HC Deb 10 June 1999 vol 332 cc774-6
8. Mr. Tom Levitt (High Peak)

What steps his Department is taking to assist people with disabilities when they return to work. [85401]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Ms Margaret Hodge)

The Government are committed to providing high-quality services to help disabled people who want to return to work. They include access to work, the job introduction scheme, and advice and guidance from the disability service teams. Measures taken by my Department sit within a broader pattern of across-Government help, including the new disabled persons tax credit and initiatives within the health service.

Mr. Levitt

I am sure that my hon. Friend will have noted that the Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill provides improved linkage rules which give added confidence to disabled people who wish to return to work. Does she agree that equally important is the question of job retention for disabled people? If people suffer from a progressive disability—such as reduced hearing, sight, dexterity or mobility—the extra assistance provided to help them stay in work will not only increase their earning power, but retain skills within the work force and decrease the benefits bill in the long run. It is better for an individual's dignity if, despite a disability, he or she can be encouraged to stay in work rather than fall out of the work force.

Ms Hodge

I agree entirely with the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend. We consider the retention of people in jobs to be such a high priority that we are working with colleagues in the Department of Health, the Department of Social Security and local government social services to find out what new measures we can take to ensure that there is better rehabilitation and retention of people who fall ill at work. [HON. MEMBERS: "Remploy."] On Remploy, I should hope that there would be cross-party support for our initiative to ensure that people are integrated into mainstream employment opportunities and given the dignity of working alongside others, rather than being segregated in factories as they have been for far too long. The previous Government should have tackled that issue many years ago.

Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton)

Will my hon. Friend take note of a case in my constituency in which Barclays bank sacked a person who was suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome, or ME? When that person asked for extra time to recover, the request was denied. Is there something that we can do to impress on employers the fact that they have a responsibility to dedicated workers who develop disabilities, and who should be given assistance instead of being sacked and left with no hope of further employment? Can we do something to help those people?

Ms Hodge

I would be most grateful if my hon. Friend would write to me about the case to which he referred because it strikes me that, if there was discrimination against that employee, there might well be a case against the employer under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

The Department has now received the first stage of research on the early cases taken under the Disability Discrimination Act. That demonstrates that more cases have been taken under that Act in its early days than were taken under the equal opportunities and race relations legislation. It demonstrates also the beginnings of the Act's good impact; for example, a person with a visual impairment received an award of more than £100,000. We hope that, when our Disability Rights Commission is up and running, there will be further support to individuals to ensure that they have rights at work.