HC Deb 25 November 2002 vol 395 cc16-7
17. Jane Griffiths (Reading, East)

What steps his Department is taking to support employment opportunities for adults with learning disabilities; and if he will make a statement. [81286]

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

We are committed to improving employment opportunities for people with learning disabilities and set out our strategy for achieving that in the White Paper "Valuing People", which was published in March 2001. We are now working closely with key stakeholders to ensure that our active labour market programmes and policies reach as many people with learning disabilities as possible, and that they are delivered in ways that are responsive to their needs.

Jane Griffiths

The Minister will be aware of the excellent work being done by the Shaw trust in supporting people with learning disabilities in getting into employment. Does she agree that constituencies such as mine, which has almost full employment, present a further opportunity? Will the work of her Department therefore be targeted on high-employment areas such as Reading?

Maria Eagle

We are just as keen to ensure that people with learning disabilities have employment opportunities in Reading as we are elsewhere. I congratulate the Shaw trust, whose work in that regard I know very well. We are keen to ensure that our specialist disability employment programmes, such as Workstep and the new deal for disabled people, also help people with learning difficulties. Such people experience some of the lowest levels of labour market participation. It is obvious that in Reading, where employers are looking for good employees, they should be looking to disabled people and those with learning difficulties, as they can make excellent employees.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

What is the incidence of current employer non-compliance with the terms of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995? Will the hon. Lady say something about the respects in which arid the degree to which the work of the Disability Rights Commission has improved the situation? Does she have any plans further to progress policy in advance of implementation of the terms of the antidiscrimination directive in 2006?

Maria Eagle

The hon. Gentleman asks three questions to which it would take me all day to reply. Given your strictures, Mr. Speaker, I shall be more brief. We know something about the number of inquiries that are made to the DRC about allegations of non-compliance. We do not collect information about the number of people who do not comply with the DDA, but we know that the problem is still widespread. The DRC offers advice and a helpline, and guidance is available. The Department undertakes awareness-raising to try to ensure that employers recognise their obligations and the business case and advantages in respect of employing disabled people. We hope that a combination of those policies will ensure that we can increase the participation of disabled people in the labour market. By October 2004, the small firms exemption to the DDA employment requirements will no longer apply, so we have big job to do to ensure that employers are aware of their obligations and to enable them to take advantage of the skills that disabled people have to offer.

Forward to