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Unemployment: Disabled People

Volume 774: debated on Thursday 20 October 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made towards creating the conditions necessary to halve the unemployment rate of disabled people.

Our ambition is to halve the disability employment gap—the difference between the employment rates of disabled people and those of people who are not. We will publish a Green Paper setting out our vision and options for longer-term reform. There are nearly half a million more disabled people in work than there were three years ago, but the gap remains too large.

I fear—and I wonder whether the Minister agrees with me—that these schemes are destined to fail because the Government have not removed the barriers between disabled people and jobs. There is a lack of transport and an unwelcoming workplace. What disabled people need—and I hope that this will be favourable to the Minister—is that all buses should be accessible with audiovisual information and all the taxi provisions of the Equality Act should be brought into force. Tribunal fees, which deter discrimination claims, should be removed or lowered. Employers should be helped to understand what reasonable adjustments they should make. Will the Minister work across departments to promote those recommendations of the Select Committee on the Equality Act 2010 and Disability, which I had the privilege of chairing earlier this year?

We made a comprehensive response to that interesting report from the Select Committee—but on the fundamental point that the noble Baroness makes, we all have to acknowledge that this is not easy to achieve. Getting more people with disabilities into work is a complicated thing to do, and through the Green Paper we are looking to combine very big and complicated organisations in the shape of the health and welfare systems and employers. You have to do it across all three to have a hope of bridging this gap.

Up to 600 disabled people a week are losing their Motability cars because of the harsh PIP reassessment test. Does the Minister not agree that, as many of them are of working age, this will not contribute to halving the disability employment gap?

I want to make it absolutely clear: PIP is a better benefit than the DLA it replaces. More people are receiving the top rates of PIP than they are of DLA: 24% in PIP and 15% in DLA. We have other ways of supporting people who are in work and who have some element of disability but are not eligible for PIP, and we are looking very hard at building up the Access to Work system, and to increasing the numbers who can take advantage of it.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that “disability” also includes those with a learning disability? Secondly, funding for the new work and health programme appears to be just a third of what was available for previous programmes. Can the Minister explain to your Lordships’ House how this funding will be allocated and why the Government consider it adequate?

We are moving the emphasis away from more general support programmes such as the Work Programme towards the work and health programme because many of the people who need support have disability barriers. It is right for the new emphasis to be there. I absolutely accept the noble Baroness’s point about people with learning disabilities. There are some shocking figures on this and it is a key issue. There are some 1.1 million people with learning disabilities and only around 6% of those are getting into work. Clearly, if we want to halve the gap, that is a central group for us to pay attention to.

My Lords, there was a lot of disappointment on the part of disabled people at the Government’s response to my noble friend Lady Deech’s Select Committee. Is the Minister willing to consider coming up with a plan of action for implementing the Select Committee’s recommendations, or establishing a task force with disabled people and their organisations to come up with a plan?

The way we are now addressing this will effectively encompass what the noble Lord is asking for. We are preparing to launch a work and health Green Paper and there will be a lot of work following it. We will need to work with the sector, the health system and employers to make sure that we have something that really starts to achieve our aims.

My Lords, one in six people who develop a disability while they are in work lose their employment within a year. Can the Minister explain to the House the structural changes he is making to universal credit in order to keep disabled people close to the workplace, particularly disabled people with fluctuating conditions, and to support employers?

The fundamental change in the new benefit structure—a single benefit in the form of universal credit—allows people to stay in their benefit while they have varying amounts of work. Some of the main beneficiaries will be disabled people, many of whom do have fluctuating conditions. Today, they are frightened of going into work if they are having a few good months, because they could lose their entire package. At the moment, there are silo packages and a person can be labelled and told, “You are in this disability package; you cannot go into work”. Under UC, you can move up and down the taper depending on how you are doing, which is one reason why I was able to relax the permitted work rules when we went through the Welfare Reform and Work Bill. With universal credit, we no longer have to patrol so tightly the legacy system.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that, with help and support, some disabled people are able to work from home. What help, support and assistance are given to people who can take advantage of those opportunities in order to become self-sufficient and independent?

I had not thought about that point, and I will do so. Access to Work works with employers, and there is a system there. To be absolutely honest, I am not sure how or whether it would work with homeworkers. I will check that out and write to the noble Lord. I thank him for raising the point.