HC Deb 04 March 2002 vol 381 cc16-8
9. Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South)

What recent discussions he has had with disability organisations about the implementation of the new deal for disabled people. [36333]

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

We consulted widely with organisations of and for disabled people, and with disabled people themselves, during the development of the new deal for disabled people. Some 88 organisations contributed to the consultation on the national extension of the new deal. We continue to meet organisations of and for disabled people to discuss its implementation, and to design improvements.

Mr. Marsden

I thank my hon. Friend for her reply, which will be of particular benefit to those of my constituents who are disabled. I have more than the national average, as do many other seaside towns where disabled people are now looking for work.

What additional support and assistance might be made available to encourage small and medium-sized businesses to take on people with disabilities? According to recent research on pilot new deal schemes, employers found awareness of the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 to be one of the most helpful aspects of the process.

Maria Eagle

My hon. Friend is right to say that we need to work with employers as well as with disabled people. Part of the job brokers' role—this is one reason why the scheme is so innovative—is to liaise with local businesses and build up a relationship with them, as well as getting to know local disabled people who want to work and who participate in the scheme. That enables the brokers to convince local businesses of the advantages of employing certain disabled people.

The Department has a range of measures to help disabled people who are disadvantaged in the job market. There is, for instance, our access-to-work budget, which can help to meet the additional costs of employing a disabled person, such as communications support and travel to work.

One of the innovations in the new deal for disabled people is the attempt to broker between a disabled person who is looking for work and local employers who are looking for employees to find that person a suitable job.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

We all share the objective of helping disabled people into work, but should not the new deal take on board the lessons of last week's National Audit Office report on the new deal for young people? It showed that far from reducing youth unemployment by 250,000 as Ministers have claimed, the new deal achieved a reduction of at best no more than 45,000, and possibly as little as 25,000. May we have a proper, objective evaluation of the new deal for disabled people and of the other new deal programmes to see what difference they are really making? And can Ministers remove the need for us to divide by 10 when we hear the claims that they make?

Maria Eagle

The hon. Gentleman is being churlish. Of course there are always proper evaluations of our schemes. That is particularly important in the case of schemes such as the new deal for disabled people, which is highly innovative. It is developing new ways of delivering services to a group that was completely ignored by the last Tory Government. People who were disabled were dumped on to benefits and given no help whatever to obtain work.

Of course it is important to have proper evaluation when we consider whether our scheme has worked and how well it has worked, and of course we will have that evaluation. We shall need to learn from our experience to design improvements, but we are determined to bring about effective services and help a group of people who have been ignored for too long.

I have visited many new deal job brokers, and the enthusiasm of participants in the scheme—both disabled people looking for work and staff looking for jobs for them—is palpable. They welcome this help. It is about time that they received it; they certainly never did when the Conservative party was in power.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)

Does my hon. Friend recognise that although we have moved a long way towards helping people with a disability to get back into work, there needs to be a fast track to enable employers to carry out the adaptations and get into place the extra equipment that is needed so that people can begin a job as speedily as possible?

Maria Eagle

When employers consider taking on disabled staff, it is important that they do not feel that they will be disadvantaged by doing so. It is therefore important that the necessary help be provided as soon as possible. Disabled people face not only multiple disadvantages but often discrimination. Our agenda on civil rights—to get rid finally of disability discrimination in the work force and the work place—is going ahead. It is vital that we take forward those two strands so that we help disabled people into work, overcoming the disadvantage under which they find themselves, and overcome the discrimination that is sometimes directed at them. One way in which we do that is by having programmes such as access to work that assist in overcoming those problems.