HC Deb 12 December 1995 vol 268 cc828-9
11. Mr. John Evans

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security when he next expects to meet the Disablement Income Group to discuss the problem of poverty among disabled persons. [3579]

Mr. Burt

I regularly meet groups representing disabled people. I plan to meet the director of the Disablement Income Group on 17 January.

Mr. Evans

When the Minister next meets the Disablement Income Group, will he seek to explain why poverty among disabled people will increase savagely when the new incapacity allowance comes into operation in April while, at the same time, income tax has been reduced for the better-off?

Mr. Burt

Probably one of the points that I shall raise with the director of the Disablement Income Group will be the 280 per cent. rise in the amount that we have been able to spend on benefits for the long-term sick and disabled since 1979. A further point might be to compare and contrast the range of benefits provided by this Government with those provided by the previous Government, which would show a substantial increase in income for those people. Also, in four crucial areas—the disability living allowance, the disability working allowance, the independent living fund and Motability costs, on which we now spend £3.5 billion—we could not make a comparison with the previous Government because those benefits did not exist.

Mr. Matthew Banks

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 has been a giant step forward in the interests of disabled people and comes on top of a threefold increase in benefits? Does he further agree that those who have opposed the Act have done nothing more than play politics with people's lives?

Mr. Burt

My hon. Friend makes an extremely fair point. Now that the Act has been passed, it is important for all parties to seek to ensure that its implementation is successful. Even those who have previously opposed the Act cannot have anything to gain by obstructing its workings. It is one of the most significant advances for disabled people ever. The Act will certainly fulfil its objective if all those who have the interests of disabled people at heart come together and work for its success.

Mr. Barnes

Is not one means of tackling poverty among disabled people enabling them to gain access to jobs? Although such access should begin to be provided under the Government's Act, why cannot we have a disability rights commission to ensure that it becomes a reality?

Mr. Burt

As the hon. Gentleman will know, there are different views about what is needed to ensure that the Disability Discrimination Act works properly. We have taken the view that we do not need a commission in this particular case. There will be plenty of opportunity to enforce the provisions of the Act. I ask those who share the hon. Gentleman's view about a commission to recognise that the Act has been passed and to work with us to ensure that it is a success. There are significant advances to be made in enabling access to work for disabled people. If we move away from the arguments of yesterday towards the provisions of tomorrow for disabled people, we shall continue to make a real advance in their progress, which is what they deserve and what the nation needs to ensure that we use their skills for all our mutual benefit.