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House of Commons Hansard
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Disability Policy (Economic Downturn)
23 March 2010
Volume 508

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Mrs. Hodgson.)

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As always, it is a great pleasure to welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Olner.

As we move towards the end of this Parliament, I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak about an issue that has been of great interest to me during my time in the House. I pay tribute to many hon. Members and peers from all parties, to the all-party group on disability and to the all-party group on learning disability, which I am privileged to co-chair with the distinguished Lord Rix, for their work on this issue. The House has been extremely well served by many organisations such as Mencap, Leonard Cheshire, the Royal National Institute for Deaf People and RADAR. Their contribution has been vital not just to progress for people with disabilities, but to democracy.

In the past, many people with disabilities were subject to discrimination with regard to employment opportunities, poverty and inflexible social care. For that reason, some hon. Members, many of whom are here today, campaigned vocally for the rights of disabled people. Our fundamental objective remains the promotion of disabled people’s human rights of inclusion, independence and freedom. Those rights help knit together cohesion in our society. There have been great strides over recent years, but everyone knows that there is a long way to go.

The Government can be rightly proud of their record on disability issues. I warmly congratulate the Minister and his predecessors—especially my right hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire), who did a first-class job. I am impressed by the work of the Office for Disability Issues, which has been headed knowledgeably by the Minister, who has long been a campaigner for disability rights. My first contact with him was in 1986 when I received a letter from a young social worker emphasising his support for my private Member’s Bill on disability rights and advocacy. That Bill became the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986.

I am delighted that the Minister is still fighting hard for equality and opportunity, and that his Department has been committed to meeting the needs and aspirations of the 10 million people with a disability—through Equality 2025, by strengthening the legislation with the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 and by leading the way on the United Nations convention on disability rights. Through employment programmes, increases in disability benefit and an incredibly ambitious social care reform agenda, the lives of many people with disabilities have undoubtedly improved since 1997.

The past year has seen exceptional changes in the British economy as we have moved into and out of recession. The inevitable tightening of the Government’s fiscal belt means that there will be changes and efficiencies in the public sector over the next few years. The reason for this debate is to seek to ensure that cuts in public spending are not aimed disproportionately at some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Alas, we have seen that happen in many recessions.

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Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that just as funding for international development has been ring-fenced by my party, there is a strong case for ring-fencing the money for people who are disabled because they, too, are vulnerable? I pay tribute to him for his work on this issue and on international aid over many years.

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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and welcome his remarks. From exchanges in the House, he will know that in Scotland we feel strongly about ring-fencing because the additional money made available to the Scottish Government did not go where it was intended to go.

As I was saying, in previous recessions, the weak and vulnerable have tended to be targeted as part of a dogmatic free-market agenda. We have seen that again in certain local authority areas. It is vital that legislative reform and services for people with disabilities should continue to have the momentum of investment and commitment from Government and local authorities. Everybody with a disability, whether their needs are moderate or complex, deserves the opportunity to live a fulfilling and rewarding life.

I will start by discussing the issues in social care—in particular, the roll-out of the Government’s ambitious and widely supported personalisation agenda, which includes direct payments, personal budgets, individual budgets and the right-to-control scheme. Those are vital tools that provide independence for people with disabilities. An excellent example of the potential of personalisation comes from Daniel, a young man in east Sussex who is deaf, uses British sign language and has Asperger’s syndrome. He has worked closely with the RNID to choose a package that includes flexible care at home, assistance to increase his confidence on public transport and the vital support needed to help him get a job in Asda. Such examples provide insight into the potential of personalisation. Public spending cuts during the recovery should not stall that vital reform. I am glad to say that the new £7 million right-to-control scheme suggests a continued commitment to its implementation.

About 46,000 adult service users now have personal budgets, compared with only 60 three years ago. About 86,000 adults received direct payments in 2008-09, which is an increase of nearly 30 per cent. on the previous year. Although no social care programme should have cost-cutting as its sole objective, academic research has shown that support packages based on direct payments are on average about a third cheaper than directly provided services. I argue that we should reinvest the efficiency savings made through the personalisation programme back into social care. However, at a time of fiscal belt-tightening and demographic change, personalisation reconciles the seemingly contradictory needs of increasing user satisfaction and meeting the financial constraints in which funding streams operate.

In the post-recession world of economic reticence, there can be no let up in the roll-out of personal control because it is only through widespread provision that the number of services provided for service users will increase. People often say that we cannot allow a postcode lottery to develop and that uneven implementation across local authority areas should not occur. That is why I applauded the move towards a more nationwide perspective on the issue of social care, and I look forward to a future of national assessment and social care portability.

I know from the experience of the Act that I sponsored that safeguards also need to be built in and pursued, so that there is full implementation of the intended programme. Brokerage must be available, accessible and not open to exploitation. In some excellent documents produced by Unison, a compelling case has been made for local authorities to carry out at least a part of the brokerage system. For people who are uncomfortable and unable to cope with the prospect of becoming an employer and managing their own budget, we need to ensure that social services provide the necessary practical provision. We know from experience that one size does not fit all.

Where there are popular, well established services, often provided by local authorities on a larger scale, they must not be used by councils—some of which, frankly, are incompetent—as an expendable and disposable resource to cover their own financial priorities. Too many local authorities have used personalisation as an excuse to slash costs and repair the damage caused by their own mismanagement. Personalisation is a process through which we improve social care provision; it is not a political football to kick around town halls.

As a former president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, I mention this with a heavy heart, but one example relates to Aberdeen city council, where financial mismanagement led to a multi-million-pound overspend that needed to be plugged. Who are bearing the brunt of the council’s ineptitude? Disabled people, because the council has been closing day centres, care homes and respite centres.

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Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that personalisation should not mean isolation? Personalisation at home is potentially good news, but people need to get out and have support. Day centres are important, and volunteer groups should not be undermined by an aggressive system of tendering. Often if we want to encourage volunteers in the community, it takes many years to build up well trained and informed voluntary groups.

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I am happy to agree with the hon. Gentleman. When I was preparing for this debate, I met and heard from a number of voluntary organisations, many of which echoed the view that he just expressed.

I turn to the issue of Scottish local government. Aberdeen city council is tightening its eligibility criteria to exclude people from care; it is hard to believe that that is happening in the United Kingdom today as we speak. To raise eligibility criteria in such a way is fundamentally short-sighted, because continued care and support reduces the number of cases in crisis and helps to encourage people into work.

We also need to remember the staff, some of whom are low paid and many of whom are female care workers. They are the backbone, and central to the survival of these care services. There needs to be reskilling to enable people to adapt to changing roles, but staff are not expendable; they are precious. Safeguards must be built in, so that those employed by service users are given full employment rights and know where they stand in relation to liability insurance and tribunal awards.

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Is the right hon. Gentleman concerned about the potential connection between the important point that he is making and the scandal that appears to be emerging, which is that primary care trusts in our part of the world—in England, Wales and perhaps also Scotland—are not receiving the amount of money that was supposed to be allocated by the Government? That money is being absorbed into the general budgets, which is outrageous.

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I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman. If we have what many have called a national care service, I hope it will be easier to identify where the problems that he mentioned are occurring.

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I should like to echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) just said, and be slightly more specific. It is not just about cuts; it is about ensuring that the money that the Government have allocated to various parts of the system gets to the people for whom it is intended. For 2010-11, the Government have allocated £100 million for carers’ services in England—for things such as respite care and breaks. Research from the Princess Royal Trust for Carers shows that only about a quarter of that money will be used for carers and, shockingly, that a quarter of primary care trusts will be spending less money on carers next year than last year, despite substantially more money being earmarked by the Government for carers’ services.

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Again, the hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. I think we all recognise that the system would break down if it were not for carers, who often give up 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We acknowledge the contribution of such people.

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Last week, I met carers in my constituency, who do a wonderful job. The right hon. Gentleman may have seen my recent work on the disability facilities grant—I tried to get a debate on that subject today, but he pipped me to the post. The grant enables disabled people to live in dignity and independence, and to remain in their homes. An increase in that grant might well cut the overall cost of caring for people in the long run, so it would be financially prudent. Will he join me in asking for a review of how the grant operates? People are waiting far too long for their facilities.

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Order. I remind hon. Members that we are talking about disability policy after the economic downturn.

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Thank you, Mr. Olner. I acknowledge what the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) said; it would not be a Westminster Hall debate if he did not make an intervention.

We need to be bold in tackling the problems of economic inequality and poverty for people with disabilities, and doing so should motivate hon. Members from all parties. Leonard Cheshire’s 2009 disability review, which is an excellent document, shows that 42 per cent. of respondents found it difficult or very difficult to manage on their personal income. Some 63 per cent. of respondents were in fuel poverty and 55 per cent. did not have any savings. Leonard Cheshire’s 2008 report, “Disability Poverty in the UK,” found that disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty as non-disabled people. Many of those issues have been exacerbated by the recession.

We need to consider ways to increase employment further, reduce discrimination, improve educational provision and ensure that the welfare system works effectively for disabled people, who are, in many cases, unable to work. Although employment is not the panacea for ending all disability inequality, it plays an important role in reducing social, economic and cultural barriers by providing many disabled people with that vital sense of meaning and independence. The employment rate for disabled people has increased from 38 per cent. in 1998 to 48 per cent. in 2008. However, only 10 per cent. of all people with a learning disability work, which is why the extension of targeted Government programmes, such as the Jobs First pilot scheme, is essential.

The recession has made finding a job much harder for everyone in society, and people with disabilities start at a clear disadvantage.The unemployment rate for disabled people increased from 8.1 per cent. in October-December 2007 to 10.4 per cent. in October-December 2009, and the economic inactivity rate of disabled people at the end of last year was 44.1 per cent, compared with 16 per cent. among people without a disability. Sadly, stigma and discrimination are still present. More than half the respondents to Leonard Cheshire’s 2009 report believed that they had been discriminated against in the workplace, which is totally unacceptable in any circumstances.

The Government are working hard to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities, and that needs to continue with even greater ferocity in the post-recession climate. Pathways to work, which has helped more than 180,000 people into work, should continue to be delivered robustly and fairly. Indeed, £1 billion of investment has been promised for the period between 2008 and 2011. However, payment by in-work results, a key part of the programme, can occasionally result in the most able jobseekers being creamed off and the least able clearly being neglected. It would be wrong to ignore those who face the most challenging obstacles to employment.

The access to work scheme has also proved a great success, helping some 44,000 people into employment. There is an ambitious Government promise to double the budget from £69 million to £138 million by 2013-14, which I hope will be achieved. Access to work provides support for adapting premises and people travelling into work, but there is more to be done to highlight the scheme to employers—ensuring that portability is built in and forcefully making the moral and economic case for employing people with disabilities.

Earlier, I mentioned benefits. Part of the programme for encouraging employment has been to reclassify incapacity benefit as employment and support allowance. That has been supported by disability charities as a much-needed change that judges people by their potential and removes the expectation that certain people with disabilities cannot work. Continued safeguards are required to ensure that the work capability assessment does not force some disabled people on to jobseeker’s allowance, which can fail to meet their longer-term needs.

Inequality and discrimination are not only present in the economic sphere. Great steps have been taken to extend equality legislation to people with disabilities, the disability equality duty in 2005 being just one example of the Government’s legislative commitments. However, problems and challenges remain. Of all adult protection referrals to social services, 15 per cent. involve crime or abuse against people with learning disabilities. In order to deliver real disability equality in the economic upturn, disabled people need more than economic rights, vital though those are.

Significant cultural changes are also required. We need to tackle in no uncertain terms disability hate crime, which is currently the subject of a formal inquiry by the Equality and Human Rights Commission; the lack of political representation; and a cultural refusal to integrate disabled people fully into many aspects of modern society. That is why the Equality Bill, which has been welcomed by the Disability Charities Consortium, is so important. The Bill will put a new equality duty on public bodies, use public procurement to improve equality and extend the use of positive action in political life, which has been welcomed by the great united voice of those involved in disability who rightly make their views known to us as parliamentarians.

In the post-recession climate, it is incredibly important that the Government should enforce the relevant provisions of the Equality Bill so that service providers do not adopt a policy of doing the least possible. It is by delivering those wide cultural, social and political changes, alongside a legislative programme for social care reform and economic assistance, that disability policy after the recession can bring about real change for disabled people. That is the hallmark of a caring society and of a modern and inclusive Britain.

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I thank the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) for securing the debate and making a detailed and thoughtful contribution. He listed several groups, organisations and individuals, including the current Minister and his predecessors, who have made a significant contribution—I will not name them all today, but they know who they are.

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One of the things that pleases me about the debate is that it gives me the chance to wish the hon. Gentleman well, as he has decided to stand down from Parliament. He was a stalwart in the fight for disability rights and will be very much missed.

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I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. I will touch on another Scottish problem that he mentioned—the ring-fencing of funds—because he was disappointed, as was I, when money allocated to the Scottish Government to be spent on those living with disabilities was not spent on that intended purpose.

Living with a disability is not only an issue for the individual concerned; it affects their family, friends, carers, employer and the entire community. It is worth remembering that whatever we have to cope with in the UK is nothing compared to the problems faced by others elsewhere in the world, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman agrees. During my six years on the International Development Committee, I witnessed at first hand people with a range of disabilities, who often had a fraction of the help and support we see in the UK, and yet we are painfully aware that the level of support here falls well short of the mark.

I would like to pay tribute to groups and organisations that do excellent work on disability. RADAR, an organisation to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, recently invited spokesmen from all parties to say what their parties would like to see happen after the election. The subject of today’s debate is disability policy after the economic downturn, but unless the economic downturn ends before the expected election date of 6 May, we are discussing disability policy for the next Government. At the RADAR event, I said that I did not believe that any one party had all the good people, ideas and wisdom. Whichever party forms the next Government, I would like to see it put dealing with the problem at the forefront, rather than use any disability-related matter as a political football, because the issues that people have to live with day by day and week by week are more important.

The debate focuses on disability policy after the downturn, and as an optimist I hope that that will not be too far in the future. Before looking to the future, however, it makes sense to look at how the downturn has affected those living with a disability today. Disabled people have been disproportionately hit by the downturn in several ways. We have seen the cost of heating, food and transport rise in recent weeks, months and years, while we know, as is detailed in Leonard Cheshire’s report, that the income of a family with a disabled parent or child is often much lower than average. I hope that those people will not be forgotten during the election campaign, because that group has a much lower than average record of turning out to vote, but they feel a much higher than average impact from Government policies and they need those policies to be right.

With a general election just around the corner, now is a good time to look to the future and to learn lessons where we have made mistakes in the past. At this time, disabled people will rightly be looking for commitments from all political parties that policies for the disabled are not seen as a good idea in the boom years but unaffordable in difficult economic times. That would be exactly the wrong way to look at disability policies. The next Government, whoever they may be, should consider the huge opportunities for making use of the vast pool of untapped potential among people with disabilities in every constituency in the country.

However, for disability policy to be a priority for the next Government, we need a House of Commons that is full of MPs who recognise the importance of disability and related issues. One way to achieve that would be to encourage more disabled people to vote. Whether through a postal or proxy vote, every individual, no matter what their disability, has a democratic right to make their voice heard. It is therefore a real point of concern that people with disabilities continue to have one of the lowest rates of political participation in the country. At the last election, it was estimated that less than 20 per cent. of certain groups of disabled people voted. If we want a strong voice for disabled people in Parliament, we need to have MPs who have been elected with the help of disabled people and those living with disabilities, and who can be held to account by them.

If we are committed to supporting people with disabilities, we also need disabled people to be elected to this place so that we have more people who have a more direct interest in the issue. I am not saying that those who do not have a direct interest do not have awareness and cannot campaign and work for groups that are most directly affected, but disabled people would add to the mix in Parliament.

The onus is on politicians to provide something that is worth voting for. Too often, disability issues have been seen as an add-on, and tagged on to the end of other policies. In the future, we should mainstream independent living, accessibility and disability awareness. Disability should be a thread that runs through policy as a matter of course. One of the things that any new Government could do is repeal section 141 of the Mental Health Act 1983, which sends all the wrong signals about mental health.

The disabled people to whom I speak do not want much. They ask only for a fair deal and a level playing field. Central to that will be the drive towards independent living, which must continue in the next Parliament. I know that the current Government are not too keen on primary legislation on the subject—they do not feel that delivering independent living requires it—but I am surprised to hear that from a Government who have published more new laws than any other in living memory. They have made a mistake on that count.

I am pleased that we now have the Independent Living Scrutiny Group to review progress on implementing the independent living strategy, but I believe that primary legislation could make a contribution and clarify disabled people’s entitlements. That would be the best way to proceed.

Independent living must be at the core of our approach to disability in the future. Personal budgets that give people the right to choose their own priorities are the right way forward. At the same time, we must ensure that we create a system that does not allow independent living to be abused as a way of giving people more say over less funding. A real concern in the economic downturn is that we may pass the buck—whether to individuals or local authorities, who have to work with restricted budgets.

In 1997, a Government were elected who admirably made cutting child poverty a key priority. However, they talked the talk but did not walk the walk. Yesterday, the Child Poverty Bill went through its final stages in the House, but it includes a new definition of eradication of child poverty which would not be acceptable in any other walk of life. To say that something has been eradicated means that we have got rid of it; saying that it is as bad as in neighbouring European countries is not the same.

I would like the next Government to take a much more determined approach to tackling disability poverty. Leonard Cheshire Disability has gone into that in great depth in several reports over the years, and, for those who are following this debate, following its work would be a wise thing to do. It is simply not right or fair that disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty as non-disabled people. Much of that is down to an insensitive system that does not adequately take into account the higher living costs that often come with having a disability.

One young mother mentioned to me that the bicycle that her able daughter uses cost £50, yet her disabled child’s bike—with stabilisers, supports, controls and so on—cost four times as much. Shoes for an average child may cost about £20; for a child who needs built- up shoes, foot splints and so on, a pair of shoes can cost £200.

The Minister will know that some local authorities and financial institutions still consider the care component of disability living allowance as part of an individual’s disposable income when calculating social care entitlements or whether someone can apply for credit or loans. We must agree that there ought to be a change so that the system takes account of the extra costs of living with disability when conducting income assessments for benefits or measuring disability poverty. If we are to start to make a dent in disability poverty, we must recognise that DLA is not additional income but is for meeting the additional costs of living with a disability. Might I suggest that the tax system proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable), which would lift the lowest earners out of tax altogether, would be a good place to start?

I would also like us to banish the idea that people are in some way acting altruistically by acting on disability issues. Not only do we have an obligation to act but the reality is that society as a whole benefits when disability is treated as a priority. Properly investing in people with disabilities to help them back into work and live independent lives will save billions of pounds a year in unemployment and other benefits. It is also simply the right thing to do.

Looking forward, we will start to deliver fairness for people with disabilities only when we begin to build disability awareness into every Government Department and every aspect of employment. Disability issues impact on every sphere of government, from transport, health, education and housing to Department for Work and Pensions benefits and much more. I have touched on the work that the Department for International Development does on disability abroad.

Disability policy affects millions of people. If we are to consider disability policy after the downturn, we should consider how best to build disability awareness into the priorities of every Government Department. Fairness for people living with a disability will not be achieved by treating disability as an afterthought. It ought to be at the forefront of our mind when we make policy.

I trust that the issue will be at the forefront of the mind of the next Government, and I would like to hope that in the next 25 years we will move forward on disability as much as we have moved forward over the past 25 years on race, religion, age and gender discrimination. I often feel that disability issues have fallen behind. I wish whoever forms the next Government all the best in dealing with the serious problems that those who live with disabilities experience every day, week and month.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Olner. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) on securing this debate. He made a wide-ranging speech in which he covered the waterfront of these issues.

The only disappointment is that it takes the right hon. Gentleman to have a good debate on disability policy. It is a shame that the Government have not had more debates on the Floor of the House. It is not necessarily the Minister’s fault—I have been pressing the Leader of the House for more frequent debates on this topic. The Government had debates in 1999, and in 2004 and 2006—sadly, both coincided with the days of European and local elections—but they have not had one since. The opportunity that the right hon. Gentleman has given us to discuss these important issues is very welcome, and many of the points that he made are shared by Members on both sides of the House.

I also take this opportunity to wish all the best to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett), who will not be standing again. Having listened to his speech, I have to say that he sounds as passionate about these issues as ever. He listed a range of challenges for the future, so perhaps he should stand again so that he can take his part in campaigning on them. I recognise, as the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill did, that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West has been campaigning on these issues for many years, so perhaps he feels that he has done his bit, but it certainly sounded as though there is still much more that he wishes he could do. I wish him very well for the future.

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Whoever forms the next Government will, in forming policy, have to consider the operation of the disability facilities grant. We must give the Government credit for increasing the grant over the past three years from £146 million to £166 million. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we should go even further, because that is money well spent and it will save even greater sums in the longer term? Does he agree that the grant should be changed to introduce a rapid repair and adaptation service for minor works, so that people do not have to wait months and sometimes years for adaptations that will allow them to live with dignity and independence?

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The hon. Gentleman makes a good point when saying that a lot of the money that is spent on things that the disability facilities grant buys is well invested. It often enables people to stay in their own homes, meaning that they do not have to go into expensive residential care. Investing in such things often makes a great deal of sense.

The point made by the hon. Gentleman links well to one of the central points made by the right hon. Gentleman, which was that whoever forms the next Government will face a challenging set of public finances and that the vulnerable should not suffer in such circumstances. The right hon. Gentleman put his finger on why that does not need to be so. Even if the Government have to reduce public spending—whoever forms the Government will have to do so—that does not mean that they will have to cut public services. He mentioned some of the changes in the personalisation of social care leading to money being spent in better, more effective and more innovative ways.

The public sector has to focus on delivering some of the things that the private sector has delivered over the past few years during this difficult economic period by improving productivity, doing things smarter and doing more for less to ensure that we can still deliver good services to people with good outcomes, even in a challenging situation. In respect of personalisation, the right hon. Gentleman put his finger on the way in which that circle can be squared and where money can be better spent. The points made by both the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Castle Point highlight that, regarding the public finances overall, spending money wisely is smart spending. We need to see more of that.

It is worth focusing on one interesting aspect of this recession that is a good thing —this is where I slightly disagree with the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West—which is that the impact on employment for disabled people has not been too bad. Disabled people have not suffered as much as others from the downturn. The Equalities and Human Rights Commission produced a report recently, last July, looking at the impact of the recession on various groups, including disabled people, which said that they had not been disproportionately affected. Clearly, they have been affected just the same as everybody else, but they have not been disproportionately affected. The only caveat to that is that the EHRC said that part of the reason for that was that disabled people were not as employed as everyone else: they started from a relatively low base. However, having said that, it is good that the recession has not had a disproportionate effect on disabled people and that the gains that they have made in terms of getting into work have not been reversed by the recession. That is welcome.

It is worth remembering that one of the key reasons that disabled people, before, during and after a recession—several hon. Members made this point, and the right hon. Gentleman also made it when mentioning the excellent Leonard Cheshire report about disability poverty—are poorer is that they are less likely to work. Whoever forms the next Government will have to improve the number of disabled people who get into work.

I am happy to say that the Government have made some progress—the employment rate has gone up, as the right hon. Gentleman said, but I think that everyone would agree that it has not increased as much as we hoped. The big challenge for whoever forms the next Government is to make serious inroads on the significant number of people on incapacity benefit and employment and support allowance who still have not been able to get into work. The tragedy is that there are now more disabled people on those two benefits than there were in 1997 when the Government came into power. The figure has increased by a bit—about 13,000—but it still stands at just over 2.6 million people, 800,000 of whom have been on those benefits for more than 10 years, so they have not been helped.

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. Does he agree that it is not just a question of what the Government can do and about Government policy; it is also about what employers must do? Many major employers to whom I have spoken in my constituency would go that extra mile to help employees who develop a disability to continue at work, but they do not take that extra care or consideration into their recruitment practice. It is vital to get employers on board in that respect.

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The hon. Gentleman is right. He cautions us about one thing in particular. We spend a lot of time talking about those disabled people who are not working and what we need to do to give them help and support to get into work. The other side of that equation is ensuring that employers understand that the reasonable adjustments that they might have to make to employ someone with a physical disability, a mental health or fluctuating condition or, as the right hon. Gentleman said, people with learning disabilities, are often not that great. By making some relatively modest changes, we can ensure that such people have the opportunity to work and make a contribution and, equally, employers can take that into account in respect of people in the existing work force who develop a disability.

There cannot be an employer of any size that does not have someone on its staff with a mental health problem, for example, given that one in four of us will have one at some point in our life. An employer may not know that they have employees with mental health problems, but I am sure that they do have such employees. It is about encouraging employers to make changes to keep those people in work and help them to remain effective. Perhaps that is one of the gaps.

There are some good employers. The Employers’ Forum on Disability has some good members who do excellent work. Perhaps that knowledge is not widely shared. That is a challenge not just for the Government, but for Members of Parliament when talking to employers in their constituencies. I always try to do that when talking to employers in mine. I ask them what they do to employ disabled people. Do they think about that? Do they think about their recruitment practices? We can all do that. All the campaigning groups, a number of which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, campaign on that all the time.

When talking about getting disabled people into work, we must look at what the Government can do. The statistics on disabled people employed in the public and private sectors show that the public sector as a whole has a pretty good record, although it could do better, and that it employs a significant number of disabled people. The Minister will not be surprised, because he and I have had this little joust before, that central Government are not impressive at hiring disabled people. His Department has been working on that matter and he may say something about it in his speech: he has led some initiatives and employs someone with a learning disability in his private office, which is welcome. However, only 3.6 per cent. of employees in the two central departments of the Department for Work and Pensions—corporate services and shared services—have a known disability. That figure is not high enough: it is not as good as other Departments. Given that the DWP is the Department with the Minister for Disabled People, it ought to be doing better. The Minister has started work on that and whoever forms the next Government needs to continue doing it and taking it further.

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An important feature of the percentage of disabled people in Departments is that it is measured on self-declaration. The Employers’ Forum on Disability does not advocate that people should be forced to declare. When we do anonymised surveys, the percentage rises to around 13 per cent.

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That is interesting, but it highlights an issue. Why are employees happy to say that they have a disability in an anonymous survey but not prepared to be open about it? It is important, not just for the Government but for companies, to create an environment in which people are not forced to disclose a disability, but feel comfortable about doing so and feel that their disability will not be a disadvantage and that, if they need any adjustments, those will be made without fuss and they will be treated exactly the same as everyone else.

The Minister’s point perhaps shows that more progress has been made, but it is worrying—this is not just true in Government—that a significant number of people are concerned about being open about their disability, not necessarily because of the reaction of their managers, but perhaps because of the reaction from their colleagues. They are not confident that disclosure will not set back their chances of success. That is not just an issue in Government: it is an issue in society as a whole and we all need to work on it.

I have some specific questions for the Minister on welfare reform and on getting some of those on incapacity benefit and employment and support allowance into work. Notwithstanding the progress that has been made, there is evidence that there are issues with some of the Government’s programmes. For example, when I asked the Minister how many and what proportion of those claiming employment and support allowance had left the benefit to go into work since its introduction, he could not give me the information and said that it simply was not available. If the Government do not know how successful the benefit has been, and how many people leave it and get into work, it is difficult to assess how successful their employment programmes are.

There seem to be some worrying signs that the Government’s flagship employment programme for disabled people on out-of-work benefits—the pathways to work programme—is not working as well as we hoped. Employment programmes will be critical as we emerge from the recession, the economy starts to grow, and we try to get people back into work. The Government’s White Paper in December 2009 said:

“When Pathways to Work was extended to new areas, following the initial pilots, no employment impact was found.”

The latest data show that, in provider-led areas, less than one in 10 claimants going through pathways to work have moved into work. Later data show that there is parking and creaming—the right hon. Gentleman referred to his concern about that—and that those who need most help are left on one side and not helped. Government research and their report, “The influence of outcome-based contracting on Provider-led Pathways to Work”, said that there is

“management pressure to focus on job ready clients”—

people who are not that far from the labour market—with

“less time being spent with clients who are further away from work…Parking (giving other clients a bare minimum of service) was seen as appropriate practice”

to which

“there was a clear management steer”.

There was concern that

“outcome-based contracts do not reflect an expectation that providers will work with the harder to help.”

That is important. we must be able to help those who need most help and who may have been out of work for the longest time. The right hon. Gentleman raised that concern. It is one reason why, as we suggested, we must use private and voluntary providers, as the Government are doing, but we must be more rigorous about paying them on outcomes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne), the shadow Chancellor, said that that would enable a Conservative Government to use the savings from benefits to do as the right hon. Gentleman said and reinvest the money in employment programmes, partly to scale them and have a reasonable expectation of dealing with the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people who are out of work and need help, and importantly to pay an amount of money that varies according to the help that people need to get back into work. If someone has been out of work for many years and perhaps has a complex disability, a provider could be given a significant sum to invest in training, help and support to get that person back into work, whereas someone who is not so far away from the labour market, has perhaps not been out of work for long and needs only a small change in their skills will not be given as much because their case is much more straightforward. That variable amount of investment is critical in ensuring that the hardest to help are not left on one side, which is what the right hon. Gentleman suggested might be happening.

The right hon. Gentleman flagged up some concerns about work capability assessment. Several organisations have raised such concerns with me, and whether the test properly assesses someone’s capability to work. The Minister has acknowledged that there are concerns about that, and the Government are looking into those issues, some of which have been reported by staff. Some work has been done. The Government’s internal technical review, and the independent review are due to be published later this year. It would be helpful if the Minister told us what medical experts and representative groups he has been working with on the Government’s review, whether a draft is ready, whether he can give a commitment on when the final report will be available, whether any changes have been identified in the work capability assessment, which would need to be changed in regulations, and whether any work is under way to draft them.

A specific matter was raised by Macmillan Cancer Support, and parliamentary questions were asked about it. Those with terminal cancer are not expected to undergo a work capability assessment, and there is supposed to be a process whereby they move straight to the support group so that they receive help immediately. That is important for those with a terminal diagnosis. The process is good, but Macmillan Cancer Support has suggested that that does not always happen, and that some people with terminal disease have been asked to undergo a work capability assessment when it is not appropriate. It has produced a report, and perhaps the Minister will tell us whether there has been any progress on tightening that up.

The right hon. Gentleman spent quite a lot of his speech on personalisation and the right to control, and rightly so. The change is supported by all three major parties in the House, and we all agree that we would like it to go faster. He highlighted the progress that has been made so far, which is welcome. Measured from a low base, there has been a lot of progress, but from the other end of the telescope, considering the number of people who receive social care and could benefit from a more personalised approach, we still have a long way to go.

We supported the right to control measures in the Welfare Reform Act 2009, and we worked with Cross Benchers in the other place to persuade the Government to include social care funding. I am pleased that that has been included in Trailblazers, but I confess that I am a little disappointed that Trailblazers will not start until later this year and will run for another two years, which could delay the roll-out in the rest of the country. I had a bit of fun when Trailblazers was given that interesting title. I agreed with the Minister that the name Trailblazers, instead of pilots, indicates the direction in which we are moving, and that the debate is about how we do that, how we can be most effective, and how the rules work.

My one concern relates to the written statement of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on 25 February, when she announced Trailblazers and said that the

“findings will help inform the decision as to whether the Right to Control can be rolled out further.”

That was unhelpful. My understanding was that we want the right to control to be rolled out further. The issue is not whether, but how, and the lessons to be learned from Trailblazers are to ensure that we can roll out the right to control further, include more funding streams, and do so more effectively. I should be grateful if the Minister confirmed that that is the Government’s intention, and that the use of the word “whether” does not suggest any reticence in rolling that out. If there is a clear message from him and a clear statement from me, people will be clear that that personalisation approach will continue whoever wins the election. That is important for local government, who will do much of the work. Local authorities need to know that, whoever becomes the Government at Westminster, that approach will continue—I hope that it will be speeded up—and they cannot use the impending general election as an excuse to go slowly, but must continue to roll that out for the benefit of those who depend on social care.

Equality 2025 is the Government’s advisory body, which includes disabled people, and gives the Government advice on how to make progress towards their objectives on disability equality by 2025. The Minister will know that there has been a review of Equality 2025. I asked him some questions about that, and he said that the report was not published immediately to allow officials in the Office for Disability Issues to fully consider and implement the recommendations. He said that the Government will publish the report by the summer, and I wonder whether he could be more precise about the timing. Can he tell the House anything more about those proposals, what is in mind, and how the proposals will increase the effectiveness of Equality 2025 in advising the Minister on disability policy?

In conclusion, the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill has done the House a service by securing this debate and giving us the opportunity to talk about these important issues. Although there are some disagreements about what has been done and the pace of change, there are a lot of shared views on all sides of the House about the importance of enabling disabled people to get into work and about personalisation. Whoever wins the next election, I hope and believe that we will see further progress in that important area of policy.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Olner, and to respond to the debate led so ably, as always, by my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke). I am grateful for the contributions of all hon. Members, for their tone and for hon. Members’ passion about keeping this important agenda moving forward. I will limit my remarks to answering some of the questions, and I will build my speech around the questions raised by right hon. and hon. Members.

Employment is a key and fundamental issue if we are to achieve our objectives of equality by 2025. In the road map that we have published recently, that is one of the 14 important strands of work identified not by the Government but by disabled people. As the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett) rightly pointed out, the whole road map, and employment in particular, is monitored by disabled people and reported on regularly. That initiative is led ably by Baroness Jane Campbell, who I am sure all hon. Members hold in the highest regard.

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One issue that is raised repeatedly by hon. Members on both sides of the House is the inability of parents who care for disabled children to find child care. That makes it difficult for parents to obtain employment, and flexibility from employers is needed. The parent could be able-bodied, but the problems of child care and flexible working arrangements can be a barrier to employment and income for that family.

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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. He will be aware that as part of our carer’s strategy, we have developed care partnership managers, and within that funding stream there is opportunity for replacement care. I met with care partnership managers from a number of areas in the UK, along with Carers UK, the Princess Royal Trust for Carers and Crossroads Care. All reported that they were pleased with the development of the care partnership managers who work in communities on the ground and bring together different care groups to provide carers with information about opportunities for work. There is a budget stream to provide for replacement care. These are early days, but that type of initiative has been welcomed and we need to develop the infrastructure on the ground so that it has an impact on the group in the way described by the hon. Gentleman.

May I also echo the words of the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) in wishing the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West well, and acknowledging the contribution that he has made to our discussions and debates, and to the whole issue of disability rights across the country? Although he has no ambition to remain in this place, I detect a passion and know that he will continue to champion the issues that are important to him. I am sure that they are part and parcel of some of the reasons why he came into public life in the first place.

The hon. Member for Forest of Dean is right to say that disabled people have not been disproportionately affected during the economic downturn. Of course we recognise that many disabled people have lost their jobs, but we know from labour market statistics that many people are finding jobs as well. Around one third of people get back into work within three or six months, and after that period there are a lot of support programmes. One point that it is important to focus on is the fact that disabled people are considerably under-represented in the type of industries that have been badly affected by the recession, such as the construction industry, for example. As the hon. Gentleman said, a higher proportion of disabled people work in the public sector, and all hon. Members have discussed how we should manage public funding in the future. That is something that we have to keep an eye on.

Our ambition is to see more disabled people in employment. My right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill pointed out that we have seen an increase in numbers, and we want to build on that work. That is why we have developed work programmes such as pathways to work, access to work and the future jobs fund, which assists disabled youngsters up and down the country. It is about developing the infrastructure, bringing together partnerships on the ground and developing relationships between councils, Jobcentre Plus, regional development agencies and employers, to ensure that those opportunities arise. We have seen that with the local employment partnerships, which have been a tremendous success.

We are not able to flick a switch and suddenly have all that infrastructure and all those relationships in place—it takes a while. We have not had a programme like pathways to work before. The figures that the hon. Member for Forest of Dean mentioned are right; it is disappointing that we have not seen the numbers that we expected. However, when talking to providers from the public, private and voluntary sectors, I have found that relationships are maturing on the ground and that there is better co-operation.

I was in Rochdale recently, where there are a high number of people on incapacity benefit and employment and support allowance. In the Shaw Trust building, there were also Jobcentre Plus staff working. We are seeing organisations harness their energies on the ground, and that is essential if we are to take the agenda forward. It is not about flicking switches but about building up partnerships. Of course there must be accountability, and I agree with the point about ensuring that we have outcomes. However, we must have a service fee for certain groups, particularly if we want to see a flourishing third sector and small organisations taking part in employment programmes with their specialist knowledge. They obviously need a cash flow, and to have to wait for a year would be challenging and difficult. We have developed the prime contractor model that takes the bulk of the contract and then partners up with specialist organisations. We must ensure that those relationships are fair and equitable.

The hon. Member for Forest of Dean made a point about parking. We commission reports to look into our programmes, and they deliver criticism. That is a reflection of a mature Government and we must respond to that. We all want these initiatives to work and we will test a number of models to ensure that we get the right formula. None of these things have been tried anywhere before; we are leading on this. Rather than flicking switches or clearing the decks and starting again, it is about evolving programmes and involving disabled people. That is why we will develop the accelerator funding model that rewards more those disabled people who have been unemployed for longer. We need to examine that and see how it works and whether it provides us with the right type of formula, but I suspect that we shall need a range of programmes to respond to the varying needs and the differences between the regions up and down the country.

The hon. Member for Forest of Dean asked about the work capability assessment. He will know that we involved disabled people’s organisations with the design of that assessment. We can argue about the figures for incapacity benefit and we have traded those before, so I will not be tempted to go into that territory. If I was on normal form, I would, but I will not today. However, we do need to see a change in that respect and to consider what people can do, rather than what they cannot. We assess about 30,000 people every month. The professional health care people from Atos must have at least three years’ post-qualifying experience.

I recently organised a seminar for all Members of both Houses of Parliament, with Atos and Department for Work and Pensions staff, to answer various questions. One question was asked by the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor), who is a medical professional himself. He raised the concern that our constituents often raise with us— “Have my GP’s or specialist’s reports been read?” He requested that we have a box on the assessment form to be ticked in order to be sure that the reports have been read and, within two days, that was done. It was the fastest policy change that I have ever seen, so I gave him the award for the fastest policy change of the Parliament. He was very pleased when I was able to advise him of the change, and now I am advising the House.

The personalisation agenda, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill rightfully put at the centre of his speech, is vital to achieving our ambition for equality for disabled people by 2025. We have the trailblazers, and there is an important distinction between trailblazers and pilots. We are doing that work, and when we say that we want to do more, it is not a case of stopping and saying whether we are going to do it; it is about how the funding streams interact with one another. The discussions and consultation that we have had on the Right to Control initiative say that we need to see how it works, not because we want to stop it but because we want to get it right—because if we get it wrong, confidence in that new approach will be lost, which will mean delays to the way in which we want services to be provided for disabled people.

One of the things that will be essential in the trailblazers is access to good-quality advocacy and support. For the right to control to be equal, there must be good advocacy and support. Someone with a learning disability or a mental health issue may find it more difficult to navigate their way round the direct payments to which my right hon. Friend referred than someone with a physical disability. That is why the models that we need to examine through the trailblazers must ensure that there is good advocacy and support.

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I am delighted that the Minister has touched on advocacy. Advocacy was at the heart of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986, and we have seen many good examples of best practice. Sometimes I worry, though, that we have not made as much progress as we might have in advocacy. I know that my hon. Friend often highlights that issue, but is it not positive, not only for the disabled person but for the advocate, to ensure that advocacy remains central to our approach?

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I agree absolutely. I wrote to my right hon. Friend about the progress since the 1986 Act and I was going to come on to that. It was a little while ago—a whole hairline ago, sadly.

One example that I have seen is in Essex. The Essex Coalition of Disabled People provides direct payments administrative services for disabled people, with a contract from Essex council. I think that Southend and part of Cambridgeshire are also involved. That provides disabled people with sustainability of funding, and the funding is also used for other services such as good advocacy and support. With the trailblazers, when we are considering the models, we need to ensure sustainability of funding for good advocacy and support, because if the right to control is to work not just for one year but for all years, that must be in place and it cannot rely on year-to-year, hand-to-mouth funding. It is a central part of delivering successfully.

On the point that the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) made, it is important that we involve voluntary groups. We cannot think that the right to control will be there for everyone. We must be wary of people who advocate only one way and who have an ideology in that respect. For the majority of people, the right to control will work, but for some people it will not work, so we do not want all the services to be run in a particular way. That is why, in relation to the trailblazers, where we have funding streams that will become individualised for things such as supported employment, we do not want services to collapse if people withdraw funding.

What the initiative will do is change the way in which the power exists at the moment, so rather than disabled people being the passive recipients of what the council, the health service or whoever says, they will have far more power. They will need to be consulted on, and involved in, services. Perhaps that will prevent the issues in local authorities that my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill described arising.

A number of hon. Members referred to stigma, hate crime and the discrimination that too many disabled people face. We have made a great deal of progress on that front in recent years, but we need to continue to fight the battle. In some ways, in these years, we are seeing the best and the worst in terms of inclusion. We all remember the fantastic scenes just up the road in Trafalgar square when our Olympians and Paralympians came back from Beijing. They included gold medal winners, and people were celebrating their achievement, not because they had overcome adversity in the way that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West referred to, but because of their sporting prowess. It was a fantastic achievement.

Thirteen million people tuned in to the BBC’s coverage of the Paralympics. That was more people than in any other country in the world. The Paralympics are a very important force for portraying a positive image of what disabled people can contribute to their country. This is about tackling attitudes, and if we can tackle attitudes, we can tackle behaviour. There is so much work to be done.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill mentioned the Equality and Human Rights Commission inquiry into hate crime, which was born out of the most appalling crime that took place some two years ago. Fiona Pilkington and her daughter Francecca were the victims of hate crime, which led to their taking their own lives. The most depressing feature of the case was that Fiona Pilkington had no expectation that anyone would do anything about it. The shame of that is shared by us all. We need to fight such crime.

The Olympics in 2012 offer us a huge opportunity to shift attitudes and change behaviour. I have no doubt—I am sure that none of us has any doubt—that we will win medals or that our Olympians and Paralympians will do a fantastic job in representing our country in our capital city and at the other arenas and venues around the UK. However, it is vital that we have a good number of disabled people working and volunteering at the Olympics. I am working closely with my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Olympics and disabled people’s organisations to ensure that many thousands of disabled people—4,000 or 5,000—are part of the volunteer work force.

We need to look at things such as adjustments so that people who need personal assistants can take part. One can imagine people attending Olympic venues being welcomed and escorted to their seats by a young woman, perhaps with cerebral palsy, and her PA. That is one example, but what would it do to advance attitudes towards disabled people if we multiplied it by thousands? It is very powerful, and it is important that we do not miss a once-in-a-generation opportunity to use the power of the Olympic and Paralympic games.

Let me touch on access to work for people with learning disabilities. My right hon. Friend does great work with the all-party group. As hon. Members have said, we have not seen the increases that we would have liked in the number of people with learning disabilities getting employment. Shortly after I completed my social care course, I got my first paid job, as a care worker with people with learning disabilities, so seeing the advancement of this group of people has been a passion of mine.

As part of our “Valuing Employment” strategy, the Department recently announced that it would employ 400 people with learning disabilities over the next year or so and work in partnership with our contractors. We will make access to work more flexible not only in terms of physical adaptations, but by making job coaches available. We will build on some of the work that we have undertaken with Project Search, an initiative that works particularly with public sector bodies and hospitals.

I recently met students with learning disabilities at the Norwich and Norfolk University hospital who had been given internships and learned about different jobs around the hospital. I was delighted to hear that many of them had secured full-time employment. Indeed, one of their colleagues told me how delighted she was when one of the young men came to her to say that he would be spending the weekend paintballing with colleagues from the hospital. He was taking part in a mainstream exercise, and they were including him as a friend and colleague.

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I welcome my hon. Friend’s positive speech, but does he accept that various charities have produced much evidence showing that people with learning disabilities do not get the attention from the health service that they need and deserve, because they do not have the facility to express their needs and wants? Will he consider the many studies on this subject and keep in touch with those of our colleagues who deal with health matters?

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Indeed. As my right hon. Friend will know, the “Valuing People” document highlighted the fact that there was great inconsistency. As in many public services, there are shining examples of what is best, and we all want to see them across the piece. A woman with learning disabilities is entitled to receive the same public health treatment—the same screening for breast cancer or cervical cancer—as anyone else. A number of charities and organisations for people with learning disabilities have developed Easy Read so that such people can properly understand their health needs and the various processes and procedures that they need to go through to live a healthy life. I was recently in Rochdale, where I was shown an Easy Read booklet about a whole range of matters that had been published for people with learning disabilities. However, we must continue to keep that under review.

Before I conclude, I should say that although my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson), who is sitting behind me, cannot contribute to the debate because he is my Parliamentary Private Secretary, we all acknowledge that he has made a huge contribution to work on disabled people’s issues in his time in the House. Indeed, shortly after the debate, I will be speaking on Insight Radio, which is based in his constituency and run by the Royal National Institute of Blind People. In Committee and on Report, my hon. Friend laid an amendment to the Welfare Reform Bill to ensure that a higher rate of disability living allowance is paid to 20,000 blind people, which will assist them enormously. The RNIB ran a great campaign, and I am delighted that there was cross-party support for it.

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I am sorry if I appear to be pursuing my hon. Friend, but he is so interesting and he is giving us many ideas. I would like to have had time to raise an issue that has worried me and many others for many years—the number of people with learning disabilities who find themselves in prison. It is often thought that the courts send them there because they cannot think of anywhere else to send them. Baroness Stern has had a great deal to say on the issue, as have Nacro and Sacro, and that will not have escaped the attention of my hon. Friend and other colleagues. It really is very worrying to see such things in this modern age.

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That is right. Before I conclude, I will refer to the report by Leonard Cheshire. If we tackle poverty, that will have a significant impact on tackling the number of people in prison. I am not saying that there is a direct link and that being poor means that people will commit crime, but we know that people living in poorer conditions can be tempted down that route. To tackle the numbers that my right hon. Friend mentioned, we need to ensure that we have better educational outcomes, better skills and better employment opportunities, and we need the hope that disabled people can contribute to mainstream society. That would have an impact on the number of people with learning disabilities going to prison, and I have been in correspondence with colleagues at the Ministry of Justice about the issue.

A couple of weeks ago, my right hon. Friend kindly chaired a meeting to discuss the 40th anniversary of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. At that meeting, my right hon. Friend Lord Morris of Manchester talked about how he had managed to get the Act on to the statute book. He reminded us that when he first introduced his Bill in 1969, he had drawn first place in ballot for private Member’s Bills, but only one organisation for disabled people contacted him after he wrote around. Oh, how times have changed—and that is a good thing.

As Lord Morris told us, organisations did not write to him because they had no expectations, given that disability issues had not been debated since the 1940s. We have made great progress in the past 40 years, but we need to do more for the advancement of the 10 million disabled people in this country. We need to do that for the sake not just of those 10 million people, but for the sake of all 60 million people who live in our society.