HC Deb 24 July 1996 vol 282 cc332-3
2. Mr. Austin-Walker

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what measures she has taken to monitor the impact of the new employer contributions on support for disabled people through the access to work scheme. [37266]

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

TheEmployment Service will be monitoring the new arrangements for access to work to ensure continuing effective help for disabled people.

Mr. Austin-Walker

Is it not already clear that this new scheme, by its reduced funding compared with that of the original scheme, is already having an adverse effect on both employed and self-employed disabled people, as they must now rely for equipment on their employers or fund it themselves? Does the Minister accept that the scheme will have a particularly adverse effect on people who are self-employed, who work in small firms or who are in voluntary organisations that employ many disabled people? Does he think that it is fair for the Government to impose a penalty on employers who have the best record on employment of disabled people?

Mr. Paice

No, I do not accept the points made by the hon. Gentleman. First, there is a considerable increase in funding for access to work this year compared with funding for the original scheme—it is up by 50 per cent. Secondly, the contributions that would be expected either from an employer or from a self-employed individual are capped, and the average contributions are extremely low. On average, a self-employed person would be expected to pay £240, and, based on experience, it is likely that an employer would be expected to pay £540. I think that those are perfectly reasonable contributions to expect people to make to help disabled people. I emphasise to the hon. Gentleman that the access to work scheme is designed to help employers and individuals overcome problems created by disability. As has always been the case, if people are unemployed—I think that we would all agree that they are in the most need—they will make no contribution at all.

Mr. Tom Clarke

On all the evidence available to the Minister, does he accept that employer contributions are unfair to small businesses and to the self-employed? If the Minister really wants to support small firms and self-employed disabled people, will he now review their liability to pay up to £2,000 a year under access to work? Does the Minister accept that small firms simply do not understand why they are exempt from the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 but not from employer contributions under access to work? What is the difference?

Mr. Paice

The difference is in the legislation.

Mr. Clarke

Which one was wrong?

Mr. Paice

It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman is making these points, because he totally opposed any exclusion for small firms in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. The Labour party—to a man and to a woman—went through the Lobbies on that legislation against the interests of small firms. It is somewhat hypocritical now to pray in aid the support of small businesses. The fact is that, as always, we have had to find a balance between cost to the taxpayer and the help that we want to provide to the disabled. I am amazed to find that the hon. Gentleman continues to be part of that group of Labour Members who seem to believe that the public purse is bottomless.