Hywel in Parliament - Debates

The Budget and disability

22nd April 2002

Dr. Hywel Francis (Aberavon): I intend to speak about the importance of the principles of fairness and enterprise that are enshrined in the Budget for disabled people and their carers. I therefore wish to declare my membership of the Down's Syndrome Association and the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation, the community union, which now includes the National League of the Blind and Disabled.

I warmly welcome the Budget as a major step forward for enterprise and fairness in Britain. As the TUC said recently, it is "a defining moment in the future of the British health care system and the history of the present Government."

The Budget is therefore a step change on a journey of hope for the British people. The Chancellor is right that our task is to address through reform three challenges: enterprise, family prosperity for all and the renewal of our public services. We all endorse those challenges. To borrow from Raymond Williams, they are journeys of hope. As he said, we need resources to sustain those journeys, and I believe that the Chancellor has provided us with the intellectual, political and fiscal resources that we need. We must now use and develop those resources imaginatively and in a truly Bevanite way, with pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will and a passion for social justice.

In that spirit, the challenge of enterprise needs to be accessible to all, as do family prosperity and improving public services. Too many people are still excluded from the full opportunities of enterprise: the homeless, ethnic minorities, school leavers without qualifications and disabled people. I would like to speak in the House on all those groups in the near future, but tonight I wish to focus on people with disabilities.

Many people with disabilities desire to go on that journey of hope from welfare to work. It is a precarious and difficult journey that requires learning and training opportunities as well as advocacy and professional support. If ever we needed to embed the enterprise culture in the culture of social justice, we need to do so with and for people with disabilities. I welcome the attention given to such people in the Red Book, in its commitment to help

" those who can and wish to work make a successful return to employment."

That is an enabling statement, rather than a prescriptive one, and it underpins the new deal for disabled people. Can we, however, learn by listening to the "forgotten army" of disabled people, as they have recently been called? Listening to such admirable organisations as the National League of the Blind and Disabled, we learn that too little is currently allocated to sustaining and developing this excellent new scheme, which will address the needs of 3.3 million people of working age who are not currently working. The most startling statistic that I have come across recently is that only two out of five people with a learning disability can expect to work during their lifetime. What can the spirit of fairness and enterprise do for this forgotten army?

The Government have supported such bodies as the Shaw trust, which has done much in recent years to assist disabled people towards independent living and new learning opportunities. The trust believes, as I do, that disabled people who have been out of work for a long time need more than changes in the law and tax breaks, important though those may be. They need new learning opportunities—negotiated by them—professional support and advice, and an advocate to convince employers of their worth. The new deal for disabled people and the supported employment programme will provide a major start, but far more investment is needed in such schemes, particularly given that disabled people make up nearly half the total of economically inactive people of working age in the United Kingdom.

Recent research at the university of Nottingham has shown the real value of the personal adviser system in the new deal for disabled people. It has shown that it is really working, as is the supported placement scheme. Only last Friday in my constituency, I saw the work of such schemes at the opening of the Karten computer training, education and communication centre in Llandarcy, where young disabled people will gain confidence, self-worth and a new quality of life through new information and communications technology learning opportunities, and support and advice systems. All this should lead to quality work opportunities. That is a true example of synergy between fairness and enterprise in my constituency. More of this needs to be done across the country.

Dr. Kevin Fitzpatrick, the commissioner for disability rights in Wales, has emphasised many times that when a disabled person works, there is a significant reduction in benefit take-up. There is a positive contribution from tax and national insurance, and a reduction in calls on health and social services. Carers can return to work. The disabled person has greater power as a consumer, becomes an equal and valued citizen, grows in confidence and—most importantly—contributes positively to the life of the community and the economy in new ways. All this has started to happen since the return of the Labour Government in 1997.

Labour Members agree that the first step change as a result of this Budget will be the rebuilding of the national health service. The next—before the next Budget, we hope—will be to ensure that disabled people have the opportunity to be at the heart of our new enterprise economy, and to provide substantial new learning, advisory and advocacy support for the millions who wish to work.

I welcome the Chancellor's recent commitment that, in the coming spending review, education will receive the priority it requires to deliver further substantial improvements. I am sure that he had in mind a high priority for disabled people in general. When we begin to achieve all this through his present Budget and the next spending review, we shall provide the real resources necessary for that essential journey of hope towards an enterprising and fair society for all. We have made a great start with this great Budget.

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