The latest volunteering figures from the Government’s citizenship survey show that in England 32 per cent. of disabled people volunteered at least once in 2008-09. In order to ensure that more disabled people are able to access volunteering programmes, the Office of the Third Sector is piloting a £2 million volunteering fund in England, which will pay for adjustments and support for disabled volunteers. The fund opened for applications on 16 November.
On the subject of diversity, may I be the first to congratulate my hon. Friend on being the first black woman ever to have spoken from the Dispatch Box? May I encourage her and her colleagues to work with excellent organisations such as Mencap and People First to ensure that people with learning disabilities are given the opportunity to play a full part in voluntary activity, which is both in their interests and the greater interest of society?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his warm words and kind remarks. It is indeed a pleasure to be standing here at the Dispatch Box. I, too, would like to congratulate my right hon. Friend on receiving a disability champion award yesterday. The Cabinet Office is looking at ensuring that disabled people—those with learning difficulties—are totally included in the packages that we are providing, such as the £17.5 million Improving Reach programme. There have been successful bids for people with learning difficulties, such as those from Mind associations. These groups receive the award funding through Office of the Third Sector programmes, including v, grassroots grants, Futurebuilders and targeted support funds.
May I obviously endorse the remarks of the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) about the new Minister and wish her well, albeit that it will perhaps be for a relatively short time? Will the Minister accept that for disabled people—whether they are mentally or physically disabled—to be able to participate in voluntary activities is critical to their quality of life. Is she concerned that at the present time, with the recession that we are experiencing, this group of people is suffering—they are unable to indulge in all the worthwhile activities that would make their lives profitable and well?
I again thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. The Office of the Third Sector is building a platform to ensure that people with disabilities participate fully and are considered to be the same as able-bodied people. The scheme that has been put in place, although it is a pilot, will be reviewed in 2011. If it is successful, it will be rolled out nationally.
Does the Minister agree that an important aspect of such work would be efforts to promote among younger people the concept of people with disabilities being more able to get involved in a range of voluntary activities, thereby helping the wider community, particularly across the demographics?
The hon. Gentleman raises a valid point. Indeed, through programmes such as v and YouthNet, the Office of the Third Sector is ensuring that young people are not only working with and for, but are engaged with, people with disabilities—both those with learning disabilities and those with other disabilities—to ensure that they can play a full and active part in society.