level that recognises that these individuals will never work again. That would send a real signal about Government commitment. I do not want to be particularly damning about colleagues in the Treasury, but for many months, rumours have circulated that the Treasury has been saying, “Five pounds and no more.” That is an insult, and it will cause insurrection in the ranks. I do not want to issue threats, but nobody will tolerate that. I understand that the support allowances will be announced in the next few weeks. That will be seen either as a declaration of intent or as a surrender. I would much rather that the Government make it a declaration of intent.
Tomorrow, the Chancellor will make his Budget statement. We are all hopeful, and anticipate that further energies and moneys will be applied to the child poverty strategy. I hope to see particular emphasis on disabled children and poverty. The Government have a fantastic track record, but we need to keep up the momentum and take the issue forward because that community has been forgotten for far too long.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Kingswood (Roger Berry) on triggering the debate. Recently, there have been in this hall three debates on issues linked to today’s debate about disability poverty: special educational needs, disabled children and the employment of disabled adults. The good aspect about such debates is that the issue is clearly on the agenda, but the bad aspect is that so much is yet to be done.
I congratulate all previous speakers on their excellent contributions. The hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Rooney), Chairman of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions, mentioned how discrimination against the disabled is in some ways almost acceptable. For instance, it is not covered by the media with similar outrage to discrimination against black, female, gay or Muslim members of society. It is sad that while we have made progress on so many other aspects of society, so much discrimination still exists.
I will comment briefly on the Leonard Cheshire report because it includes so much good work. I do not need to go into great detail, but I recommend that anybody who has not read it from cover to cover does so because it sums up the key issues clearly and concisely.
The right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) mentioned the clearly identified need for £340 million. It was identified on a UK-wide basis, and questions must be asked about where that money has been spent, or if it is going to be spent north of the border. Many Members have mentioned that the Budget statement takes place tomorrow. The Chancellor might ask why he should identify further funding if existing identified funding is not being spent. Indeed, questions must be asked in all parts of the House. I notice that no members of the Scottish National party are present to try to justify what they are doing. Once again, they are missing in action.
One of the big policy focuses in recent years has been poverty. Whether it has been the Make Poverty History campaign, or the Government’s focus on tackling child poverty, poverty has become a major focus for policy makers. However, we have yet to see sufficient focus on tackling disability poverty, which is why today’s debate is so important. With the Government having published “Independent Living Strategy” last week, now is the ideal time to re-examine disability and poverty, and whether we are doing enough to break the link between the two. In the same way that we must never accept that being born in a developing country inevitably condemns someone to a life of poverty, being born with, or developing, a disability ought not to mean that someone will live life below the poverty line. Poverty is not an inevitable consequence of disability, but looking at the statistics, one might be forgiven for thinking that it is.
Disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty as non-disabled people—about 30 per cent. compared with 16 per cent. The challenge for policy makers must be to break the link between disability and poverty. Although we have rightly adopted targeted strategies for tackling child poverty, not enough has been done to target disability poverty specifically. I hope that today’s debate represents one small step in the progress towards that goal.
Many disabled people continue to experience poverty of aspiration and opportunity due to physical barriers and numerous other barriers. However, we must be attuned to aspiration barriers in education, employment and access to services, too, because they are every bit as debilitating as any physical condition. In the debate about disability poverty, we must consider not only financial poverty but poverty of opportunity and poverty of aspiration. Disability poverty can develop as a result not only of low income but of poor-quality or inappropriate housing or lack of educational opportunities.
We are socially and morally obliged to tackle disability poverty, but there are also powerful economic imperatives for doing so. Addressing disability poverty is not only a matter of basic social justice; there is a clear economic case for it. Ending disability poverty would mean that more disabled people moved into the workplace, increasing net contributions to the Treasury through the tax system and reducing expenditure on out of work benefits. To use a broad estimate, if 1 million disabled people moved back into work, the Treasury could expect to gain up to £5 billion in income tax alone. The Chancellor would do well to listen to those figures before he addresses the House tomorrow.
As other hon. Members have mentioned, not only do disabled people tend to have smaller incomes, but many face additional costs due to their disability. The extra costs of managing an impairment vary according to circumstances, but they often include such expenses as mobility equipment, social care, treatment, child care, higher fuel bills and adaptations to the home. The Leonard Cheshire report on disability found that the average costs of those managing an impairment are about a quarter higher than the essential day-to-day costs of non-disabled people, and it is believed that that is a gross underestimate for many. Existing poverty figures and measures consistently underestimate the level of disability poverty. Researchers from the London School of Economics calculate that, if the additional costs of disability were factored in, the percentage of disabled people living below the poverty line could be as high as 61 per cent. It is essential to attempt to build some measurement of those extra costs into poverty indicators in order better to understand the true levels of disability poverty.
Disabled people are also far less likely to have significant savings and far more likely to be in debt than their non-disabled counterparts. The sheer scale of the gap between disabled and non-disabled people in terms of the likelihood of living in financial poverty means that specific action to tackle disability poverty is desperately needed. What is the Minister doing to factor the extra costs of disability into official calculations? Crucially, how will those work through to the benefit system?
Only half of disabled people are in work. I need not point out what a tragic waste of human potential that represents. Although work might not be the appropriate option for everyone, the correlation between being out of work and living in poverty is clear. Being in work can help to combat many aspects of disability poverty—not just financial poverty, but poverty of opportunity and aspiration—by providing social networks and an important boost in confidence through further training and skills, which helps individuals to play a greater part in society. It is the social as well as the more obvious economic benefits of employment that make helping disabled people find meaningful work so important.
We must banish the assumption, which has persisted for too long, that many disabled people either cannot or do not want to work. Disabled people continue to face barriers to employment, including discrimination, lack of support from employers, inaccessible public transport and inflexible social care arrangements. I am sure that the Minister will accept that, although progress has been made in those areas, it has been too slow. Even when disabled people find work, they are more likely than non-disabled people to be in low-paid, short-term jobs. We need to focus not just on employment but on suitable and sustainable employment.
For those who cannot work, we need a benefit system sufficiently sensitive to the specific barriers faced by disabled people. Too often, disabled people on benefits are the victims of the race to prove which party is toughest on so-called benefit scroungers. Those with the severest impairments face the lowest likelihood of employment, combined with the highest extra costs of disability. The welfare benefit system must support that group better. It must ensure that no one is written off and that those for whom a return to work is particularly difficult are not left to languish in poverty. No one should be abandoned to a life of poverty and benefits.
The application and appeals processes for benefit claimants can be daunting and complicated for the best of us, which leads many not to claim the benefits to which they are entitled. Those forced to leave work due to an acquired or worsening disability almost always face an accompanying drop in income. Often, partners must leave employment to become carers, leading to a further drop in income. Targeted help and assistance for that group is therefore essential. I support what has been said by previous speakers and appeal to the Chancellor to extend measures such as the winter fuel allowance in his speech tomorrow.
Transport is a significant obstacle faced by disabled people. To access services and engage fully with society, accessible transport is key. Poverty of opportunity and social exclusion are inextricably linked with inaccessible public transport. An accessible and integrated transport network is essential to tackling disability poverty, as it would facilitate improvements in the disabled people employment rate as well as their community engagement and quality of life.
The Government have acknowledged the scale of many of the challenges discussed today in their strategy document “Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People” and the subsequent strategy published last week. Although I welcome much of what was included, I would be extremely interested to hear whether the Minister believes that the Government’s ambitions can be translated into practical change on the ground for those who need it. The links between disability and poverty are maintained by continuing barriers in society—both physical barriers to accessibility and the barriers formed by negative attitudes and a lack of understanding about what disabled people can achieve.
The Government should make tackling disability poverty one of their key priorities. Doing so will require first a commitment to understand and monitor disability poverty and its causes and then the strategic development of social policy initiatives to eradicate it. Ending disability poverty is not just a way to drive down poverty throughout the UK and improve the nation’s economic health. It is also an absolute necessity of social justice.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Chope. I congratulate the hon. Member for Kingswood (Roger Berry) on securing this debate. I know from our frequent meetings at the all-party group on disability and from his record over many years that he is an acknowledged expert on the matter. I listened to his words with great care and, not for the first time, found myself agreeing with much of what he said, although—I say this for the benefit of the shadow Chancellor—not with any of the proposals that would increase expenditure. I do not want to get myself into dreadful trouble, as I am sure the Minister would if she pre-empted the Chancellor’s Budget speech tomorrow.
I join the hon. Member for Kingswood in mentioning early-day motion 637. The number of Members from all parties who have signed it increases daily. As he said, it is the seventh best supported early-day motion, which shows the interest in the matter across all parties. Our friends in the media would be wise to recognise that the issue is of great interest among parliamentarians. When they report debates such as this and the proceedings of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions on the subject, as well as when they write stories involving discrimination against disabled people such as those mentioned earlier, they might consider whether they cover them to the extent to that they would if they were reporting issues affecting others.
I should like to draw attention to the remarks made by the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Rooney) about child poverty. It is perfectly true, as he says, that the Government have made some progress, although it is worth pointing out that they are likely to miss their child poverty targets for 2010. It is also worth saying that the latest figures published, those for 2005-06, showed that what progress they have made has gone into reverse and an extra 200,000 children now live in poverty. Does the Minister think that the Government will hit their 2010 child poverty targets? It would be useful to get that on the record.
As the right hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) said, it is true that there has been some progress in getting people with disabilities into the workplace, although not as much as the Government or indeed any of us would wish. In looking at the statistics produced by the Office for National Statistics on working-age people with work-limiting disabilities, I am afraid that I could not go back to 1997. The data do not go back that far, although I know that Government Members like starting with the year zero. In 1999, 46.2 per cent. of long-term disabled people were in employment; by 2007, that percentage had increased to 50.5 per cent. That is a welcome improvement, but, as other hon. Members have said, it is not as big an improvement as one would hope.
The hon. Member for Kingswood is absolutely right that the best route out of poverty for disabled people who can work is to get into work. He made some interesting comments that flow nicely into some points that I want to make about the welfare reform proposals that my party has published, on which we are consulting. He made an important point about using the savings that are gained from not paying incapacity benefit and other out-of-work benefits to disabled people whom we get back into work. Those savings, and the tax and national insurance contributions that they pay, can be used to fund the help and support that are required to get disabled people back into work. He drew attention to the current Treasury rules, which make it difficult, if not impossible, to invest those savings in getting such people back into work.
I am pleased to put it on the record that my hon. Friends in the shadow Treasury team agree with the hon. Gentleman, and that we propose to use private and voluntary providers that will get paid only on results, when they get people into work for sustained periods. We would use those savings to fund programmes. Only in that way can we address the issue of all the people on out-of-work benefits, including those who have been on such benefits for some considerable time. If we do not make that change, we must limit our ambitions to the people who newly enter such benefit programmes. I am pleased that we have been able to do that, and I would like nothing more than if the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in his Budget statement tomorrow—
I would have hoped that the hon. Gentleman was more assiduous. There is already an agreement between the Department for Work and Pensions and the Treasury for just such an arrangement: a proportion of the savings made on incapacity benefit through the new Pathways To Work programmes will return to the DWP to finance further programmes. That has already been done.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I know that that is done in a limited way, but it does not enable the Government to focus their employment and support allowances on all of those who are on out-of-work benefits. I think that the hon. Gentleman gave the statistic that if one is on incapacity benefit for more than two years, one is more likely to die or retire than to come off it. A significant number of people are on incapacity benefit. More people are on incapacity benefit now and have been on it or its predecessor benefits for more than five years than in 1997. A significant number of people under 35 are on incapacity benefit. It cannot be right to allow them to spend their entire lives on out-of-work benefits without trying to extend programmes to everyone on out-of-work benefits and to get them all back into work if they are able to work. As has been said, that is the best route out of poverty.
The right hon. Member for Oxford, East made another wise point, which was followed up by other hon. Members, about the extra costs that disabled people have to bear, and whether they are properly reflected in the disability living allowance. I hope that the Minister will respond to that point. On what basis are those figures calculated? Some transparency would be helpful, because at least then we could engage in a proper debate. In its excellent report, which has been mentioned by several hon. Members, Leonard Cheshire has had a good stab at doing that work and has come up with an estimate. Other organisations have done similar work, and it would be good if the Government were to undertake an official version of such work, which could be built into the calculation of such benefits and allowances, to give those disabled people a level playing field on which to compete with everyone else in the workplace.
The hon. Member for Kingswood talked about the access to work programme. I know that the Minister agrees that it is one of the Government’s best-kept secrets, because I have heard her say so before. I know what she means, and I agree that it is an excellent programme, but I have found from both empirical and anecdotal research that a significant number of employers, particularly smaller employers, have never heard of it. In debates such as this, we should all take the opportunity to reiterate that the programme exists and how good it is. That is why I am talking about it even though other hon. Members have already done so. More employers should be aware of the programme and should take it up where necessary to enable more disabled people to get back into work. It is easier than employers might envisage.
I shall make only a few more points, because I want the Minister to have time to answer the many points that the hon. Member for Kingswood made. First, the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) again made the point about Scotland that I have heard him make several times. If he wants a UK-wide approach to disability poverty, he should remember that his party devolved such matters to the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government, which is controlled by the Scottish National party. The place to have these arguments is, therefore, in that Parliament and not in this place.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for referring to my comments, because I had a feeling that he was not going to say a word on them. I think that the charming Annabel Goldie will be hanging on his every word. She and I would like to know whether he believes that, given devolution, which we accept as a reality, transparency and accountability should apply to resources that are made available specifically for disabled children and their families.
Absolutely; I am a great believer in transparency, and I have no problem with the right hon. Gentleman pressing for the SNP Government to be open about where they spend such money. Unfortunately, however, even if he disagrees with the priorities of that Administration, we in this place can no longer influence them, because those matters have been devolved. I am sure that he will continue raising this issue. His campaigning work and his arguments about disabled children are well made and are often supported by the Conservatives.
In closing, I thank the hon. Member for Kingswood again for securing this debate, which has given us an excellent opportunity to make several points on the record. Finally, as the hon. Member for Bradford, North mentioned the Minister’s fine qualities, it is worth mentioning, by way of balance, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), who was an excellent Minister for disabled people. Indeed, he put the first Disability Discrimination Act on the statute book in 1995. On that note, I look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments.
Let me say at the outset that I am not going to compete with the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague). I have congratulated him on the Floor of the House on challenging a significant majority of his own party on the Disability Discrimination Act. I pay tribute to my colleagues, including those present—my hon. Friends the Members for Kingswood (Roger Berry) and for Bradford, North (Mr. Rooney), and my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke)—for campaigning to encourage the then Conservative Government to put that Act on the statute book.
I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Chope, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood on securing the debate. He has shown significant commitment to this issue over many years. I also thank other hon. Members for their contributions. I am particularly pleased to note that my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith), the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, was present at the debate earlier. It is significant that, although he is no longer the Secretary of State, he continues to take a great interest in the subject and attends debates such as this one.
I shall try to answer as many of the questions that have been raised as possible, but let me get one thing out of the way and then I will be able to settle down a bit. The hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) mentioned this Government’s child poverty targets. I just want to say, colleagues, that I welcome his interest in child poverty, but we have a target for which we are being held to account, and we welcome the fact that we are held to account for it. His party does not have a target. It once had an ambition to eradicate child poverty, but demoted it to an aspiration, and now we are not even sure whether it has that.
No, I will not. I am not quite sure whether the hon. Gentleman’s party has even an aspiration. He said that he had heard me say certain things. I have certainly heard his colleagues challenged on that issue on the Floor of the House.[Official Report, 19 March 2008, Vol. 473, c. 8MC.]
The other issue is, of course, long-term incapacity benefit. There were fewer people on the benefit in 1997 than there are now because it was introduced in 1992, and even the most basic mathematics indicates that it would be nigh on impossible only four and a bit years after a benefit is introduced to have a significant number of people on it long term. We should start to be a little more mature when we bandy figures about.
I am delighted that this debate is being held today, because yesterday the Secretary of State and I met with John Knight, the head of policy for Leonard Cheshire Disability, to consider some of the issues in the organisation’s report. I know that my hon. Friends and, I would hope, hon. Members across the House, accept that we have made considerable progress in tackling poverty. Indeed, hon. Members alluded to that this morning.
However, we also recognise that there is difficulty in reaching a consensus on how some of the issues are assessed, and on how we calculate the level of disability poverty. We cannot reach consensus, although we continue to do work to try to get to the bottom of how we assess the real level of poverty.
Regardless of the methodology used, we accept that there is significant poverty among disabled people. According to our material deprivation measures, before housing costs, some 22 per cent. of individuals living in households affected by disability are at risk of income poverty, compared with 16 per cent. if no one in the household is disabled. We should not worry about the figures, but we should recognise that major issues must be addressed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood and one or two other colleagues raised some specific issues. In the short time that is available to me, I shall try to pick up on those issues rather than give a set response to their contributions. My hon. Friend asked about disability living allowance take-up, particularly among disabled children. Again, I hope that colleagues recognise that it is difficult to assess the level of take-up, because DLA is an individually assessed benefit. Both DLA and attendance allowance are always difficult to calculate. However, we are working with the Policy Studies Institute on a feasibility study to explore the suitability of options for estimating take-up so that we can get to a position where we can understand what the take-up issues are.
Our disability and carers service is working with “Every Disabled Child Matters” to promote take-up of DLA among children and, more generally, to determine how the service can be more responsive to their needs. It is tackling some of the issues that my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill raised in the Select Committee. We are looking at how to pick up on some of those issues.
I am not sure that I ever did say that the access to work programme was a secret. If I did say that, I would suggest that it was because I am sometimes disappointed that, as my right hon. Friend highlighted, we do not get publicity on access to work and how it promotes employment for disabled people. My right hon. Friend is dead right, as we say north of the border, on this one: the programme is successful and popular, and it generates net flow-backs to the Exchequer. There is no dispute about that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North, who is the Chairman of the Work and Pensions Committee, was right in saying that there were some issues with access to work. I hope that he agrees that there have been some significant changes in how we operate—the turnaround times are certainly better now than they have ever been. I listened to his radical approaches, not just on access to work but on other aspects of the benefit system, and I shall consider them over the next period or so.
On the extra costs of disability, again, it is difficult to get to a concept or methodology that is generally accepted. However, I put it on the record this morning that we welcome the Leonard Cheshire Disability report as a major contribution to the debate.
I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North highlighted the importance of child care in encouraging disabled adults and parents in a family to move into employment. He may be aware that the Department for Children, Schools and Families is seeking to improve the lives of disabled children with its “Aiming High for Disabled Children” implementation strategy. A key part of the additional investment will be improved access to child care for disabled children. His comments were spot on: we cannot tell parents of disabled children that we want them to move into work if they have major difficulties in accessing child care, and that is why we have welcomed the report.
I am not sure which hon. Member raised the matter of disabled children getting fair access to education. I believe we all agree that poverty comes in many guises. My right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill said that there was sometimes a poverty of ambition. We all recognise that sometimes the seeds of poverty of ambition are sown when children are young, and that we need to ensure that our education system lifts their ambitions and aspirations. Indeed, since September 2002, schools and local authorities have been under a duty not to treat disabled pupils or students less favourably than those who are not disabled.
In the brief time that is left to me, I want to ensure that the message of this debate is not lost. One of the important ways out of poverty for disabled people is through work, and I welcomed the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood on ensuring that the operation of our benefit system and our support for people who want to move into employment is adjusted—as a matter of fact, one could say “revolutionised”. We now have Jobcentre Plus and Pathways To Work, and partnerships are in place that are far more sensitive to the needs of the individual and of disabled people.
I am sorry that the past eight minutes or so have involved such a quick tour of some of the things that have been raised in the debate, but I shall write to hon. Members if I have missed anything important. I want to put it on the record that, yes, we have a lot more to do, and there are all sorts of things that we could do differently and better, but this Government certainly do not suffer from a poverty of ambition to improve the lives of disabled people over the next years. That is why “Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People” and the independent living strategy have been published. That is why we will, in fact, achieve what we set out to achieve. It is only by working with organisations such as Leonard Cheshire Disability and my colleagues in this Chamber that we will achieve that.