HC Deb 10 December 2001 vol 376 cc585-7
9. Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton)

What steps he is taking to assist people who are partially sighted to overcome barriers to employment.[19150]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Eagle)

We have in place a range of measures to help disabled people, including those who are partially sighted, to take up work. These include the access to work programme, the job introduction scheme, work preparation and workstep. In addition, the new deal is providing disabled people with more opportunities to move from benefits into work, while changes to the incapacity benefit rules are designed to provide work-focused help for sick and disabled people who wish to try to get back to work.

Linda Gilroy

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. She is aware of the achievement of my constituent Mr. Andrew Shipp, who is the first visually impaired person to be admitted to associate membership of the British Institute of Professional Photography. His film "Courageous Plymouth" has been shown several times at the imperial war museum just across the Thames and he is determined to set up his own production company. Can my hon. Friend assure my constituent and the House that she and her Department will continue to bring down the barriers for people who face such challenges in obtaining employment?

Maria Eagle

I congratulate Mr. Shipp on his fine achievement. I was browsing through the back catalogue of the Plymouth Evening Herald online news recently—as one does—and noticed that we have not yet missed all opportunities to see Mr. Shipp's film. It will be shown again on 15 December, so anybody with 15 minutes to spare can nip over and have a look. I can assure my hon. Friend that we are determined to ensure that people such as Mr. Shipp and other disabled people, who for too long have been excluded from the labour market and have had to face impossible barriers to fulfilling their potential, have proper opportunities. Programmes such as access to work are designed with exactly the sort of obstacles that Mr. Shipp has come across and has shown great signs of overcoming in mind. We will continue to consider ways in which we can help disabled people and others who face barriers to employment to overcome them.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)

Does the Minister agree that the issue of partial-sightedness not only affects entry to employment but attracts the danger of early retirement as sight begins to fail, and is therefore a significant social ill? In that connection—and I hope we would all agree with that assertion—will she take particular measures to ensure that the access to work programme is better publicised, better marketed and, if necessary, more appropriately resourced than it has been so far? Will she also publicise the work of the disability employment advisers and take another careful look at the workstep programme? There is no intrinsic problem in moving people into open employment, but many disabled people who have been in supported employment do not wish to feel that they will be forced out into the open labour market when that might not be appropriate for them.

Maria Eagle

There is no question of those for whom the workstep programme—which replaced supported employment—is inappropriate being forced to progress into open employment. We aspire to ensure that those disabled people who are on the programme and can make progress into open employment have a chance to do so. One of the problems with the supported employment programme was that people did not progress, and there were fewer opportunities for those who could benefit from using the programme as a stepping stone. On the access to work programme and the other specialist disability programmes, we advertise the services that are available to disabled people and we do our best to ensure that people who may benefit from them are aware of what is required, necessary and available. Our disability employment advisers in the Employment Service do a very good job in ensuring that disabled people have access to these programmes to assist them into work. We intend to make sure that they continue to do so.

Mr. David Miliband (South Shields)

Does my hon. Friend agree that voluntary agencies have a particular role to play in helping those who are hard to place into work? Organisations such as the Shaw Trust in my constituency are making special efforts to help disabled people into work. Does the Department have any plans to extend the role of voluntary organisations in complementing the universal reach of the Employment Service?

Maria Eagle

My hon. Friend is right to mention the Shaw Trust, and there are other examples around the country of voluntary organisations that have particular expertise in this area. He may know that the new deal for disabled people—which went live in July across the country, out of its pilot phase—makes use of such organisations as job brokers to enable disabled people throughout the country to have a proper chance to be assisted into employment by agencies including the Employment Service, private sector organisations and voluntary organisations. This ensures that we can offer disabled people throughout the country a job-brokering service. Thus far, indications are that that is working very well.