§ 10. Mr. Ashley
To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what is the current rate of unemployment for (a) registered disabled people and (b) disabled people generally.
The 1991 labour force survey reported 18.2 per cent. unemployment among people in the labour market who had a health problem or disability which limited the kind of work that they could do. I am afraid that we do not have later figures, figures for registered disabled people or figures comparable with the monthly claimant count.
§ Mr. Ashley
Is the Minister aware that an unemployment rate among disabled people nearly four times as high as that among able-bodied people cannot be justified? As this is the Government's 13th hour and it is now too late for them to help, will the Minister explain to disabled people why the Secretary of State for Employment spends so much of his time rubbishing trade unions, rather than finding jobs for those people?
I think that, regrettably, there has always been a higher unemployment rate among people with disabilities than among the rest of the population. We attempt to assist, however, and the total number of people who have been helped through our sheltered employment programme has increased substantially during the past 10 years. Expenditure has risen substantially, from £88.2 million to £112 million. The number of people who have been helped through assessment and rehabilitation centres has also risen and expenditure on special assistance schemes has increased substantially. All those measures were designed to assist people with disabilities.
§ Mr. Rowe
Will my hon. Friend confirm that many companies find that the loyalty given to them by disabled people more than makes up for any days that they may have to take off work to undergo treatment? Will he tell the House just how much effort he and his colleagues in the Department have devoted in recent years to bringing that message home to employers?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The best way—indeed, the only way—in which we can make progress in that regard is by affecting attitudes and the culture that exists within companies. The Government have put a great deal of effort into persuading employers to take seriously the issues involving minorities in employment, including people with disabilities.
§ Mr. Tom Clarke
Does the Minister agree that discrimination against people with disabilities clearly exists in employment and that it was therefore a great pity that the very modest Bill presented by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) was talked out by supporters of the Government?
§ Mr. Clarke
The Bill presented by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe dealt with discrimination against people with disabilities, particularly in regard to employment and jobs.
I do not believe, and the Government do not believe, that such a legislative approach is the right way to deal with the problem. Since 1944, for example, we have had a quota system which has never been effectively operated under Governments of either party. Rather than adopting an inappropriate legislative approach, we must persuade people and affect attitudes.
§ Mr. Couchman
What would be the impact of the imposition of a minimum hourly wage of £3.40 on the disabled, to whom employment is so important in terms of dignity of life?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Many disabled people, often on income support, may earn relatively low wages, and the consequences of a minimum wage would be a withdrawal of job opportunities which would probably affect them in particular.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth
Does the Minister accept that an example would be a great deal of help to employers in the private sector? Will he acknowledge that Government Departments have not even come near their own target of 3 per cent. disabled workers?
We take very seriously our attempts to secure employment for disabled people in the Government. It is very difficult to meet the 3 per cent. target, but we are doing well in aiming towards it.