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Disabled People: Inequality

Volume 742: debated on Wednesday 13 December 2023

In July 2021, the Government set out our long-term vision in the national disability strategy. Over the summer, we consulted on the disability action plan, which will set out the immediate action that the Government are taking in 2024. Together with other relevant reforms being taken forward by my Cabinet colleagues, those measures seek to tackle inequality and improve the daily lives of disabled people.

The neuro drop-in centre in Lancaster provides a unique support network for those affected by neurological conditions, but my constituent, who travels there by bus from Bowerham to Torrisholme, is a wheelchair user, and if there is already is a wheelchair user on the bus, he cannot board. Does the Minister think that that is fair?

That does not sound terribly fair at all. I am very interested in what the hon. Lady shares with the House. Of course, we have a Transport Minister answering questions today, so I am very happy for us to look at that issue for her. If she writes to me, I will see that the matter is looked at.

Sense has found that, because of the Tory cost of living crisis, a large proportion of disabled people will not be seeing family, buying presents or even celebrating Christmas this year, yet the Government are ploughing ahead with changes that will ramp up sanctions and that could remove NHS prescriptions and access to legal aid for disabled people. Why, at every single opportunity, do the Government hit people with disabilities the hardest?

I apologise, Mr Speaker, because the Transport Minister I mentioned is not coming today—they might be on the bus. I will pick up the issue raised by the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) in further responses.

The hon. Member for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck) will know that we are making cost of living payments once again to support people in need. In fact, that support totals over £104 billion. If she is concerned for her constituents—and rightly so—she should definitely direct them to Help for Households, the benefits calculator on, and the help to claim process. There is also the household support fund, which is about £1 billion this year. I hope she is satisfied that we are absolutely supporting the most vulnerable.

The disability pay gap has risen under the Conservatives from 11.7% in 2014 to 13.8% in 2021. Labour will act to close the gap and to support disabled people by introducing disability pay gap reporting for large employers. That is good for disabled people, good for business and good for our economy, so why will the Government not follow suit?

We are absolutely committed to supporting disabled people. Frankly, we are very proud of our record: we have supported more than 1 million disabled people into work, hitting the target five years early, and we are rewiring our benefits system to give a renewed focus on what people can do rather than what they cannot, so that there are opportunities for people to improve their lives and get the pay that they want through their employment.

Disabled people are also being hit hard by the Conservative cost of living crisis that my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck) referred to. On average, the extra cost of disability is equivalent to 63% of household income before housing costs. I would ask the Minister what discussions she has had with the Minister for disabled people about this important issue, but there is no Minister for disabled people. Will she tell the House when one will be appointed?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that point. As she has rightly said, we should all aim to reduce the disability employment gap, and that remains our goal. To answer her question, I am the lead on those matters for Equalities oral questions. I am disappointed that I am not enough for her today, but I do lead on those matters for the Department. All Department for Work and Pensions Ministers take responsibility across our portfolios for removing barriers to progress, and updates to ministerial appointments will be made under the usual process.

I reassure my hon. Friend that she is more than enough for me. There was a really worrying article in The Times a few days ago that talked about the invisibility of disabled people when making employment applications. We know that disabled people are less likely to be in work and to take up opportunities for entrepreneurship. Perhaps my hon. Friend could highlight the important work she is doing as the Minister for social mobility to make sure that across Government, there is a real drive to help disabled people get the best opportunities to work.

I thank my right hon. Friend and other hon. Members for their interest in this area. As the Minister responsible for social mobility, I am taking direct leadership on access to employment, particularly in respect of applications and recruitment that suit disabled people to get into work, because if we do not get them into work, they cannot progress. That is why we have billions of pounds in our back to work plan, and why we are supporting vulnerable people by uprating benefits by 6.7% in April equally.