HC Deb 24 April 1996 vol 276 cc417-8
1. Mrs. Helen Jackson

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment if unemployed people will be required to make a personal contribution to support given under access to work. [25078]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. James Paice)

Unemployed people will not be required to make a contribution to approved support under access to work.

Mrs. Jackson

I wish slightly to extend my question so that the Minister can tell us whether the Government's U-turn on increasing the budget for access to work so that individuals in work can also benefit is a result, in his view, of impressive campaigning for restoration by disabled people throughout the country in work and out of work.

One of my constituents is Julie Smethurst, a self-employed Braillist. Will the Minister take the opportunity to clarify whether she, as a self-employed worker, will be able to benefit from restoration for the maintenance of her essential equipment, which enables her to stay in work?

Mr. Paice

The hon. Lady obviously has not studied what has already been going on, or she would not have been so nonplussed by my main answer. We have studied what took place in access to work and the increasing demands that were being made on it last year. That is why the Government made available a 50 per cent. increase for access to work's budget this year. That is a clear demonstration of the Government's understanding of the importance of access to work for disabled people.

The hon. Lady should know that self-employed people will be eligible again for access to work as from 1 June. My noble Friend the Minister of State, who deals specifically with these matters in the Department, is reviewing precisely the terms of assistance for self-employed people under access to work, but I can confirm that they will be eligible.

Mr. David Nicholson

The earlier exchange that my hon. Friend had with the hon. Lady is the best example that I can remember in recent years of a typical Labour party smear falling, as it were, at the first fence. Will my hon. Friend continue his efforts to improve all the resources and services that are available to unemployed people, whatever their age? Will he contrast this country's record in reducing the number of unemployed of all ages with the records of countries that until recently were governed by socialist Governments, such as France and Spain?

Mr. Paice

I am not even sure that the hon. Lady's question reached the first fence, but the idea of a smear jumping a fence leaves me somewhat perturbed. It is more likely that it slipped over before it started.

My hon. Friend is entirely right to draw careful attention to the Government's success in reducing unemployment for all people, be they disabled or otherwise. Through access to work and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, the Government have put in place important measures to help disabled people, but he is also right to identify the fact that jobs are created by successful businesses. The countries to which he has drawn attention, such as France, have prevented their businesses from being successful and from creating jobs because they have burdened them with the minimum wage, the social chapter and various other burdens on employers, which act against the interests of all people, disabled or otherwise.

Mr. Llwyd

I welcome the access to work budget increase, but has the Minister considered the effect of employer contributions on smaller firms? Surely it is not right that multinationals and small firms employing typically fewer than 20 people should pay the same amount of contributions. Will he consider targeting the scheme slightly better and enabling smaller firms to take on more disabled people?

Mr. Paice

Eighty-four per cent. of disabled people are employed in firms of more than 20 employees—more than the number employed in firms of fewer than 20 employees, which are exempted from the Disability Discrimination Act. It is not possible specifically to target help at smaller firms, because the legislation says that access to work is assistance to the individual, not to the firm. Therefore, in terms of the size of firms, we are prevented from discriminating in targeting the scheme.