Skip to main content

National Disability Strategy

Volume 818: debated on Thursday 10 February 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made with implementing their National Disability Strategy.

My Lords, good progress is being made. Of more than 100 commitments across government, over 25 have already been delivered in just six months. Among them, the DfE invested over £8 million in 2021-22 on children and young people with complex needs, improving outcomes for these disabled children. The DWP is piloting an adjustment passport supporting disabled people’s transition to employment, and BEIS has launched an online advice hub offering accessible information and advice on employment rights for disabled people. But we understand there is more to do.

Disabled people in the UK today face an education attainment gap, an employment gap, a pay gap, a public appointments gap, a suboptimal disabled students’ allowance scheme, inaccessible accommodation and inaccessible transport. Will my noble friend agree three things? First, there is no shortage of issues in urgent need of being addressed, as the strategy rightly sets out. Secondly, this will require unflinching commitment from Ministers and officials across Whitehall. Thirdly, there is an urgent need to get on with it.

My noble friend is absolutely right: there is no shortage of issues. I have mentioned some that are being changed and some that are on their way to changing, but there are a lot more that need to change and many more that are not in the strategy and need to be covered. As the Prime Minister said when he launched the strategy, this is just a “down payment”—this is just the beginning—but we are committed. We are making strides, going forward and delivering.

My Lords, last week the Work and Pensions Committee took the highly unusual step of publishing a 2020 research report commissioned by the DWP but, in effect, suppressed by it and ignored by last year’s disability Green Paper. What does the Minister think is the policy implication of that report’s finding that disabled people, totally reliant on benefits, are often unable to meet basic needs, such as food, rent and heating?

I am sorry; I have not read that report. The DWP takes a lot of interest in all these reports and it is important that we look at the issues for disabled people, at all times. But we are spending a record £59 billion on benefits this year to support disabled people and people with long-term health conditions. That is 2.5% of GDP. There is another £421 million in the household support fund, so we are putting money into this and supporting disabled people, wherever and whenever we can.

Does the Minister agree that a country’s civilisation is measured by the care and compassion it gives its disabled and vulnerable citizens—a role all too often left to charities with inadequate resources? Charities such as Action for ME work with inadequate resources to improve the lives of those with this debilitating condition. Will the Government conduct a full review of current ME provision, with a view to establishing a national strategy for ME in the UK?

I agree with the noble Lord that charities do a lot in this country, but when the Government work with charities and others in the third sector, we can do more. I will certainly take the question on ME provision to colleagues in the Department of Health to discuss this. I do not know whether they are willing to do a review, but I will ask them to get in touch with the noble Lord.

My Lords, it is the turn of the Lib Dems. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, wants to speak virtually.

My Lords, disabled people look forward to being consulted properly on the National Disability Strategy; in particular, on more accessible housing for rent, fair benefit assessments and reliable social care. Does the Minister agree and please will she give us timescales?

My Lords, across government, we are talking continually to stakeholders and charities for disabled people, nationally and locally. There is a commitment across government to continue to do that. On housing, DLUHC—as it is now called—has committed that 10% of the 180,000 homes being built in the affordable homes programme will be for supported housing and I think this is extremely important. We are doing all we can. We know that consulting everybody who needs a voice is difficult, but we will continue to do that across government.

I thank my noble friend for her question. It is important that we continue to support children with special educational needs, because, if they get the right education, they can go on to living fulfilling lives. The DfE has put a further £2.6 billion over the next three years into delivering new places and improving existing provision for young people with special educational needs. The DfE is also contributing £9.3 million in the next financial year to train educational psychologists—very important in this field. High-needs funding for children and young people with complex needs is increasing by £1 billion to £9.1 billion in the next financial year.

My Lords, last year, the Chief Medical Officer’s annual report focused on health in coastal communities, noting higher levels of deprivation and disability in these locations. What will the Government do to tackle the levels of multiple need and disability in these communities?

My Lords, I cannot say specifically, but I will certainly write with the answer. Across the whole of this country, there are areas where disability is more of an issue than in others. That is why we have this cross-government strategy, and why we will deliver on it.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, wishes to speak virtually, and I think this is a good time to call her.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that some people with a disability just need a little personal help and assistance to get up and to go to bed, so that, once up, they can reach their full potential? Can the Government make it easier for this help to be forthcoming?

I thank the noble Baroness for that question. I know that on a very personal level because I have an adult daughter who is disabled and needs exactly that kind of care. I think it is important that we look to how we can do that better, if that is what disabled people in consultations say is necessary. I will take that back to the department.

My Lords, will the Government commit to increase the funding for research into conditions such as ME, which has already been referred to, so that children and adults across the UK can receive the right care and support that they so urgently and desperately need?

I think that, working with the charitable sector, exactly as I said to the noble Lord previously, that is something we should do. I will take that back to my noble friend in the Department of Health.

My Lords, we have heard a great deal from the Minister—and we are all glad to—about money spent on initiatives. What are the Government going to do to bring them together as a coherent whole? At the moment, we suffer from a multitude of schemes and good intentions that do not co-ordinate. A coherent whole is the primary thrust of any successful strategy here.

My Lords, that is exactly what this strategy is all about. That is why, across Government, we have ministerial disability champions meeting quarterly with the Minister for Disabled People, in order to have a co-ordinated strategy for this country to improve the lives of disabled people.