HC Deb 29 June 1990 vol 175 cc595-619 9.34 am
Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

I wish to call attention to the need to promote opportunity for the disabled, and I beg to move,

That this House pays tribute to the achievements of people with disabilities and to the dedication of individuals and organisations that support them; welcomes the measures taken by the Government, by local government, by health, education, training and transport agencies and authorities and by many employers, to enable people to overcome or cope with their disabilities; believes that, whenever feasible, users of facilities and services for disabled people should be involved in decisions affecting the running of them; and calls on the Government to find ways of expanding opportunity for and removing obstacles to personal achievement and fulfilment by people of all ages and all types and degrees of disability. I am grateful to the powers, wherever they are, that enable me to bring forward this topic for debate this morning. The powers may be on this earth, although I suspect that they are further up. They sort out the lottery that enables an hon. Member to come number one in the ballot for private Members' motions. I am delighted that it is possible to have this debate.

I have received two apologies from hon. Members who are unable to be present today. They are the heavenly twins who run the all-party group on the disabled: the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) who is today at a conference for the deaf and dumb at Gatwick and my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) who has engagements in the west country. Other hon. Members have expressed their regret that they cannot be here today because it is a Friday and they have long-standing engagements in their diary. I understand that, as I am sure that the House does. I hope that the wider public understand that we are here in quality, if not in numbers, on this smallish stage.

I welcome my hon. Friends and Opposition Members who have come to support the debate. I welcome the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris). We know and respect his long service for disabled people, and his experience and knowledge of the subject of our debate. I am delighted that he has found time to speak for the Opposition today on this topic.

I especially welcome my right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People. He has just changed his title, appropriately, to include the words "disabled people" which acknowledges that we are concerned with people. His reputation needs no embellishment by me. As one goes round the country, one meets many disabled people and those who look after the disabled who refer to my right hon. Friend in glowing terms, and who appreciate the care and devotion that he gives to the subject. I am especially pleased that he is speaking for the Government today and I am sure that he will speak for disabled people in all aspects, rather than in just the benefit aspects of disability. It would be difficult to have a motion for and on behalf of disabled people that concentrated specifically on benefits and did not look beyond to the wider aspects. My motion seeks to look at the whole person, the whole opportunity, all the obstacles that need to be removed and all the support that needs to be given to enable people to live life to the full and to contribute to our society.

I hope that this will not be seen as a rather sombre, long-faced debate in which people speak in hushed tones. I know that disabled people are not long faced and sombre, and they do not speak in hushed tones. We should first celebrate the achievements of so many disabled people and then see how we can enable them to go on achieving. We must also discuss how those who have not yet been able to achieve can be given the opportunity to do so.

This is not a debate in which we shall say, "There but for the grace of God go I." In the football terminology prevalent at the moment, we should be saying, "Here we go, here we go, here we go." Disabled people are making progress and, with a bit of support from the House and the country as a whole, they will continue to do so.

I want to celebrate the achievements of disabled people past, present and future, because undoubtedly there are many more to come. Every day, new obstacles are removed to enable those with disabilities to go one step further.

Let us look at the drama that is unfolding here this morning. It is perhaps a somewhat intimate theatre given the cast that is assembled, but it is no less important for that. Hon. Members, however, are not the stars of our drama; the stars are disabled people themselves. We are not the supporting cast either because that is made up of carers—the people and organisations who do so much to support those with disabilities. If we have a role, it is as stage managers—Opposition Members may say sceneshifters—who work together to provide the scenery and enable the stars and their supporting casts to perform. Our script is the script ordained by Parliament and our audience is the great British and international public. We invite that public to share in the catharsis that takes place in the theatre—the tears and pleasures, the laughter and the joy. At the end of the performance they may perhaps give an ovation to the stars of the drama—those wonderful disabled people—for all that they have achieved. To complete the theatrical allusion, we must look for one or two theatrical angels from among the members of the watching public and the Government, to ensure that future productions live up to expectations.

Disabled people are not moaners. They are people of great courage, determination and humour. It is a pleasure to work with them, both individually and in organisations. All the disabled people to whom I have spoken have shown a cheerfulness and generosity of spirit that are not always as evident among other parts of the community. We should recognise and reflect that in our debate. Disabled people have an abiding pride in their achievements. Disabilities do not disappear, but they do not have to prevent someone from living life to the full. Our task should be to encourage that pride in the achievement of personal breakthrough. One immediately thinks of the achievements of disabled people long since gone who have left a heritage that we continue to enjoy. One thinks, for example, of the physical disabilities of Milton and Beethoven. They have long since left this world but their literary and musical achievements will never be taken away from us. One thinks, too, of people with mental disability—for example, the poet John Clare, who lived near Peterborough. His life was a great struggle but he left behind great poetry. One thinks of the great painter Vincent van Gogh, and the ever-increasing value that is placed on his work.

It is a pity that sometimes the value is recognised only after people have gone. It would be preferable if more rewards could go back into the world of the disabled while they are alive. We treasure the quality of work that is left behind.

I come to those artists whose achievements have struck me during my lifetime. I remember—during what were, to me, the early days of television—watching Susan Hampshire in "The Forsyte Saga". Apparently, the serial was in black and white, although, interestingly, one tends to remember things in colour. Susan Hampshire managed to learn her part although she was suffering from dyslexia and could not read the words. One would never have known that from her performance in that great serial. Richard Rogers, the great architect who is contributing so much to our environment also suffers from dyslexia.

One must salute those people whose abilities are far greater than mine—and probably greater than those of any hon. Members. One thinks of Professor Stephen Hawking, who wrote "A Brief History of Time". Brief it may be, but understandable by the likes of me it is not. Professor Hawking's intellect has risen above the severe disability from which he suffers. One thinks of Kenneth Robinson, of the National Curriculum Council, now professor of arts education at Warwick and of Patrick Nuttgens, director of Leeds polytechnic. One remembers Elizabeth Quinn's great performance in "Children of a Lesser God". All of them have reached the heights in their chosen profession and are showing us what can be achieved.

Often, people come back after a sudden disabling accident or illness, perhaps the most frequent of which is the stroke. Robert Bolt and Patricia Neal have come back into the theatre; they are writing and acting while coping with the after-effects of a stroke. Th violinist Itzhak Perlman comes up to the concert platform on crutches but gives an extraordinary performance, to the great pleasure of all those who hear him.

We must salute the famous because they give great inspiration to all disabled people but perhaps those who are not yet famous are equally important. One thinks of the gentleman by the name of Alan Edwards who was in the bottom stream of a low-achieving school in Durham and had been virtually written off by everyone in the education service in that area until someone taught him music. He was found to have an extraordinary musical ability. That young man could not think of a career in industry because he could not have read the safety signs. Now, he has found his future in music and plays in the Covent Garden orchestra. Even more incredible is the case of the deaf dancer who trained at the Rambert school and who now dances with the Portuguese national ballet. When I asked how on earth someone who is completely deaf can cope with ballet I was told that one can feel the rythym though one's feet and so be capable of contributing to that art form. To those who do not stop and think, that is unbelievable. When one stops to think and to ask, one is astounded and one admires.

I listened to the nominations for the Today programme's "Best of British Youth" awards. One of those nominated is a young girl called Kelly who suffers from cerebral palsy and has campaigned to help others as a way of overcoming her disability. She campaigned, for example, to ensure that the local nature trials had wide enough paths to accommodate wheelchairs and that tapping stones were provided so that the blind could also benefit from that great local resource. Often, such achievements go unsung, but thanks to the BBC, Kelly's achievement is now known.

When I think of the disabled I think above all of Diane Wellsbury. She has benefited from the work of the SHARE Community in my constituency. Having benefited from it, she set out to support it. She decided to carry out a sponsored wheelchair push. A wheelchair push is not someone else pushing the wheelchair; the person in the chair pushes it with their hands. I was present to see her carry out that push. I was almost moved to tears by the sight of that frail young body and her look of determination as the sweat poured from her little forehead as she pushed her wheelchair. She explained why she was doing the sponsored push in a letter in which she said: Please spare a moment of your time to read my letter. I am 23 years old and have always been confined to a whelchair with severe disabilities for which I have to date needed 26 life saving operations. I am a trainee at SHARE Community which helps mentally and physically disabled people. For the first time in my life I now have the opportunity to help other disabled people. I am attempting a sponsored wheelchair push. Please help me. That girl sums up all that is best in disabled people. She does not know what the future holds, how many years lie ahead or how many more operations she may need. However, she is thinking about how to help others and not about herself. If I dedicate this debate to anyone, I dedicate it to Diane Wellsbury, to the people who look after her and to the many people like her.

Of course, there are many occasions when disabled people are not so fortunate or so able to cope. Although I was right to begin by referring to the joy, laughter, determination and courage, there is also a blacker side to disability. We hear and see the pain, depression, despair and rage that disabled people can express. Very often that is not rage at others, but rage at the disabled person himself for not being able to cope. In some cases they rage at themselves because they try and try, but do not manage to succeed. However, sometimes they rage at Governments, local government or at society which does not seem to understand or to care.

Helping other people to understand is perhaps a central theme of my debate. If we show that we understand sensitively, at least some of that pain, depression, despair and rage can be dissipated. I understand why some disabled people demonstrated about the Telethon. The Telethon was a great effort to get wide public sympathy and financial help for the disabled and organisations that help them, but I understand that some disabled people feel that it was patronising and that they believe they have a right to be treated as a full part of society and not as peep shows or as people who should be patted on the head and then forgotten about.

There is a danger that we will have two nations—the disabled and the less disabled which includes the rest of us. There is a danger that we will have "us" and "them". Although I suspect that most of us would feel that the Telethon demonstration was perhaps ungracious, because many people were genuinely trying to help, I understand the feeling behind it.

The two nations concept is wrong. The road is seamless and there is a gradual progression. There is no clear cross over to disability. If we understand how close ability is to disability, we can perhaps begin to understand the needs. We must understand that disabled people are very close to those of us who may not consider ourselves to be disabled.

Many disabilities are gradual. For example, the loss of sight can be a gradual process as the world darkens. Similarly the loss of hearing, as I have seen in my family, can be a gradual process which can frustrate someone who has always had good hearing and who has perhaps enjoyed the theatre or music. That person is frustrated as he finds steadily that he cannot hear so well.

Mental facilities can also gradually disappear. We do not appreciate many of those cross overs until we suddently realise that a tic could lead to a mental or physical disability. Perhaps a way of behaving or a routine could lead to mental illness. I recall watching a television programme about someone receiving treatment at the Springfield hospital in my borough. The woman concerned had a passion for washing her hands and everything else. It had become more than a fetish or a routine. It had become so all-embracing that it was a form of mental illness. We can all see how our personal routines could easily slip into such a form of illness if we do not keep everything in proportion.

There are also sudden cross overs to disability. Those can arise from accidents. Sadly we hear of road accidents every day, and too often we know the people involved. Such accidents can be permanently debilitating. Strokes can also cause a sudden change of life ending the ability to speak or to move. Stroke patients need to be brought back to full life once more.

Many disabilities are not visible and that is perhaps the most frightening aspect for other people. The invisible illness possibly causes the most fear and prejudice among employers. If someone has a crutch or is in a wheelchair we know their needs. However, if someone has a problem in their mind or body that is not so visible, fear can overcome common sense. In the past such fear has led to people being locked away and forgotten. Once people are locked away in their own corner or institution, society says, "That's that. Let's get on with our lives." Society forgets and if it remembers that memory is tinged with fear.

As a child in Brighton I remember going on the under cliff walk at Ovingdean. To cross the road to the walk I had to go through a tunnel close by that great institution St. Dunstan's. I remember walking through that tunnel on my own. It was dark and the lights were not working and I heard the tap tap of a blind person approaching with his stick. I was terrified. Sadly that kind of terror is capitalised on by many childrens books. They learn attitudes from their parents who may have seen someone put away. Children feel that there is something to be worried about or frightened of. I vividly recall the sound of that tap tap. Of course I know now that my fear made no sense and that that blind person was tapping his way to the fresh open air to gain the same pleasure that I gained from the under cliff walk.

We must acknowledge that fear. If we do not do that, we cannot overcome it. John Wyndham and others have much to answer for building on those fears in the books that we have all enjoyed in our youth. No doubt Hammer horror films are building on such fears now. Science fiction stories about mutants and the horrors about people who are not quite "normal" also try to build on that fear. We must overcome that and encourage writers to take that into account. We must be aware of the fear of the unknown and consider how we would cope. Perhaps that fear is behind it all.

How would I cope if I suddenly discovered that my eyesight had failed? I often muse on that matter. I wonder whether it is worse never to have had sight or to have had it and lose it. Is it better not to know what one has lost or to have at least a memory of what one has lost? At school I played the part of the Duke of Gloucester in "King Lear" who had his eyes gouged out by the Duke of Cornwall—no relation, I hasten to say, to anyone living today. As he was taken towards the cliffs that he thought he would cast himself off, he said,

I … want no eyes; I stumbled when I saw. When one realises that one stumbled, made wrong decisions and took wrong turnings when one had sight, one has a little humility. There is a complex graph of abilities, disabilities, weaknesses and strengths. Often weaknesses and strengths are weaknesses and strengths of character as much as a physical or mental disability.

People with disabilities are like us. I often think of the Shylock quotation. If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? The opposite of wrong is right. We can right wrongs by giving rights. The rights that we seek for disabled people are the rights to opportunity, to achieve to the limits of one's potential, and to contribute to society, and the right to support, help and love. Perhaps one cannot demand the right to love—one can only earn that, but one earns it by being understood, so let us have the right to be understood.

Understanding starts young—during or even before school days. If children understand disabled children, they will not undergo a culture shock when, as adults, they encounter people in wheelchairs, with white sticks, hearing problems and so on. I endorse the trend to integrate more disabled children into our education system. We should do so whenever possible. I acknowledge that some disabled children could not cope with mainstream education. Some would find it difficult emotionally or physically to cope, and would need the support of a special needs school and separate education with the support of people with similar disabilities. However, in some cases cost can make that impractical.

Some parents say, "We are worried that our child will be forced into integrated education and will not be able to cope. No one is listening to us." We must listen to every parent and make sure that, when children are encouraged into integrated education, they are ready for it and are able to cope.

Cost is another aspect to be borne in mind. The Oak Lodge school for the deaf in my borough has pupils from a wide area of London. The cost of wiring in that school is phenomenal, but it is of superb quality. It would be difficult to install such high-quality wiring in every school. There is a case for keeping such spectacular schools for the benefit of children with disabilities.

The great danger in accepting the right not to be integrated is that some people will say, "That's fine. People do not want to be integrated." There is a great danger that people will take an out of sight, out of mind attitude, with children being institutionalised for the rest of their lives.

My right hon. Friend the Minister will acknowledge that there have been enormous changes in the past 20 years. There has been a profound, if quiet, revolution. In the 1960s, children with severe difficulties were classified as not able to be educated. Children with physical or sensory difficulties were automatically put into special schools—often boarding schools—and taken from their parents and the communities in which they lived. Children with moderate learning difficulties were put into separate schools—possibly a separate unit or class. Children with emotional or behavioural difficulties were excluded from mainstream education. Many of the children who were excluded and put into separate schools had a wide range of abilities and potential which could not be realised in separate schools. They needed rapport with other children and the educational curriculum to be able to do so. In the past 20 years we have established the right of access to education. We must now consider how to implement it.

In my borough of Wandsworth, more than 1,000 statemented children are in mainstream schools. One of the great virtues of putting a child into a mainstream school is that he or she has access to the new national curriculum, which is crucial to the widest range of education. We must be sure that there are the right levels of testing. Testing is a crucial part of our aim to raise education standards. The testing of a child with a disability is not straightforward. We must have a flexible system so that there are no low expectations and no under-achievements. A child should aim at what he or she can achieve, but we must be sensitive to individual needs or difficulties.

The delegation of financial management of schools is a great step forward. Again, we must make sure that such delegation takes disabled children's needs into account. Local education authorities, grant-maintained schools, the Department of Education and Science, school governors, school boards, teachers, heads and so on are required to look after the interests of disabled children. Too often, they say, "No, we cannot cope".

It is good that there is much more parental involvement in education. As parental involvement expands, the parents of disabled children have a greater opportunity to have their say and to make their impact on our education service. Teacher training is beginning to improve, but there is a long way to go. Teachers must understand how to integrate a child with a disability. We do not want teachers and heads saying, "Go down the road."

Many disabled children attend mainstream schools. We cannot yet say that each school is adequately equipped, supported and serviced. I ask my right hon. Friend to pass on the message that, to get integration right, we must provide resources, support and equipment to carry out necessary adaptations.

There is a great shortage of speech therapists. People who have had strokes, for instance, need speech therapy—many people do—yet it is a Cinderella profession. Speech therapy should be given higher priority. Physiotherapy too is often not available in mainstream schools, but it is provided in special schools.

Too many schools do not have wheelchair access for disabled children. In my borough, which has just taken over from the Inner London education authority, there is not a secondary school with wheelchair access. That is the measure of the task ahead of us. There has probably been a greater advance in primary schools. Long-term planning is needed. We need long-term resources—and resources have to be long term in some cases—and we also need resources as soon as possible.

For 12 years, the education authority in Surrey has had a policy of integrating disabled children into mainstream primary and middle-school education although that has not happened at secondary schools in general. However, about eight years ago Surrey education authority tried an experiment at a school called Park Barn, and now about 22 disabled children attend that secondary school. The school buildings had to be adapted. It was a school where that was possible as it had the space, the land and the buildings. The local authority provided the necessary additional resources in capital and revenue.

The school had to provide a new ground-floor resource room, a physiotherapy room, a treatment room, a speech therapy room, two sets of toilets adapted for the use of disabled pupils, two new laboratories on the ground floor, and all the entrances and exits had to have ramps. The internal ramps made access possible to all rooms on the ground floor.

Two teachers experienced in teaching physically disabled pupils and two part-time helpers were appointed. We must not forget that authorities often have to work in tandem on such matters, and the health authority provided six hours of physiotherapy and six hours of speech therapy a week. Once that had been arranged, it was possible to bring in the children. The next stage was to install a lift in the main building, and the school now hopes to install lifts in the separate buildings. The parents, teachers and all the children in that school have worked together to provide a school bus equipped with a tail lift that can be used by children with wheelchairs.

The result is that not only the school, but the school curriculum is acessible to disabled children. It is necessary for the timetabling to be arranged to ensure that the physiotherapy and speech therapy do not interfere with examinations. All that enables disabled children to participate to the full. They participate in all the extra-curricular activities as well as the curriculum. That means field trips, trips abroad, drama and arts festivals and competitions. All the activities that children enjoy become possible. The reverse of the coin is that the clubs and activities, which were technically just for disabled pupils, have become popular with all the pupils. The PHAB club and the lifeskills class soon attracted all the children, irrespective of disability. That integration can and has worked.

I accept that there must be a balance. We should like to have everything tomorrow. We want access to every school eventually, because otherwise our policy of integration of education cannot be meaningful to the parents of the disabled children. However, if we tried to do everything tomorrow, the funds would have to be taken from resources available for other purposes. That is the balance that we must get right.

Sometimes access to a school is not just for the pupils—often children have disabled parents who want access to the school so that they can feel a part of that school community. All that should be possible, but it will take time. Perhaps we should press for all new school buildings to provide full access, so that full opportunities become a reality every time.

Children leave school and, it is hoped, go on to higher education. My daughter is a student, and I asked her about the access for disabled students. She said that that was fine and that everything was done to enable the student to study his or her course properly. She said that the only problem was that she did not know how to make contact with the blind students. She did not know when they wanted her to say "Hello" or to bring them into conversation, because there was no eye contact. She had had no experience of working with blind children in her school, so in the student world she did not know how and when to say, "Hi, hello, can I help? Why not come and do this with us?" That is something that society must learn, and if it can learn it early, it will stand us in good stead.

I pay tribute to the recent decision to give additional benefits to disabled students. There is now more assistance for sign language interpreting, note-taking and other areas. We still need to consider the benefits for deaf students because many of them face problems in obtaining holiday jobs. I hope that the Government will consider some additional benefit for them.

Britain has about 6 million people with disabilities, according to all the assessment and surveys. It would be impossible to sum up all the many and different needs in one debate. If I go through a typical day, we might begin to understand some of the problems and how they might be overcome. We get up, wash, dress, make a cup of tea and listen to the radio. Perhaps we trip over, pick ourselves up, get ready, go out, go down the street, get on the bus or the underground train and go to work.

Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow)

I am listening with great interest to my hon. Friend. I hope that my question to him will not pre-empt something that he might be about to mention. Does he agree that many employers are forgoing excellent work by not considering disabled people for employment?

Mr. Bowis

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I intend to mention employment after I have dealt with the travel-to-work stage. Employers have a large part to play in providing jobs for the disabled. When they have jobs, they cease to be a burden on the community, which then gives them greater self-confidence to play their part in society.

Sometimes, a disabled person needs help to get up in the morning. He may need a dressing changed. Perhaps it is the weekend, when no one comes to give help. In order to wash, he may need taps with longer handles because he might not have sufficient grip to fiddle with the small taps that do not cause us any problem. When dressing, he may find it difficult to cope with zips, shoes and socks. He may want to make a cup of tea, but perhaps the kitchen level is not right for the wheelchair and needs to be adapted. He may want to listen to the radio, but his arthritic fingers may mean that he cannot cope with the knobs on the radio or, perhaps, the control on his hearing aid.

If he falls, there may not be bars fitted to prevent him collapsing to the ground or to help him get up again There may not be an alarm system to summon help from a friendly neighbour.

If he goes out, the door must be wide enough for his wheelchair. In the street, he may find that cars are blocking the ramps from the pavement to the road. Or he may try to take a bus, only to find that it is one-man operated and that there is no one to help him board it. The result may be that he has to return home and think again. I refer only to the everyday tasks that we all take for granted but which others cannot perform.

As we develop the Griffiths recommendations, we should bear in mind the need to consider co-operation between district health authorities and social services departments. Very often, social services do not provide weekend services, whereas district nurses will call in to change dressings or to help people get up in the morning. Social workers tend to work only from Mondays to Fridays. If certain functions are transferred to social services departments, they must be provided to the standard currently provided by district health authorities.

Social and health care are indivisible. Whoever takes the lead in community care, everyone should work together to ensure that there are joint ventures for everything, including equipment stores.

When people return to the community from institutions, careful consideration should be given to their housing needs. We must not provide homes in houses or hostels that are so much like institutions that the individual ceases to enjoy the benefit of returning to the community. Equally, such people should not be placed in isolated houses, separated from the care that can be provided. If they are accommodated in clusters of houses, staff can be shared among them.

There has been much publicity lately about the Government's attemps to help people who have to sleep rough. Such efforts tend, rightly, to concentrate on young people who sleep in boxes or doorways, and it is only proper that they should be taken off the streets and given some form of accommodation. However, many who suffer from a mental illness do not congregate, and are not to be found with other groups sleeping in boxes or doorways. They may be found wandering on waste ground, and they, too, must be helped.

When society discharges people from hospital and returns them to society, it should take care to consider the accommodation that is provided. In my part of London, the tower block is the most common form of housing. To put a person suffering from mental illness in a flat in such a block does no one any favours. There is an absence of neighbourly care, so the individual becomes more upset, cannot cope mentally or socially, and starts behaving in a way that antagonises other residents. The mentally ill can find themselves not just discharged from hospital but losing the housing provision made for them, with the consequence that they are left walking the streets. Much more must be done to assist such people.

Social services departments are willing to provide the right kind of washing and bathing facilities in a disabled person's home eventually, but all too often it takes a long time. There is a long wait for assessment, and another long wait before implementation. I hope that pressure can be put on social services departments to speed up that process.

The question of clothing for the disabled was dealt with in a recent Adjournment debate, when it was pointed out that often special clothes are needed that cannot be obtained off-the-peg. Special clothing incurs special costs, and therefore requires special financial assistance.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) has been pressing for all new houses to be constructed in such a way that they can accommodate the disabled, because any of us can find ourselves disabled at any time. If building regulations can be geared up with that requirement in mind, we shall start getting our housing policies right.

A recent report from the Leonard Cheshire Foundation on standards of special seating found that severely disabled people with multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy or similar disabilities are provided with inappropriate wheelchairs and seating by the NHS, causing them pain, deformity and pressure sores. It is believed that the situation can only get worse. A survey of 1,370 residents in the foundation's centres showed that more than one third of them were badly seated or could be seated better. Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Minister will study that report to see whether better seating can be provided for those who need it. There is little point in spending money on seating that actually makes the patient's condition worse. Money would be better spent on getting that aspect right.

People with arthritic fingers have problems in operating hearing aids. I have mentioned on more than one occasion the lady whom I found watching television with the sound off. When I asked her why, she explained that she was unable to hear the television even with the sound up because her arthritic fingers made it impossible for her to operate the volume control on her hearing aid.

I asked the hearing aid industry whether something could be provided in such cases and was delighted to learn from one firm that there are ways of solving the problem using either a remote control that eliminates the need for the user to be fumbling at ear level, or a device that incorporates a new concept in volume control, simply using touch. The main problem for someone lacking manual dexterity is adjusting a manual volume control that is difficult to feel. An electronic system enables the user simply to touch the surface of the hearing aid to adjust the volume automatically. That is another improvement which would make a big difference to the lives of our deaf fellow citizens.

Happily, alarm systems are growing in number. They have the support of the police and of many local authorities. A scheme was recently launched in my constituency that provides a panic button alarm system involving neighbours trusted with keys, so that they can enter the home of a person whose alarm has been activated to see what has happened. Such a system can save lives, and it provides enormous reassurance to those living alone, upstairs or downstairs.

I refer again to the problem of cars parked across corners or over pavement ramps. If one is in a wheelchair or is blind, such obstacles can present enormous difficulties, particularly in London. Thoughtless parking should be the subject of a publicity campaign by the Ministry of Transport, urging drivers to park carefully and to think before they park. Parking bays for the disabled are often abused, sometimes by people who have moved into a house where a bay was provided for a previous occupant and think that they can go on using it. That gives the whole system a bad name. I know that parking in London's narrow streets can be a particular problem. One either loses a wing mirror or parks on the pavement and risks causing an obstruction.

Blind people in particular have problems with pavement obstacles apart from badly parked cars, motor bikes or bicycles—though those who ride bicycles on the pavement are as much a menace as those who leave them parked there. Those who ride bicycles at dusk without lights also cause additional hazards to people with vision problems. A lady who is partially sighted wrote to me saying that the obstructions on pavements are numerous and varied, seeming to multiply daily. Advertisement boards, twirling vanes, shop furniture and goods, abandoned shopping trolleys … unfenced building sites, unguarded holes, unmarked scaffolding, builders tools, equipment and materials, the list is endless. The list is endless because people are endlessly thoughtless. I hope that we can persuade them to think first. In addition, stray dogs can be a danger to disabled people. The mess that dogs leave on pavements can be extremely unpleasant.

The orange badge scheme has been abused and has a bad name. The public increasingly resent it because people who have no right to a badge use one. I hope that soon we can introduce regulations to make it a criminal offence to use an orange badge to which one is not entitled.

All forms of transport are important. One-man-operated buses cannot cope with disabled people. Bus routes could be better planned to cater for disabled people. Minibuses can follow routes that other buses cannot. They are being used, and I pay tribute to London Buses for that. Bus design could be improved no end. In particular, the omnibus has a facility to lower the front to the ground to enable a wheelchair to roll on. The omnibus may be the way forward for buses in future.

We have endless battles about rail services. Access to Clapham Junction in my constituency is down or up steps. There are no lifts or other forms of access for disabled people. There is no platform flush to the train for the wheelchairs of those who are carried down. It is high time that British Rail and whoever else is responsible got together to enable our disabled public to travel. Waterloo has many more facilities for the disabled.

Clapham Junction is a great junction for people not just from that part of London, but from all over the south of England to change trains to reach their destination. If only we could get British Rail to put up the money for lifts for the disabled. When it says that it would provide money if somebody else also paid, okay, let us see whether we can persuade the local community to contribute a bit. However, when it says that the local community must contribute most, I am not sure. The junction is a national asset and should be provided nationally. My youngest son has just returned from a school visit to Lille, where there is a new metro system comparable to the Tyne and Wear system. Trains are flush to platforms and wheelchair travel is no problem. That should be our task and target.

The problems of people requiring special needs transport are even greater. Taxi card users hope that some day there may be central funding to assist local funding and that there may be an opportunity to hail a taxi in the street, so that they do not have to endure long waits. Perhaps we could restore the incentive bonus for taxi drivers who pick people up in the street.

I will hear no ill of dial-a-ride. It is a great service. I have a great service in my borough of Wandsworth which is being mucked about by planners who want to force local services into a central or regionalised network. I ask my right hon. Friend to put pressure on London Regional Transport to say that people who use the service should have priority, rather than the wishes, efficiency-based or otherwise, of the transport authorities to have a system which fits neatly into their pattern. Alas, 70 per cent. of my 1,000 members' journeys are local and 30 per cent. are over five miles. LRT has disputed the figure of 30 per cent. and we cannot get the extra bus that other dial-a-ride groups are getting until we fit into the pattern. That is wrong and canot be tolerated.

Benefits are to provide back-up and they show the strength of society's feeling that we should be doing just that. I believe that my right hon. Friend the Minister can claim a good record on the increase in and extension of benefits since 1979. Nearly twice as many people receive severe disablement allowance, twice as many receive invalidity benefit, three times as many receive attendance allowance and six times as many receive mobility allowance. Expenditure has doubled to £8 billion and may be even more now.

A survey by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys' showed a degree of satisfaction among disabled people, but not when age was taken into consideration. If 6 million people are disabled, 70 per cent. of them are over 60 and 50 per cent. over 70. Some 3.3 million of those over 60 have locomotion problems. We must not assume that because a person reaches a certain age, disability is a normal fact of life. If somebody becomes disabled at 64, he or she qualifies for mobility allowance. At 65 the person does not. Yet all the additional costs can be the same. We need to look at that and to square the discrepancy in the definitions of disability of the World Health Organisation, which was used by the OPCS, with that of the Department of Social Security, which does not refer to the ability to move about. The White Paper made no mention of transport needs and I hope that my right hon. Friend will refer to them when he replies.

In January when we had a debate initiated by the Opposition my right hon. Friend said that a review of disability benefits was to take place. I hope that it will. I hope that consideration will be given to the evidence of the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux that some tests are unnecessarily cruel, such as when people are forced to go through pain to see whether they qualify for mobility or attendance allowance. One should accept the GP's evidence as good enough. Attendance allowance can be confusing. If it is withdrawn, it can lead immediately to the withdrawal of invalid care allowance. That is a double penalty and we need to consider it. Perhaps my right hon. Friend can refer to the Simon Crompton, Down's syndrome case about benefits payable to people who live at home. That needs to be looked at sympathetically, and I know that my right hon. Friend will do so.

All those benefits are to help with the extra costs which people with disabilities face. It is partly that they are less likely to earn, partly that they are likely to earn less and partly that they are less likely to earn promotion. One third of disabled people are at work which means that two thirds are not. Those who are, work fewer hours on lower pay rates. If, through benefits, people can work, it means that they can pay tax and cease to need other benefits. In the long run that is helpful to all of us.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) referred to employers. I hope that we can send a message to them on behalf of the 2.5 million disabled people of working age. They should be patient as it may take some time for someone with disabilities to settle into a job.

A report has been published today on the vexed question of the 3 per cent. target for the employment of people with disabilities. Some 25 per cent. of firms fail to meet that target—sadly that includes many Government Departments, no doubt this place and probably the national health service. I accept that many people with disabilities are not registered, but are working and that, therefore, the 3 per cent. target may not be accurate. Many firms and buildings could not cope with some forms of disability, but many others could. We should consider the system that operates in Germany and in other countries. In Germany, firms that do not meet the employment target are fined the equivalent of that target in salary terms. If they fail to meet the target in the next year the fine is doubled. The money recouped goes into training and the provision of access for disabled people. If we operated such a system I am sure that many firms would say yes to employing people with disabilities. I accept that it is not as straightforward as that, but we should encourage the enforcement as well as the provision of such employment opportunities.

I hope that we can get rid of some of the bogus excuses for non-employment or lack of promotion. The other day I met someone with a visual disability who works on computers in a Government Department—I had better not name it. He cannot get promotion because that would mean working on a different type of computer based on the eighth floor, but he is not allowed to work above the fifth floor as that might be a fire hazard. He cannot get promotion for that reason, which is nonsense. I hope that we can get rid of such problems.

The biggest obstacle to employment is training. People must be trained to take up the vacancies as they occur. The uncertainties affecting training establishments are legion. I have already referred to Diane Wellsbury of SHARE and the problems that it is facing. That organisation has done a great deal for people who have come to the end of the line. It provides them with the opportunity to train, and many people's achievements have been extraordinary. Some have gone to university and many are now working in Government Departments, local government and other firms.

Jasminda is severely disabled with Ehlers Danlos syndrome. She can hardly walk and has little use of her hands. SHARE was able to train her in office skills, and she was approached by the local council who took her on in its housing department. She has now worked there for more than a year and it is the first job that she has had. She is proud of the fact that she now pays income tax—not many of us share that pride. It is a great achievement for someone with her disabilities to pay such tax.

Between 1978 and 1988 SHARE was funded by the Manpower Services Commission. From September 1988 it has been funded by the Training Agency. Thousands of people have benefited from the organisation, but since SHARE joined the employment training scheme it has had to negotiate five contracts with the Training Agency. In theory each contract lasts for 12 months and it is just about to re-contract. All the bureaucracy involved in that hinders the ability of that organisation to provide for people who are desperately in need.

Under the new training schemes the amount of money available has been reduced. The allocation is geared to the number of people looking for training, but among the disabled increased expectation means that many more are coming forward for such training. We should meet that demand. However, the allocations to SHARE were cut by 10 per cent. in March and it is expected that a further cut will be made next year. If there are any further cuts that organisation risks having to close on 31 March 1991. That must not happen. We are dealing with vulnerable people who need opportunities. Training provides such an opportunity and it should be at the forefront of what we offer to people with disabilities.

The arts can provide a precious opportunity—the ability to find oneself. People gain self-confidence and self-respect when they discover that, whatever they cannot do, they can do something artistic. The contribution made to the arts by many people with disabilities is staggering. We are aware of organisations such as the Graeae, the London Disability Arts Forum and its Movin' On festival. Those organisations and events enable people to discover themselves and more support for them would be welcomed.

I am a great believer in participation as the first objective of arts policy. However, we must also enable people to enjoy the arts and it is important to support programmes such as Adapt, which is designed to adapt buildings to enable people with wheelchairs to get in and ensures the provision of hearing loops for those with hearing difficulties.

It is also important to consider how the arts present the disabled to see that a more positive image is shown on soaps such as "Coronation Street", or whatever my right hon. Friend the Minister watches every night. The soaps are extremely popular and it is important that the public should see a more positive image of disabled people.

It is time that the remaining sections of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986 were enacted. In the National Health Service and Community Care Bill a complaints procedure has been put in place and surely it makes sense for disabled people to have the right to be represented. The missing sections 1 and 2 of the 1986 Act would fulfil that obligation. Section 3 relates to consultation about the needs of the disabled and written statements about them. Section 7 relates to people discharged from institutions with mental disorders. I appreciate that my right hon. Friend may not be able to say, "Eureka, we can do that today", but I hope that those sections will be implemented soon.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will also refer the legal difficulties encountered by some local authorities in making payments directly to disabled people. Some authorities pay money directly to people to enable them to buy their own care and personal assistance. That gives those people more choice and we should support that. Other local authorities say that such payments are illegal. We must sort that out so that there is genuine consumer choice across the country.

Carers work alongside our disabled fellow citizens. It is estimated that there are 6 million carers for our 6 million disabled. That figure covers those who are aged 16 and over and represents 3.5 million women and 2.5 million men. A quarter of them spend more than 20 hours per week providing care. For the carers caring in their own home, the figure of 25 per cent. for those who spend more than 20 hours a week caring and providing a service goes up to 63 per cent.; 45 per cent. spend 50 hours a week or more doing so and 54 per cent. give up work to care. Therefore, because of the lack of support that they have so often had in the past, it is not surprising that one in 20 carers admit to some form of violence towards their dependant. That shows the pressure and tension that can build up.

I shall quote from a published letter from "Jessie"—I do not think that is her real name—whose husband, Tom, is an Alzheimer's patient. She wrote: I didn't know anything about Alzheimer's disease then but I made it my business to find out all I could—and I didn't like what I heard. By trial and error I have learnt to cope although it is a very hard and uphill road … From a placid, even-tempered, quitely-spoken man, Tom has changed into a different person … looking after the needs of someone with AD is like having a child in the house. They follow you around; if you nip to the bathroom or bedroom, anywhere where they can't see you, they are calling for you … The hardest time for me was when he forgot who I was—where did I fit into his life? The same questions over and over again. When he gets so very confused, I sit with him and I take him back down his memory to his childhood and his years in the army. I have become very good at hiding my feelings, but no one knows of the tears shed in the silence of the night—the heartbreak of the way our lives have changed. Being who she is, Jessie went on to say:

when the morning dawns, I lie and count my blessings and there are so many of them. There are blessings in caring, but carers have needs. Those wonderful people are, according to the Select Committee on Social Services, saving us £24 billion a year. I do not know whether that figure is acknowledged, but it must be somewhere near the truth. We must do more to help carers through carer's premiums and invalidity care alllowance. Above all, we must provide them with a respite, let them get away occasionally, catch their breath and get their second wind so that they can go back to help. In helping, they are helping us all.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to put into inadequate words some of my feelings about disabled people. Getting to know disabled people and their organisations has given me a great deal. It has certainly added an extra dimension to my life. They are people with so much to offer us, each other and the world. Their achievements stir our emotions. I hope that in this debate we shall also feel that they appeal to our heads as well as our hearts. It makes economic and social sense to ensure that their disability is not a bar to full participating citizenship. Our task is to enable them to continue to bridge the gap between what they could achieve if they did not have their particular disability and what they constantly astound us by achieving despite it.

I shall end by returning to the beginning of my speech and looking at the little brochure sent to me about a disabled child going to school, using an electronic wheelchair and all that happens to her at school. It describes all the help, support and participation, and the true friendships of the child with other children right the way through the school. At the end it states:

This school does not yet exist, and nor does the story teller exist as a single person. But everything in it has already happened in a school somewhere, and all the thoughts and feelings have already happened to somebody … True integration means … acceptance of equality of all people, regardless of ability or needs. The booklet is entitled "nothing special". When it is nothing special to be disabled because society accepts that one is a full member of the community, when we give support in such a way that ambitions can be met and striven for, then disabled people will have the opportunty that my motion seeks to promote.

10.55 am

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

This is a highly unusual debate. In fact, the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) has achieved an important first, as I cannot remember when there was last a general debate on the problems and needs of people with disabilities that was not held on an Opposition Supply day since the present Government came to power. So I congratulate him on using his good fortune in winning time for a debate, on his choice of subject and on the range and quality of the, at times, moving speech with which he opened the debate. We readily accept, of course, much of his motion.

The House is often at its best in debates on disability, not least because of the success of the all-party disablement group in keeping right hon. and hon. Members so well informed about the concerns of disabled people and their organisations. Like the hon. Member for Battersea I am, therefore, extremely sorry that my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), who chairs the all-party group, cannot be with us today. He is honouring commitments made before this debate was announced and his voice will be sadly missed, as will that of the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam), the group's very hard-working secretary.

The Minister, like his immediate predecessors with responsibility for disabled people, often tells them from the Front Bench how extremely well they have fared under this Government. However, that is certainly not how they and their organisations view the Government's record. They say that almost all the extra spending about which Ministers speak is due not to any improvements in benefits, but to the increased number of disabled people now claiming attendance allowance, mobility allowance, invalid care allowance and other benefits that were introduced before this Government came to power. In fact, the vast majority of disabled people have fared much worse than most other people in terms of their living standards. Their organisations compare the Government's claims about their performance with their consistent refusal to find time for it to be debated in the House.

The dispute about the Government's record is very much one between Ministers and disabled people. They and their organisations strongly refute the Government's claims. They say not only that disabled people have fared worse than other people, but that in a huge number of cases they are poorer in real terms than they were 11 years ago, due to the social security changes of April 1989.

There is not enough time today, or in any single parliamentary debate, for us to review all the restrictions on opportunity for disabled people; but there is one that I must briefly raise at the outset. Barnardos recently arranged a "Parents' Forum" in a Committee Room of the House. Those of us who went were told by the parents of severely disabled young people that their sons and daughters can lose their severe disablement allowance if they enter youth training and then fail to find work. I am sure that they left all who heard them with the feeling that to withdraw severe disablement allowance from young people who try so bravely to triumph over severe handicap is a form of refined cruelty that Ministers must urgently stop.

The savings made by the Government from withdrawing SDA in those cases are very small compared with the £1.9 billion given in a single Budget to the richest 1 per cent. of taxpayers. The present rule is a tax on hope—that of young people who passionately want to exchange the dependence of social security benefits for the independence of gainful employment. All that severely disabled youngsters who receive training—even those who succeed as trainees—can possibly have today is hope.

Unemployment among disabled job-seekers is more than twice as high as among able-bodied people. Only 31 per cent. of all disabled adults of working age work, compared with 69 per cent. of the population as a whole. The ratio for men is even worse; 33 per cent. compared with 78 per cent. The earnings of disabled people who find work are substantially lower than those of non-disabled employees, and the same is true of parents of disabled children. Moreover, the Government's record in terms of jobs offered to disabled people is among the worst of all employers. So the Government's review of employment services for disabled people is of considerable parliamentary importance.

Yet I understand that, at the very moment when this debate began, a press conference was timed to take place for the release outside this House of the outcome of the review. While the Minister for Disabled People may allude here later to a document that has already been given to the press, I must strongly complain to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, about what will be widely seen as contemptuous treatment of this House. A planted parliamentary question for written answer is no substitute for full parliamentary scrutiny. This has already been described to me by people in the media as a shabby manoeuvre to avoid parliamentary questioning. The House deserved a statement yesterday in the normal way, with opportunities to question the Minister about the outcome of the review. As my speech proceeds, I shall return in detail to employment problems.

Meanwhile, I wish to emphasise that all Government policy in relation to people with disabilities, especially young people, should be directed to a single end: to enable them to participate in society on an equal basis with their fellow citizens. That requires the closest possible co-ordination between all Government Departments, but particularly between the Departments of Health, Employment, Education and Science and Social Security. Too often over the past 11 years we have witnessed a total failure to co-ordinate in Whitehall, with Departments thwarting each other's efforts. I offer one example. For severely disabled young people one of the keys to greater independence is to secure personal assistance which is under their control and which will help them do what they want to do when they want to do it. After much campaigning by Members of Parliament and others, not least the all-party disablement group, the Secretary of State for Education and Science announced a new package for disabled students, including a grant of up to £4,000 a year for non-medical support staff—Hansard, 19 March, c. 417. But what will happen when they leave college to seek employment and when their need of personal assistance will be just as pressing?

Ministers continue to sloganise about independent living, but continue to miss opportunities to put good intentions into practice. In another place last Monday, the Government succeeded in defeating by five votes the addition of a new clause to the National Health Service and Community Care Bill which would explicitly have given local authorities the power to make grants to people with disabilities to purchase their own care or personal assistance services.

Ministers have seldom been made to look so inconsistent and crass. They commend schemes that exist, but say that they are advised that these schemes are technically unlawful so they cannot openly obtain information about them, let alone encourage others. Local authorities support voluntary organisations of and for people with disabilities in arguing that this is a power that they should have; but Ministers have the cheek to claim that locally elected people would act unwisely and that the administration of public funds would be at risk. As one of the least welcome parts of the National Health Service and Community Care Bill is the Government's insistence that public money should be thrown at the private sector, it is extraordinary that the Government will not allow modest sums to go to people with severe disabilities who want only to win more control of their own lives. Paradoxically, the independent living fund already acts in this way without ministerial misgivings. If new awards from the ILF are abolished from next April, as is now feared, and if local authorities are not empowered to make direct grants to people with disabilities, all the Government's fine words about supporting the independence of disabled people will be shown to be so much hot air.

The Government have already resisted attempts to give disabled people the same legal rights to an assessment for respite care as they have to services under section 2 of my Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. A notable recent report by Crossroads—entitled "Caring for Carers"—shows that caring is a full-time job, with only 17 per cent. of carers having some form of employment. The survey also shows that 10 per cent. of carers have no free time at all and 52 per cent. have only between one and five hours each week. Four out of 10 carers said that they were often at breaking point and I am glad the hon. Member for Battersea spoke so movingly in support of that finding.

Crossroads has clearly shown that one of the key demands of carers is for more respite care, especially in the home. To this effect, Peter Large of the Disablement Income Group, a widely respected figure in this House, has pointed out:

Where it exists, respite care almost invariably involves moving the disabled person out of his or her home, leaving the regular helper temporarily free of any responsibility for the disabled person. Indeed, the White Paper defines respite care in these terms. In the recent survey by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, 83 per cent. of adults in the two most severe categories of disablement had not received any respite care in the previous year. The percentages of people receiving such help in the home as night sitting were negligible.

Section 8 of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986 for the first time gave carers a statutory right to have the local authority consider their ability to provide care. Yet a recent report from the social services inspectorate shows that, two years after the implementation of that section, only one-fifth of councils had a written policy.

The full impact of section 8 will not be apparent until Ministers stop dragging their feet and implement section 3, not least the vital subsections on disabled people, or their carers, who need communication assistance. Is it not utterly disgraceful that this and other crucial sections of the 1986 Act, which was so ably promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke)—with support from both sides of the House—still await implementation four years after they became law? May we now have a clear and definitive statement about the Government's intentions? It was good to hear the endorsement of the hon. Member for Battersea of the now general view that the Government must act now and very urgently.

The Minister for Social Security and Disabled People (Mr. Nicholas Scott)

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will remember that when my predecessor supported what I tend to call the Clarke Act, it was made clear that it would be implemented as and when resources became available. We have now implemented all the important parts of the Act except for sections 1, 2 and 3, and, as I told the House on an earlier occasion during oral questions, we are now consulting local authorities about the implementation of those sections. Local authorities have a crucial role in their implementation and it is important that we have their views and reactions. We have now initiated consultations with them with a view to implementation in due course.

Mr. Morris

I well recall the statements in the House by the Minister's predecessor. None of us, on either side of the House, thought that there would be a delay of four years in implementing crucial provisions of the Act. To govern is to choose; many people will say, not least in the voluntary sector, that there clearly have been resources since 1986 for full implementation of all the purposes of the Act. I do of course, appreciate the importance of the role of local authorities. They need to be consulted regularly and in detail. However, local authorities are themselves complaining strongly about the delay in implementing a statute that is so important for disabled people.

A recent report in The Times said that the Secretary of State for Health is preparing the ground for delay in implementing the community care parts of the National Health Service and Community Care Bill. Given the unpardonable rejection by the Government of ring-fencing and the vastly increased burdens that the poll tax has imposed on local authorities, I fully endorse the fears of Crossroads, of which I have the honour to be patron, that without significant resources carers will see no service improvement under the new system. Crossroads argues:

Hard-pressed councils have to prioritise need in the face of scarce resources and it is quite understandable that people who are now looked after by a carer will be of lower priority than those living on their own. Another key component of independent living is social security for which the Minister has direct responsibility. As he knows, his policy statement "The Way Ahead" has been greeted with dismay by almost all the voluntary organisations of and for people with disabilities. Peter Large has described it as a cul-de-sac and says that ministerial talk of a more coherent system of benefits is "a sign of delirium."

The Government's proposals for the new so-called disability allowance will help only those with mobility or care needs. The Government claim that this reflects the findings of OPCS, but the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation—RADAR—in its response to "The Way Ahead" told the Minister:

The OPCS report downgraded many conditions which proved to cause significant extra expenses. Although only 18 per cent. of adults reported extra expenditure on food (OPCS 2 Table 4.7) this was, at £6.20 per week, by far the single most expensive item; and expenditure was almost identical in all severity categories (OPCS 2 Table 4.9). Equally the small number of children with digestive disorders cost their parents four times as much as others". RADAR went on to criticise the Government's total failure to replace the extra help with special diets that was available before April 1987 for people with AIDS. The Royal Association said that restricting help to those with less than six months to live—by the extension of attendance allowance to the terminally ill—is insulting to those whose lives can be prolonged by sufficient help at an earlier stage of their illness. This example of digestive disorders and diets is used by RADAR to illustrate flaws in the OPCS's methodology which have led the Government to ignore the needs of a significant number of people with disabilities.

Is there nothing that the Minister can do to help people who are so demonstrably in the direst need? I ask him urgently to review the scandalous plight of people with AIDS to whom RADAR drew his attention and also to give today the Government's response to the social security commissioners' decision, reported this week, on the important case, to which the hon. Member for Battersea referred, of Simon Crompton, who has Down's syndrome and lives with his retired parents in Tameside in Greater Manchester. It is estimated that the decision in that case could benefit 30,000 other disabled people. What action are the Government taking to identify them, and do they accept the social security commissioners' decision?

Mr. Crompton had been refused severe disability premium, worth £28.20 a week, which is available under the income support system. The Department of Social Security says that the premium is designed for people who live on their own, although the regulations allow for it to be paid in cases where a claimant "jointly occupies" a property with other adults. The case turned on whether this wording implied a stake in ownership or tenancy of a property, as the DSS maintained, or merely a sharing of a property, as Mr. Crompton successfully claimed. He stands to receive almost £2,000 in benefit arrears.

Will the Minister concede that it would be shameful for his Department now to seek to deny benefit to severely disabled people on the grounds that they are living in the same house as elderly parents? Will he now admit that the Government's policy is a complete shambles with wholly inadequate provision in income support, the independent living fund in suspended animation, social services departments unable to give grants to people such as Simon Crompton, poll tax demands that disabled people cannot afford to pay, and "The Way Ahead" offering nothing to the most severely disabled members of our society who wish to live independent lives?

I should now like to turn to three aspects of the employment services for disabled people. First, there is a widely supported demand, not least from the organisations that speak for disabled people, for stricter enforcement of the quota scheme. As less than a quarter of firms satisfy their 3 per cent. quota obligations, and as the employment service has stated that work with disabled people is of low priority, will the Department now enforce the quota system? What will be done about people with disabilities which severely affect their employment prospects and who now languish in job shops with scant, if any, prospect of ever finding a job?

Secondly, will the Government expand the sponsored placement scheme to provide more integrated work opportunities at all levels for disabled people? Voluntary organisations were dismayed by the reply on 12 March to the chairman and secretary of the all-party disablement group, which baldly stated that no new SPS places would be available during 1990–91. That reply is at column 136.

Will the Minister also respond to the criticisms in the excellent recent report by Mainstream that the subsidy is too low and that SPS employees are disadvantaged by being ineligible for the same benefits and terms of employment as others with whom they work because they are not employed directly by the host firm?

Thirdly, will the Government now belatedly emulate the United States Congress, which has passed the Americans with Disabilities Act? That Act extends to the private sector in the United States the anti-discrimination provisions of the Rehabilitation Act 1973, which have proved so effective in combating discrimination in the public sector and among firms receiving federal funds. Since anti-discrimination legislation has been on the statute book in the United States for 17 years and is now being extended, how can Ministers here possibly claim that it would be ineffective?

We could have led the world in outlawing discrimination, as we did in 1970 when we legislated on access to buildings, if the Government had acted on the report in 1982 of the Committee on Restrictions Against Disabled People, which I appointed as the then Minister in 1979, or had not shamelessly blocked successive private Members' Bills aimed at giving the report legislative effect.

I shall give one example from Manchester of the vital importance of legislation to outlaw discrimination against disabled people. A deaf young woman employed by the Greater Manchester Coalition for Disabled People is unable to enjoy the same employment rights as others because the Department of Employment will provide communicators only for deaf trainees and not for employees. Kevin Hyett, the chairman of the GMCDP, has said:

The Government provide blind people with readers and disabled people generally with a wide range of high-tech equipment, so you have to say that this is blatant discrimination. The Government often single out deaf people for special hardship. As in that case, their needs are ignored by the social security system and often their severe disability makes it practically impossible for them to obtain even their basic entitlement. Happily, in another place, an amendment to the Social Security Bill has been passed to allow deaf students to retain entitlement to social security benefits. I trust that the Minister will announce today that the Government have no intention of seeking to overturn that amendment when the Bill returns to this House. I urge him unequivocally to do so when he speaks in this debate.

I hope also that the Minister will explain what actions he will take to end the chaos which is threatening employment training schemes run by voluntary organisations. Only this week, I heard that the "Black Country Talking Magazine for the Blind", which is manned by ET workers, has to close because of lack of funds. The Spastics Society, which provided 429 training places, decided on 30 April to withdraw from the ET scheme when the Government altered the terms of the contract. If the society had not withdrawn, it would have faced a deficit of over £200,000 in the coming year. What possible justification is there for that huge tax on voluntary effort?

This morning, the Spastics Society released a valuable report which reflects deep concern about the Government's employment policies. The report says that discrimination against disabled job applicants has not diminished in the past four years. As the Minister knows, the Spastics Society is in the forefront of organisations now demanding anti-discrimination legislation, to which Labour Members are fully committed.

The motion moved by the hon. Member for Battersea pays equal tribute to Government and voluntary organisations. I hope he is now persuaded that he should have been more selective in his praise.

There are very few voluntary organisations of or for people with disabilities which do not have a long catalogue of examples of how the Government continue to cut the ground from under their feet and, while leaving no platitude unspoken, enact policies which reduce the equality and independence of people with disabilities. Yet the House must recognise that independence is the biggest prize of all for Britain's 6.5 million disabled people. It has become the common objective of this House as a whole.

11.22 am
Mr. Gerald Bowden (Dulwich)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) on his success in the ballot and his choice of subject. I came third in the ballot, but I do not resent that fact because of the subject that he chose and because he treated it with such sensitivity and understanding.

I appreciate the experience and commitment of the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), but I do not intend to follow him down the path of the financial and economic resources that should be available to disabled people. I shall look at the wider issues set out in the motion.

When talking about the disabled, we are in danger of confusing several issues. we are inclined to group many diverse talents and limitations. To name the broad categories, there are physical disabilities, mental disabilities and psychological difficulties, from which many people suffer. To consider those people as a cohesive group would be to misunderstand their problems and not recognise their contributions.

We come up against disability either personally or by recognising it in others. I discovered this early in life when I studied law at university. My tutor had been blind from birth, but he went on to hold one of the foremost chairs in jurisprudence. There is no doubt that I learnt much from him about understanding the law and I could in no way emulate the way he understood attempts to contribute in seminars and tutorials. One of the tasks I was first invited to perform—rather than being a chore, turned out to be a happy duty—was to read the law reports and other documents. One simply had to gabble away, but the way in which he anticipated the result before the end of the argument was amazing. Although he suffered one disability, he did not see it as such. A compensating achievement more than ruled out any disability he might have felt.

The motion has given us an opportunity to look at this matter in the broad sense. By considering the challenge that disability brings to those who suffer from it and to those of us who have no obvious psychological, physical or intellectual disability, we have an opportunity to think about where we can bring pressure to bear, place emphasis and give support.

The key concept in the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea and the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe was "access". It is clear that those with disabilities in any of the three broad categories that I have suggested suffer because of access difficulties. My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea spoke of the problems of wheelchair access to schools in inner-city areas. We recognise the problems of people who wish to go to the theatre or wish to sit in the House or the other place. We should ensure that there is easy access in newly designed buildings and that, as far as possible, existing premises are adapted so that embarrassment is not caused and obstacles do not exist.

Physical access may be connected with the intellectual or educational access to which my hon. Friend referred. If children cannot get into a school because they are wheelchair-bound, the opportunities that they might enjoy and might properly claim are obstructed. Those two aspects deny people access to opportunities in the wider community. As the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe said, access to independence must be the key for any person who suffers from a disability, allowing that person to fulfil himself and achieve his potential.

My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea has opened up a debate that challenges the attitude of the public and our attitude as individuals. It has presented us with the challenge not to look at disability as an obstruction or inhibiting factor, but to consider the opportunities for fulfilment of those who perhaps have limitations in one sense but have great potential in another. I have visited the Cheshire home and Athan house. When one is in the presence of members of the Southwark branch of Mencap or one sees the wheelchair race in the London marathon, one's attitude to the problems of incapacity and disability is changed.

The problems of a person with a physical disability sometimes come rather closer to home. My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea described the day of a physically disabled person. A year or so ago, while I was gardening, I pricked my hand on a rose and had to have my hand in a sling for a week. I suddenly had a greater understanding of what incapacity and disability meant. I could not tie a tie or a shoelace, I had difficulty doing up buttons and I could not drive a car. I was suddenly made aware of what disability means even in its most trivial form. That gave me even greater admiration for the courage, grit and determination of the disabled who succeed in achieving, whereas those of us who are reasonably able most of the time and suddenly come up against disability find life difficult.

Disability is a matter of attitude as well as of resources. Resources must be available and properly deployed. However, the attitude of those of us who take an interest in these matters must inform and reflect itself on the rest of the community. Those who, in one sense or another, are regarded as disabled have an important role to play in decision-making. Our debate today offers the opportunity to open up the subject for a wider discussion and for wider understanding. I welcome the choice of topic by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea.

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