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Jobcentre Plus: Dyslexia

Volume 706: debated on Wednesday 14 January 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to ensure that every Access to Work team in a Jobcentre Plus office includes a member of staff with the necessary training to understand the needs of adults with dyslexia who are seeking work.

My Lords, Access to Work advisers are already able to call on expert advice from contracted providers or the Jobcentre Plus Work Psychology Service if they need help dealing with individual customers. Access to Work advisers also have access to disability employment advisers who have expertise in dealing with a range of disabilities, including dyslexia. Recently, Jobcentre Plus has been in discussions with the British Dyslexia Association about delivering dyslexia awareness sessions to Access to Work advisers during 2009.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he not agree that the fact that we are actually in the process of making sure that this cover arrives raises questions as to why it was not there in the first place, especially considering the amount of attention that there has been from the Government to making sure that all disabilities, not just dyslexia, are covered?

My Lords, I first pay tribute to the noble Lord’s engagement and that of the British Dyslexia Association in this field. I do not accept that there has not been activity and support in this area, but it is a welcome development that we are working with the British Dyslexia Association. Half-day events have been organised for February in three locations, which will be focused on understanding what dyslexia is and the associated conditions, providing a specific idea of the kind of difficulties that the condition poses at work and an awareness of coping strategies, including and beyond IT, that can help as an adjustment.

My Lords, what is the proposed timetable for the doubling of the Access to Work budget, which the Government have said will take place by 2013-14? Will this funding be provided incrementally or in a lump sum? Will it be in real terms?

My Lords, the Access to Work budget is a hugely important component of the Government’s support for disabled people. The budget has already been increased from £15 million in 1994-95 to £69 million in 2008-09, and we have agreed to double it. The proposal, I believe, is to do that incrementally through to 2013-14, by when it is anticipated that the budget will help some 48,000 people access and keep employment.

My Lords, will the Minister take this opportunity to repudiate the remarks, reported by the BBC today, of Graham Stringer, the Labour Member of Parliament, who says:

“Dyslexia is a cruel fiction … The sooner it is consigned to the … dustbin of history, the better”?

These remarks are deeply irresponsible and will cause great concern to many, many hundreds of thousands of parents throughout the country.

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a telling point and I am very happy to refute those comments that Graham Stringer made. The Government are very clear on that: dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty, and that is why it deserves the support it gets through special educational needs provision and the sort of employment programmes that I have spoken about.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that his answers are helpful, but not adequate, because the Question specifically asked for a trained, skilled person to be in every jobcentre? Having “access” to an adviser can mean anything, but what we really need is someone specialising in dyslexia to be able to give guidance immediately, rather than calling them in at some later date. Will the Minister think again?

My Lords, there are three operational centres, which is the primary route by which claims customers can obtain Access to Work support, but there are specialists in each district and in most individual jobcentres; so information, access and support are available. However, this is also about making sure that not only specialist advisers but individual personal advisers at the coalface in jobcentres are aware of the issues around dyslexia. A whole raft of support needs to be given and, I believe, it is available; but we should never be complacent and we need to keep focused on this.

My Lords, having specialist advisers in jobcentres is one thing, but much of the Access to Work operation is done through contracts to outside bodies. Are the monitors of those contracts suitably qualified, so that, in the case of dyslexia or any other incapacity, we can be assured that the contract remains viable?

My Lords, I do not think that the noble Lord is right in his assertion that this work is largely contracted to outside bodies. Access to Work supports individual tailored programmes which affect individuals and individual employment opportunities. It is about special aid, equipment, adaptations to premises and equipment, support workers, communication support and travel to work support, helping individuals to access or stay in employment. In that respect, the system is not contracted out.

My Lords, given the Government’s stress on the importance of apprenticeships and the potential importance of apprenticeships as a route into the labour market for disabled people, will they ensure that the forthcoming apprenticeships Bill includes measures to promote diversity and accessibility for disabled people in the apprenticeships programme?

My Lords, I am not specifically focused on the detail of that but the thrust of the noble Lord’s point is entirely reasonable.

My Lords, is the noble Lord confident that all Jobcentre Plus staff understand something about dyslexia? If one in 10 of the population is dyslexic, that means that a lot of people who visit Jobcentre Plus offices do not really understand the forms and they may be pretending to fill them in without really knowing what they are doing. Therefore, is he confident that all the staff have some knowledge of dyslexia?

My Lords, we must never be complacent. We need to continue to ensure that every adviser at the coalface is aware not only of dyslexia but of a range of other conditions that disabled people endure.