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Disabled People

Volume 720: debated on Tuesday 27 July 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have discussed disability issues with the Royal Association of Disability and Rehabilitation.

My Lords, my department engages regularly with RADAR to discuss disability issues. Ministers and officials at the Department for Work and Pensions are committed to a constructive dialogue with RADAR and will seek RADAR’s continued involvement in the Government’s disability equality agenda.

I thank the Minister for that response. Can he be a little more forthcoming and tell us how often these meetings are held?

My Lords, I believe the Minister for Disabled People, my honourable friend Maria Miller, phoned the chief executive of RADAR in her first week in office. RADAR then attended a round table event that she hosted last month. RADAR is a member of a group of organisations that meets regularly—four times a year—with the Minister. The first meeting of that organisation is tomorrow. RADAR is also a member of the Right to Control Advisory Group, which meets every six weeks with the Office for Disability Issues. There are also ad hoc meetings between RADAR and Ministers and officials across government.

My Lords, to make it clear, we have a regular dialogue with RADAR and the whole disability lobby. I know that my honourable friend Maria Miller has seen 15 different lobby groups so far.

My Lords, I know that we are particularly interested in ensuring that disabled people can use transport and achieve places in education. What is the Government’s attitude towards those local authorities that are already cutting fees for transport? For example, there is a college where severely disabled youngsters are now being charged for their transport by their local authority for the first time. Is this the kind of policy that the coalition Government are looking towards?

My Lords, I place on record the Government’s determination to push ahead with the equality agenda for people with disabilities. We are monitoring the situation very closely. We are signed up to the UN convention, as this House will know. Transport is one of those areas within the convention on which we are determined to fulfil our obligations.

What steps have the Government taken in their discussions with RADAR to ensure their oft-repeated pledge that the cuts in public spending will not have a disproportionate impact on vulnerable and poor people?

My Lords, we are making sure that all the impact assessments that we are obliged by law to go through are being done on a timely and appropriate basis.

My Lords, will the Minister kindly tell us what representations RADAR and other disability organisations have made to the Government in light of the proposed severe cuts to disability living allowance?

My Lords, we are just embarking on a process of investigating what to do in the context of DLA. As the noble Baroness knows, this is due to come in in 2013. We have to design a whole structure of making those assessments. We will do so in full consultation with members of the disability lobby.

My Lords, when dealing with groups such as RADAR, will my noble friend bear in mind that, good as they are, they will never be able to cover the whole spectrum and government must always try to drag in such expertise as they can from across all the groups and then they must co-ordinate advice, because without advice we will pass more laws and achieve very little?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that excellent point. Clearly, we make an enormous effort to see people right across the disability lobby, not just RADAR. RADAR is part of various groups. It is important that we consult. The House will be familiar with the motto “Nothing About Us Without Us”. We take that obligation very seriously.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a recipient of disability living allowance. In last Thursday’s debate on the implications of the Budget in relation to poverty, the Minister stated that,

“some laxity has crept into the system”

regarding who is assessed as being eligible for DLA. What evidence is this based on? Which groups of disabled people did he have in mind? He also said:

“We remain absolutely committed to supporting those with severe disabilities”.—[Official Report, 22/7/10; col. 1133.]

To which groups was he referring when he said that?

My Lords, DLA has grown from 1 million people in the early 1990s to more than 2 million at the beginning of this decade to more than 3 million now, which is a huge expansion. Many of those people were self-referred. Clearly, we need to ensure that the money which we spend on people with disabilities is directed at those who really need it.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that many disabled people are helped back into employment by a variety of organisations, including charities and social enterprises—some very small and at very local level. The Government now propose to pay those who provide this support in arrears and by results. Does the Minister accept that many of these organisations will not have the reserves to see them through this important work and that therefore the one size fits all, that is being proposed here, will not work? How is that compatible with big society support for the voluntary sector?

My Lords, if the noble Baroness is referring to the work programme, clearly that is a structure in which consortia will come together and help people right across the spectrum with differential pricing—something which is not currently in existence and means that people concentrate on the easier to help. The work programme will not. The capital is a key ingredient of the work programme. Clearly, capital must go in to support not just the prime contractor but the whole consortia. That is how the smaller organisations will get the resources in order to help the people who need help the most.