HC Deb 09 February 1978 vol 943 cc1654-5
9. Mr. Carter-Jones

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what action he is taking to increase the employment of disabled people in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Concannon

Over the past two years the Department of Manpower Services has increased its staff of trained disablement resettlement officers, published a guide to employers on the subject of disabled people, opened a 100-place employment rehabilitation unit and introduced two grants schemes to encourage employment of the disabled.

Mr. Carter-Jones

I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's reply. However, the unemployment rate amongst the disabled in Northern Ireland is appallingly high. Does my right hon. Friend realise that the measures which he is taking are not being very successful? Would not it be a good example in terms of relationships if all sides in Northern Ireland co-operated to bring down the rate of unemployment?

Mr. Concannon

Although the unemployment rate amongst the disabled is high, the unemployment rate generally in Northern Ireland is too high. We are operating now with a rate of about 12 per cent. There are fairly generous grants to encourage employers to look at the situation again. We are doing all that we can. But I hope that my hon. Friend will take it from me that we are operating in a difficult area where unemployment is running at a level of 12 per cent.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I appreciate what the Minister is doing in this important matter. Will he give the House an idea of the percentage of disabled who could be employed but cannot obtain employment?

Mr. Concannon

That is a difficult percentage to give because the disabled are disabled in varying degrees. We are talking only of registered disabled, and one wonders how many disabled are not registered. I cannot give a figure because it depends on the degree of disablement and the opportunities that exist.

Mr. Litteriek

Does the Minister agree that, notwithstanding the fair employment legislation, the greatest disability that a human being can suffer in Northern Ireland in the matter of employment is to be a Catholic?

Mr. Concannon

I disagree entirely. The whole operation which we are undertaking in the Department is completely alien to that suggestion.