§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Lord Carter rose to call attention to the needs and problems of people with disabilities; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should like to begin by thanking the considerable number of noble Lords who put their names down to speak in this debate and who have demonstrated the very considerable interest that this House has always taken in problems of disability.
§ When we debated the gracious Speech at the beginning of the Session I spoke on the topic of the needs and problems of people with disabilities. In my speech, coining a phrase, in which I take no particular pride, I referred to the "disabled divide", which I defined as the gulf in the quality of life, income and expectations of people with disabilities compared with the rest of society. That is what today's debate is about: the disabled divide. Because of the number of Peers who put down their names to speak—and I know that they will all be covering different aspects of disability—I should like to concentrate on the needs of the disabled, particularly in the light of the announcement only yesterday in connection with the Social Security Act, which we have been told is the biggest review and reform of social security since Beveridge. I should like to examine that Act to see whether the needs of the disabled will be met.
To begin with, we should remember the central and shameful fact that of the 3 million disabled in this country, 2 million are living in poverty or on the edge of poverty, and that 60 per cent. of disabled people are living in poverty compared with 28 per cent. of the non-disabled population. I was looking for a statement of the kind of aims for which we should be striving and I saw one which seemed to be an admirable statement:
Our aim is to provide a coherent system of cash benefits to meet the costs of disability so that more disabled people can support themselves and lead normal lives
§ That was in the 1979 manifesto of the Conservative Party. This Government introduced the 1981 Act, on which they should be congratulated. They introduced the concept of allowances to cover the cost of disability, assistance to enable the disabled to live at home and help towards the cost of coping with incontinence, a special diet, heating, laundry and baths. In the new Act, all this is swept away and replaced by a flat rate premium and the social fund.
§ The effect is that for those who are in receipt of cash benefits now, the level of the benefits will be 578 frozen in April 1988 until the level of income support catches up with those benefits. In some cases disabled people will have to wait for 10 to 15 years for this to happen. After April 1988 newly disabled people will be much worse off as a result of the operation of the Act. It has been estimated that up to 45 per cent. of newly disabled pensioners, and up to 18 per cent. of the newly disabled under 65s, will be worse off.
§ In fact, all disabled people who are now in receipt of supplementary benefits and allowances will be worse off, because the new rates which will come into effect in April 1988 will not take account of inflation of 3 to 4 per cent. up to that time. Also, for the first time ever, the disabled will be required to bear 20 per cent. of their rates on the less than £1 per week allowance that the Government have made. If the rates of the disabled are more than £52 a year they will be worse off.
§ This is a complex subject, and I thought that the easiest way to explain it would be to take three examples of people who are in receipt of allowances today and see what would happen if they were newly disabled after April 1988. The first example is that of a man who is totally paralysed, whose benefits and allowances are today of the order of £130 per week. After April 1988, if he were newly disabled in the same condition, his income would be reduced to £71 per week—a reduction of £59 or 45 per cent.
§ The second example is that of a married couple, with a wife who is disabled and a husband who is the claimant for the two of them. If the husband leaves her or dies before April 1988, her income will drop to £65 per week. After April 1988, it will drop to £46 a week—a reduction of £19 or 20 per cent. The third example is that of a woman living alone, who is in receipt of a severe disability allowance. At the moment her income with benefits and allowances is £109 per week. Like so many severely disabled people, she may have go to hospital. If she is there for more than 15 weeks, under the new scheme her protected income, as it is now described, of £109 will drop to £71 per week—a reduction of £38 or 35 per cent.
§ We have been told by the Government, correctly, that they have introduced a scheme of transitional protection to protect the level of cash benefits. The regulations in themselves are enormously complex. The intention is to freeze the existing level of benefits until the levels of income support catch up. That just proves that income support is worth less than the income which the disabled are receiving now. In the Statement which the noble Earl made yesterday, he referred to £200 million that has been injected in order to secure this result. Presumably that is the measure by which income support is less than the level of the supplementary benefits and allowances today. The noble Earl looks puzzled, but that is the case.
§ In some cases, severely disabled people will have to wait 10 to 15 years, depending on the rate of inflation in the future, for an increase in their income, and the Government refuse to uprate the levels of transitional protection in line with inflation. The reality of the new system is that after April next year the newly disabled will not only lose; they will lose the most.579
§ The more severely disabled they are, the more they need, but the less they will receive.
§ Early this year there was a late night television programme called "United In Fury" which examined the anomalies and the injustices of the new scheme. I am told that after that programme the producers received no fewer than 7,000 letters from people who were severely concerned about the effect on their income after next April. Only last evening, on the "In Touch" programme for the blind on the BBC, there were harrowing stories of the elderly blind who have to manage now on what is literally a pittance and about the effect on them after next April.
§ There are some gainers and I am sure that when the noble Earl winds-up he will be briefed to tell us about them. When he is quoting the number of gainers under the new scheme who are in receipt of the disability premium, will he say how many people who are off work through sickness for more than 26 weeks will be in receipt of the premium under the new scheme? These are people who are not disabled in the normal sense of the word. They do not have to cope with any of the extra costs of disability. I feel that there is some degree of creative accounting in the figures of the department.
§ I think that we are entitled to ask the Government to explain the rationale for these anomalies and injustices. We are entitled to know why this has to be. Mr. Nicholas Scott, the Minister for the Disabled, admitted at a fringe meeting in Blackpool that some severely disabled people will be worse off. Mr. John Moore admitted as much yesterday in his Statement in the other place. The Ministers have not tried to deny that, in effect, these benefits are being redistributed from the most severely disabled to the less severely disabled. In fact, from next April we shall see a redistribution of disabled poverty.
§ What is the reason? Is it a lack of resources? This spring in the Budget the Chancellor had a total of £6 billion to use for tax cuts and for a reduction of public borrowing. We are told that the forecast for next spring is £7 billion. We are talking about comparatively few people, probably fewer than 5,000, who are severely disabled and who will be most affected.
§ The all-party disablement group met the Minister and we presented him with what seemed to me to be a sensible proposal for a dual system to ensure that these people are looked after. The Minister said that the dual system was out of the question, though I believe we are to have one for the poll tax, which will cost millions to operate, and which is intended to ensure that the electorate do not feel the full effects of the poll tax before the next election.
§ The noble Earl who is to reply may well say that the severely disabled can rely on the social fund to look after them. I saw a story in the Guardian just after the appointment of Mr. John Moore, when it was reported that he wished to do away with the concept of the social fund completely. He has been overruled on higher authority, which I suppose means the Prime Minister.580
I think that the best comment on the operation of the social fund has come from the Government's own Social Security Advisory Committee, which stated:
We cannot support the social fund as it appears in the draft manual. It is dominated by a need to keep within the budget. It strikes what we regard as the wrong balance between loans and grants and between discretion and entitlement. We remain unconvinced that it will meet many of the genuine needs of some of the poorest members of society or command the confidence of agencies whose co-operation the manual itself sees as necessary. It sets awesome tasks for social fund officers. We urge the Government to reconsider their approach to the social fund in the light of the comments which that committee has made; and there are others from many other organisations which have made representations about the draft manual.
§ When the severely disabled are to be left to the mercy of an arbitrary system and at the discretion of the social fund officers, this has to be compared with the allowances that they receive today as of right under the law. We are told that the system has been simplified. In fact, I can only say that, if you look at the guidance manual on the social fund regulations and the transitional protection, had Franz Kafka and Mr. Gradgrind sat down to devise a social security system they could not have done a much better job than the DHSS.
§ To repeat my earlier question: what is the rationale behind what can only be described as this calculated meanness? I think that the answer may lie in two interviews that the Prime Minister gave on television during the election. In the first she was asked to describe her philosophy. She said that she wanted a family man to be able to buy his own home, to pay for his children's education if he so wished, to buy health care for his family if he so wished, and to own a few shares. Then, almost as an afterthought, she said that, if he had a surplus, he could give it to charity to help others.
§ As to the other interview, for once, the mask of the image-makers dropped for a second when we heard about the people who drool and drivel about caring. I fear that that attitude has bitten deep into the making of government social policy and has resulted in a system of social security that will attack the standard of life of some of the most vulnerable members of society. The Government seem to have embarked on an ideological crusade in favour of simplicity and against scroungers, and have discovered, we hope not too late, that the disabled are likely to be crunched between the millstones of simplicity of administration and cost-saving.
§ I should like to ask the noble Lord who will wind up the debate for an explanation. Why will the Government not agree now to uprate the present levels of benefit—the transitional protected figures—in line with inflation after April next year? How will the severely disabled who are living alone obtain the money they need to keep them out of institutional care? How do the Government propose to deal with the problem—which they admit and recognise—of the newly disabled who will be much worse off after April 1988 in comparison with the present level of benefits? What is the Government's response to the criticisms of the social fund by their own Advisory Committee on Social Security?581
§ At the beginning of my speech I referred to the "disabled divide". I think that future Conservative Governments may look back with great sadness to what this Government have done to the disabled. It is a great sadness to realise that the Government's long-awaited reform of social security may make the disabled divide even wider.
§ 6.3 p.m.
My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, for introducing this subject, which is of great importance. When the noble Lord refers to the needs and problems of disabilities, most of us know what he has in mind.
Most people suffer from disabilities of some kind. Some people suffer from the disability of being stupid, some from the disability of intelligence or lack of it. But usually one considers disabilities to refer to mental disabilities and physical disabilities. We are all affected in certain ways as we go through life. Many Members in your Lordships' House know of the constraints of physical disabilities and the difficulties they can produce.
My experience has tended more towards mental disabilities. I have a child with some handicap, and when one meets that kind of problem, one does not know quite where to turn. The extraordinary thing is that not many families in the country are unaffected by disability in some form or shape. One great advantage to have come about in the past 20 years is that people are prepared to talk about it and discuss it and, in doing so, oddly enough, one finds that one is not quite as lonely as one was before.
In that respect some organizations—and I am bound here to declare an interest as I happen to be president of the eastern region of MENCAP—have done a great deal to make people feel that there is a commonality of problems. That does not alter the fact that, when individuals suddenly realise they have a child with a disability, they ask where to go and to whom they can turn. Automatically one tends to turn to local authorities because one thinks that they know best; and, indeed, they have certain expertise. One tends also to turn to governments and suggest that they should do more because everybody turns to governments when looking for a way out of a problem. The important thing is that people should somehow find the avenue down which to go.
The danger is that children who may be disabled in some form or shape are given tests and, when found not to achieve the right IQ, they are described under the all-embracing bracket of "educationally subnormal" and are shot down a sideline that may be quite inappropriate for them. People who have been described as educationally subnormal may eventually be found to be suffering merely from some kind of understanding disability: they cannot tell the time so they are always late, and so forth.
It is a problem. Most parents, if only they could find the appropriate key of the appropriate door to unlock, would have the answer to their problems. Instead they spend their lives searching for what it is they ought to be doing and they have not done which, if only they could do it, would enable the child to be in a better position.
582 Professionalism is of course important. There has been a great increase in professionalism. However, understanding is important, too. Understanding often comes from people who are not professionals. There are professionals who are understanding—that is expected. There are people who are not professionals who are understanding—that is excellent. But once one has the professional who is not understanding, that is disastrous because that person can carry all the panoply of the authority of his professionalism without in fact being understanding either to the child or to the parents. There must obviously be a mixture of the professional and the non-professional.
People ask the Government to do more. I believe that one thing they could do is to give their support substantially—obviously not wholly—to the voluntary organisations, who do a great deal. Consitutional care is important, but so too is voluntary care. I spoke only this week to someone who is described as a co-worker. She had been working with handicapped people in the Camphill Trust, I understand, for some 40 years. The trust helps handicapped people and says that it is helped by handicapped people. I asked what she did if she wanted to go on holiday and whether she was paid a salary. She said she was not and that she went and asked the community whether there were sufficient funds. She then said, "But, of course, when I go, everyone else wants to come too". Such people spend their lives helping others in this way. It is a life of dedication. They are as dedicated as are nuns and other such people in their way. It is astonishing to realise what some people are prepared to do.
The National Health Service too does a great deal. I was surprised to learn only this week from a person whom I had not met before of his son who is unable to speak. The son is now in a home with about five other severely disabled people. There are 13 people looking after them—presumably not all at once. That home is run by the National Health Service. Hitherto the son was in a hospital ward from the age of six for about 30 years. He has now been transferred to a home. The Government are therefore doing a great deal; but there is a great deal that the voluntary services could and should do also. They need all the support that they can get.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Lord Banks
My Lords, I too should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Carter, for initiating the debate today. This is a subject where we must continually be taking stock and continually measuring such progress as is achieved. I wish to ask the Government four questions this evening.
First, what assistance will the Government provide to extend the Dial-a-Ride system in London? I understand that at present there are 50,000 members of that scheme and that they are provided on average with one return trip in 11 weeks. The cost of that operation is £6 million. However, the assessed potential is that there are 250,000 potential users and that to provide one trip a week, which seems a very reasonable ration, would cost £50 million. How far will it be possible to close that gap?
Secondly, will the Government think again about 583 their exclusion from assistance through housing benefit of emergency alarm systems for elderly people who are not living in sheltered, specially adapted or purpose-built houses? Why should these people who through no fault of their own live in other types of accommodation not receive the same assistance?
My third question concerns the introduction of the new social security regime to which the noble Lord, Lord Carter, referred. The organisations which speak for the disabled—the British Council for Rehabilitation of the Disabled, the Disablement Income Group, the Disability Alliance, the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation, the Royal National Institute for the Blind and the Spastics Society—acknowledge that there will be some gainers under the new arrangements. But they have reckoned that 345,000 disabled people will lose, including 315,000 disabled pensioners.
That was based on the illustrative figures. It may be that there should be some adjustment to take account of the actual figures which were published yesterday. However, it remains true, as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, said, that there will be many losers. He pointed out that those who are at present claimants will not suffer any reduction because they will receive transitional protection. But that transitional protection, as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, again said, is not index linked.
The organisations which I have just mentioned have made two requests to the Government. The first is that transitional protection should be index linked so that those who are at present on a particular level of benefit which is higher than the one in the future will not eventually be reduced to that level through the erosion of their transitional protection by inflation. Secondly, they asked that for new claimants there should be a dual assessment; that people should be assessed both under the present supplementary benefit rules and the new income support rules. That would mean retaining the supplementary benefit additional requirements paid on grounds of ill-health or disability. That would not be too difficult to do because many are flat rate, they do not require individual assessment and they are based on easily understandable criteria.
I understand that the Government have turned down those two requests and I should be grateful if the noble Lord who is to reply could explain the reasons the Government have taken that position.
The fourth and last question concerns the longterm future. My party is committed to the concept of a disability income for people with disabilities. That is something which would fit into our plan for a tax credit system. The disability income would replace earnings lost through disability and it would also have a second portion which would be an expense allowance to make a contribution towards the additional expenses of being disabled. Are the Government committed to that as their ultimate aim? What is their current thinking on that question? I should be most grateful if the noble Lord who is to reply could answer those four questions.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Lady Kinloss
My Lords, the debate this evening is being listened to by some of the blind in our midst. 584 This evening I intend to concentrate wholly on the deaf-blind and not discuss the numerous other forms of disability.
The problems of the deaf-blind are truly great. Their paths are fraught with difficulties. The first real problem to be realised by others is that they suffer from deafness as well as blindness and are not necessarily at all mentally disabled, although they may give that impression. It can take a long time to diagnose them as children. I understand that the DES is trying to find out the numbers of children who are so handicapped. Will the Minister say what progress is being made?
The problems of education for these children has always been patchy. In some parts of the country it is good; in others it is not so good. SENSE, The National Deaf, Blind and Rubella Association is very concerned about adequate training for teachers of these children. The blind must be taught by a teacher who is qualified to teach the blind and the deaf likewise, but not so the deaf-blind. They are unable to copy others and learn as children without these disabilities do. Although they are now able to stay at school until they are 19, by which time many of them are able to communicate by the deaf-blind manual alphabet and can make their wants known, they can only do so to others who can understand them. Thus they really do need continuing care. They quickly lose that ability if not encouraged continually.
SENSE has set up centres for further training but there is a desperate need for adequate hostel care or homes where these unfortunate people can go. What future provision are the Government making for the training of teachers of deaf-blind children? Do they consider it satisfactory that there is no training course at the moment for teachers of deaf-blind children in this country whereas other countries recognise this need?
There is wide concern among the blind that with more handicapped children being successfully integrated into ordinary schools there will be a reduction in numbers needing special schools. That will no doubt mean the closure of those special schools. Will the Minister say what future provision is envisaged for the multi handicapped?
The blind find that there is a lack of formal training for disablement resettlement officers. A social worker for the blind also finds that there is a lack of trained officers, particularly in jobcentres.
Perhaps the worst aspect of deaf-blindness is the isolation it imposes upon people. In both Scandinavia and the USA broadcasting time overnight is used to send out abridged versions of newspapers which are read onto tapes. These are scrambled to protect copyright and the recipient has a decoder. This form is only of use to blind people.
In response to the Home Office Green Paper Radio Choices and Opportunities the RNIB and the Talking Newspaper Association of the United Kingdom have suggested the allocation of a frequency specifically for disabled people. In Sweden a smaller scheme is in operation to transmit newspapers in digital form overnight to recipients in their own homes and have them stored on a computer disc. Next morning the recipients can hear the newspapers using a synthetic speech facility on the computer or they can have the 585 information translated into Braille. Those are very interesting developments and I trust that the Government will keep their eyes upon them.
I wonder whether the Minister heard the BBC's programme "PM" on Radio 4 after the "5 o'clock news" on Tuesday 20th October last when Mr. Jan Ingvar Lindstrom was talking on the topic of talking newspapers. Perhaps it would be helpful to the Minister to get a transcript from the BBC on that.
When I last spoke on this subject in 1986 I said how concerned I was about the discriminatory result of the way in which the mobility allowance is administered. As things are the test of being virtually unable to walk looks only at a claimant's ability to use his or her legs and feet in order to walk. Many deaf-blind claimants fail under current regulations to qualify for mobility allowance because there is nothing wrong with their legs or feet. In harsh fact many if not all of the deaf-blind and multi handicapped blind are incapable of independent mobility. They require a skilled guide at all times when walking out of doors. They cannot hear vehicles or other persons approaching. They cannot orientate themselves.
If the deaf-blind are in difficulties they cannot ask those passing by for assistance. They are entirely dependent upon other persons who can use the deaf-blind manual alphabet. Thus even for the simplest journey they need to be put into taxis or be able to meet the travelling expenses of a travelling companion. It is demonstrably absurd to limit the mobility allowance simply to persons with defective legs or feet. The absence of sight and hearing is just as much a disability that limits mobility. I would ask the Minister most urgently to consider what is an anomaly.
At the Wilberforce Home for multi-handicapped blind in York, the superintendent tells me that he has blind and deaf-blind people there, some of whom have a mobility allowance while others do not. All these people have more than a single disability. The test given is such that any person who can take two or three steps forward is disqualified for mobility allowance; whereas, in brute fact, neither the deaf-blind nor the blind who suffer from some other disability are able to go out by themselves. The difference between those who receive a mobility allowance and those who do not is in the order of £20 a week. That means that those who do not receive the mobility allowance often find that they cannot afford to go on outings in the coach that the home provides. I may say that the home makes sure that they do not miss these outings, and pays any shortfall.
Out of 24 residents, we are considering just six who do not receive the mobility allowance. In a small community, differences of this kind are a cause of unhappiness. I have visited this home in order to see the problems. I am sure the superintendent would be delighted if the Minister would come and see for himself what I can assure him, for all its inevitable problems, is a very happy and indeed model home. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Carter, for initiating this debate.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Lord Basnett
My Lords, a short acquaintance quickly establishes the basic need which people with 586 disabilities wish to see fulfilled. It is to control their own lives and to live them as independently and ordinarily as possible. A longer acquaintance shows the problems which they have in achieving that. They have problems, many of which arise from what can almost be described as a lottery, for those with the same needs due to different circumstances can have widely different entitlements and opportunities. The entitlement to benefit can vary by as much as £140 per week. The ability to live independently is affected by the widely different levels of local authority provision.
However, the point on which I want to concentrate is that job opportunities are determined by the proximity of sympathetic or discriminating employers or by the availability of sheltered employment.
The Snowdon Report 10 years ago stated:The integration of those with disabilities must include the right to work. However, the size of the problem is still not sufficiently appreciated. People with disabilities suffer a higher unemployment rate for a longer term. Over a quarter of job seekers with disabilities have been out of work for two years; and while nine out of 10 of those with severe spinal injuries work before their injury, after injury only every other one of them works. The causes are many: employment discrimination, the decline in quota compliance, a sheltered placement scheme which needs expanding, and the failure of some government programmes to accommodate people with disabilities.
The discrimination by employers was shown in the Report of the Spastics Society on Discrimination in Employment in 1986—a discrimination which argues that people with disabilities should be given, through suitable anti-discrimination legislation, the same protection as women and ethnic minorities. However, legislation in itself does not change attitudes. This must come from both sides of industry, for there have been examples of discrimination by trade unionists. While this is changing, it would be a useful first step in the right direction if the TUC and the CBI could join together, perhaps through a permanent committee, to encourage more positive attitudes and to stimulate both sides of industry so that there is co-operation in the workplace. They could bring the subject on to the agenda of negotiating bodies; they could promote the argument that a workshop unsafe for the disabled is unsafe for all; and they could spread the message that employment of people with disabilities is in every sense rewarding.
In the meantime compliance with the quota under the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944 has, because of the easy availability of exemptions steadily declined since 1979. In the absence of other legislation the quota must be maintained and supported by ensuring more difficulty in obtaining exemption.
A new dimension for the 6,000 severely disabled unemployed has been introduced by the Sheltered Placement Scheme. But demand for places still outstrips supply and there is still confusion as to its exact purpose. The Government must expand the scheme more rapidly and the whole field should be 587 reviewed so as to develop a clear consensus on the function, scope and activities to be undertaken in the sheltered employment sector.
The Government must also cease to introduce schemes which fail to meet the needs of disabled people. The youth training scheme was initially totally unsuitable. The community programme excludes people with disabilities who need to make a phased return to work. To ensure that that does not happen in the future the Department of Employment needs to establish a specialist team which ensures that all new schemes are accessible to those with disabilities. There is also a need to establish essential interdepartmental co-operation—a need important enough to suggest that (as existed before 1979) a Cabinet subcommittee, with its interdepartmental Civil Service committee, should be created. For those with severe disabilities in particular, support services are essential if they are to work. To ensure uniform local authority support, consideration should be given to creating a system of statutory standards to ensure that the needs of disabled people covered by the 1970 Act are met.
I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Carter for initiating this debate. I await with interest the reply on the Government's intentions, for most of us are puzzled as to why the circumstances I have described continue to exist.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ The Earl of Radnor
My Lords, I, too, would like to add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, for raising this matter. It is important that every now and again we should talk about disability. The noble Lord has chosen to look into the future with a rather jaundiced glance which I do not have sufficient knowledge to follow. But I think it is also important to look back and to see how the laws that have been made in the past are working today.
There are areas in which your Lordships have special knowledge. If I have any special knowledge, it is in the area of dyslexia, the unseen disability, where there is a language difficulty, a writing difficulty and a reading difficulty, all combined often with a perfectly adequate—sometimes more than adequate—IQ. I should like to stress that this concerns about 4 per cent. of the population going through our schools. They then go out into the world—I make this point now—to cost the nation money for the rest of their lives and to cause trouble, either through delinquency or perhaps through causing accidents because they do not know their right from their left, and that sort of thing.
It was quite a long time ago—about 1970—that this particular disability started to be acknowledged. Probably it was properly acknowledged in the Warnock Report and then dealt with in the 1981 Education Act. Six years have passed since that Act. I should like to consider how it has been working.
The linchpin of the 1981 Act, as I remember it, was that parents who felt that there was something wrong with their child could demand a multidisciplinary assessment of the child. When the child had been assessed and something was found to be wrong, it then became the obligation of the local education 588 authority to deal with the situation and to teach the child in the way in which it should be taught having regard to the particular disability.
The problem now is that the delays over assessments are quite unreasonable. I have heard of delays of 18 months and even longer. In some areas, therefore, the system is not working well. I believe that if the delays go on long enough, the child must go back to the beginning of the whole exercise. We should enquire into why those delays happen.
There seem to be two reasons. One has to do with funding and the other with the fact that because dyslexia has only recently been recognised, there are few facilities within local education areas to teach such children. I believe that in 1981 we made a law which it was impossible to bring to any sort of sensible fruition. That must mean that funds will have to be put towards such facilities at some point. I believe that it would be cost-effective to spend money now rather than spend a great deal more money later in dealing with all the difficulties and ills that an increasingly illiterate population, such as we have, brings with it.
I do not wish to be completely negative and I want to ask one particular question. A number of voluntary societies teach dyslexic children in the way in which they should be taught. Such societies are spread fairly evenly over the country. The difficulty is that local education authorities frequently will not release children from schools so that they can be taught in special institutes and places of learning. At times, when the children are released, the local authority will not pay for the lessons. That is a bit hard on voluntary societies who are raising money in a charitable way to deal with the situation.
My question to my noble friend is this. If a local authority with one or a number of children with specific learning disabilities does not have facilities within the authority to deal with such needs, would it break the law by refusing to send those children to institutes such as those I have mentioned where facilities are available? Would it break the law if, having sent children to those places, it refused to pay the costs? It is a slightly hypothetical question. However, I think it is important.
A large number of local education authorities are doing their very best and doing a very good job indeed, as is the Department of Education. But the point which I have raised should be considered.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Viscount Ingleby
My Lords, I too should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Carter, for introducing the debate. He speaks with particular personal experience of the problems we are discussing. There is a young lady in the gallery who is totally deaf and for whom our debate is being interpreted in sign language by a qualified interpreter. There are only 62 such interpreters in the whole of the United Kingdom, apart from Scotland. That is obviously far short of the number who are needed. I should like to ask the Government what they are doing to encourage a better supply and training of qualified interpreters for the deaf.
I shall concentrate this evening on access and mobility. First, I should like to say how grateful we 589 are for the improvements which have taken place in recent years; for the new building regulations which recently came into force and which will improve access to new buildings; for the greater number of dropped kerbs, although we should be even more grateful if they came at a faster rate and came as twins rather than as singles; and particularly for the mobility roadshow at Crowthorne which was put on by the Department of Transport and by Miss Ann Frye. The roadshow was a marvellous opportunity for disabled people to try out vehicles with hand controls and to find out which was the most suitable for them. Finally, I and the noble Baroness who sits next to me are very grateful for the way we are looked after by British Rail.
I have four practical suggestions to make. Would it not be a great help if, at each district council, there was someone to whom disabled people could turn for advice and pressure as regards particular access problems? I know that some councils have already designated somebody with such responsibilities. However, a great many have not done so. I ask the Government to encourage those councils who have not done so, to do so. The post does not need to be full time, but there should be somebody to whom disabled people can turn when they have an access problem with a particular building.
Secondly, would it not be helpful if local authorities were given the power by an amendment to the local government legislation to contribute to the cost of adapting buildings to which the public have access but which are not owned by the local authority? I am thinking particularly of theatres, cinemas, sports grounds and places of that kind.
I am very much in favour of pedestrianisation schemes. However, unless adequate parking is reserved for the disabled within a reasonable distance, they may become no-go areas for the disabled. I ask the Government to give disabled people's organisations a right of appeal to the Secretary of State in such cases.
Finally, perhaps I may suggest an annual award for the council which has done most to improve access.
§ 6.39 p.m.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby. He and the noble Baroness who sits beside him, together with other noble Lords who are disabled, set us a shining example. We feel better when we have listened to them; whether we are better is another matter. However, we learn much from them and from many people outside the House, such as Peter Large and others.
We have listened to a series of notable speeches, beginning with that of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and I shall be brief. In 1970 I had the honour of carrying through the Alf Morris Act and in 1983 I took up a Bill which had been stymied in another place by procedural tactics. That Bill sought to make it illegal to discriminate against the disabled. The Bill got a long way forward and it was then defeated at the last minute. I therefore wish to take the opportunity of saying that I believe more strongly 590 than ever that discrimination against the disabled, like discrimination on the grounds of race or colour, should be outlawed.
I wish to deal with one objection which was made during past debates by some other people who have more right to speak on disablement that I have. I am not talking about money—that never seems to have arisen to block the Bill—nor the technical problem of defining discrimination. So far as concerns public opinion it seems that now, according to recent polls, 69 per cent. of the public would like to see discrimination against disabled people rendered illegal.
The objection that I wish to raise certainly exists in the minds of one or two disabled people themselves and certainly in the minds of some people who have done a lot to help them. To put it in my words, although it was not expressed this way in the House—and perhaps it never would be—there is the feeling that any measure of this kind to outlaw discrimination by law would be to render a disservice to the disabled. It would make them seem like second-class citizens. To me that is absolute nonsense. It would bring home a new outlook to anybody who is so concerned. I am talking about high-minded people and possibly the disabled and friends of the disabled.
I want to tell one anecdote which I must wrap up a little I am afraid. It may lose half its point. As it stands I think it has enough point to make it worth telling. A clergyman said not long ago to a distinguished person: "What about saying something about compassion?" After a pause, the distinguished person said: "I always think that is so patronising." The clergyman said "Well, that is to misunderstand the nature of compassion. It is not a kind of pity from above. It is compassion—suffering with, suffering alongside. If those who work with the disabled or who are possibly disabled have any lingering doubts about whether some sort of patronising element is present in what I am proposing I hope that will help them to see the light.
Personally, I think that at this stage the great thing is to set up a Select Committee; but the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, is far better qualified than I am, and I am sure that he will deal with that later on. Something must be done because discrimination against the disabled is wicked. It is only just short of that to do nothing about it.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Lord Auckland
My Lords, the House is very much indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, for initiating this very timely debate. To cover a subject like this in the compass of six minutes is indeed an exercise in self-discipline.
I urge two topics: one is speech and the other is blindness. For at least 25 years of my life I had an uncontrollable stammer. Your Lordships will have noticed that I still have at least a trace of it. In particular stress and exhaustion bring the stammer on very noticeably. As a child I had speech therapy treatment but it was my commanding officer in the Army during my national service in Austria, who had a son who stammered, who did far more for me than anybody else. He ordered me to say my words twice as slowly and to sing them. For some reason or other 591 it was very largely through him and also due to the encouragement of my dear wife that my stammer has at least partly disappeared.
I should like to ask my noble friend the Minister what is being done to combat this very distressing condition among children. It is something which hopefully can be dealt with at an early age, if the facilities are available. Are there sufficient speech therapists within the National Health Service? I believe that much can be done now to combat this very distressing condition.
Children who stammer have a particularly difficult problem because other children are unkindness itself. I remember being teased as a stammerer. It did not worry me unduly at the time, but looking back it was not an easy thing to face.
The other matter I wish to deal with is that of eye complaints. Last June I attended a luncheon of the organisation Fight for Sight, of which His Royal Highness the Duke of York is the patron. His Royal Highness attended this luncheon. He takes an enormous interest in this particular organisation, which operates from the Institute of Ophthalmology and which has some very distinguished people as members.
Many of the eye complaints originate in the third world—particularly glaucoma and trachoma and diseases of the retina. This organisation does a marvellous job—Moorfields Hospital and Clatterbridge Hospital in particular have done an enormous amount of work in this area.
All families have members with sight problems. Two of our children have to wear glasses all the time. They are, of course, far less disabled than many people who are totally blind or who face blindness. I urge the Government to give all the support they can to enable more research to to be carried into sight problems.
The noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, mentioned those who have both sight and hearing problems. Deafness is a terrible complaint but although loss of sight is not quite as awful as deafness, it is still a very distressing complaint.
I urge my noble friend to urge the Department of Health and Social Security to look into these twin problems—namely, stammering and other speech defects and problems of sight. These are not the kind of physical disabilities from which a large number of Members of your Lordships' House and others suffer. They are undoubtedly far worse, but these are two areas which I believe need attention.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, for having given me a timely opportunity today to draw your Lordships' attention to something which is causing concern to various people and organisations involved in the care of the elderly and the disabled. The draft Housing Benefit Regulations destined to come into force in April 1988 will change the rules applying to the provision of emergency dispersed alarms for frail, elderly and disabled people.
592 At present those requiring alarms who are on low income can get help through housing benefit with the service charges levied to cover the cost of providing an alarm and warden support, whether they live in sheltered housing or in their own homes in the community.
The noble Lord, Lord Banks, touched briefly upon this but I should like to elaborate. Under paragraph 1(c) of Schedule 1 of the draft regulations, help through housing benefit will be confined to those living in purpose-built sheltered housing or disabled persons' housing, and will no longer be available to those who live in ordinary flats and houses—that is to say, in their own homes.
Emergency alarms linked to peripatetic wardens or to a computer are an effective way of enabling the frail and disabled to call for help when living alone in their own homes. But many have low incomes and cannot afford the cost of these alarms.
It is perfectly true that under Section 2 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 local social service departments have a duty to provide disabled persons with various forms of asssistance in the home where need has been determined. But some local authorities have already said that after the new regulations come into force next April, they will be unable to provide alarms for those who cannot afford to pay for them because the local authorities are short of money. St. Helens, Durham, North Devon, Basildon and Ryedale are among them, and some London authorities will have to cut back on alarms because they have to spend so much on child abuse.
Those who cannot afford to pay for their own alarms will therefore have three choices: first, to stay in their own homes without alarms which they need to enable them to do so in reasonable safety; secondly, to go into sheltered accommodation, if it is available, which often it is not; or, thirdly, to go into residential or nursing home accommodation.
An alarm costs up to £5 a week for its rental and service charge. Sheltered accommodation is much more expensive, although I do not have the figures, and nursing home accommodation costs up to £175 a week.
I wrote to The Times the week before last about this, and today there is a letter in The Times from the chairman of the Care Trust pointing out that there are many cases where hospitals are willing to discharge patients for convalescence provided that they have alarms in their own homes. If patients do not have alarms in their own homes, they have to stay in hospital which, again, is unpleasant for them and much more expensive.
The Government say that they are committed to care in the community—quite rightly, for expert opinion and common sense show that as long as it is possible, this is in the best interests of the recipients who are happier and live longer. So why take a step which is in danger of driving them instead into institutional care and which will cost far more? I do not care how the Government pay for these alarms—whether through housing benefit (which apparently they no longer wish to do), by providing local authorities with funds earmarked for the 593 purpose, through income support, or by any other means—as long as they do it. I hope that they will look at this question again because I believe it is important.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Lord Blease
My Lords, it is obvious from the remarks made by noble Lords that the needs of disabled people are many and complex and that existing problems are severe and difficult to solve. Having listened to the debate, I am aware that the future for many people will be bleak.
I fully agree with the reasoned points put forward by my noble friend Lord Carter, and I support the employment issues outlined by my noble friend Lord Basnett. Disabled people are doubly disadvantaged. First, they are disadvantaged as individuals by the loss of normal functions that the nature of their personal handicap may bring about. Secondly, they are disadvantaged by the neglectful and often unwittingly insensitive society in which we live. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Carter referred to the "disabled divide", which is very real.
The time constraints on this debate prevent our putting forward the relevant arguments for the adoption of basic rights and reasoned, active administrative remedies to meet proven needs and known problems. Today, we are obliged to make pronouncements only on the specific issues involved. We are prevented from dealing in a practical way with the details of areas of concern such as discrimination, the gaps and anomalies in the existing legislation on disabilities, and the lack of information and research into the number of, and the extent of, the disabilities suffered by disabled people in the United Kingdom.
There is a dearth of relevant information on how to deal with such people in a practical way. However, there is sufficient evidence to enable us formally to declare that there is widespread discrimination against our disabled fellow citizens throughout the United Kingdom—in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The needs of disabled people are related directly to the special problems they have as individuals. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, has already mentioned some aspects of different individual needs and problems. The issues which give rise to special problems, have been dealt with to some extent by noble Lords. I shall summarise what I consider to be some of the special problems. There is a need for health care and social security, adequate housing accommodation, education and training, and access to many private and public buildings, shops and amenities. The noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, said that there had been progress in this direction, but there are still huge gaps in meeting what is required. There is a need for suitable public transport and recreational facilities. I am glad to say that in Northern Ireland our Sports Council tends to help in that respect.
The crucial need is for equality of employment opportunities. Employment could give many disabled people a great sense of dignity and the ability to live independently without direct support from their families or social services.
594 Although my remarks about equality of employment opportunity are directed to the whole of the United Kingdom, I hope to pinpoint the situation in Northern Ireland as I know it. The Northern Ireland Council on Disability is a voluntary organisation which represents some 70 bodies in Northern Ireland concerned with every aspect of human disability—physical, mental, sensory, and hidden (the unseen) which has been mentioned in this debate.
As part of its normal work for the disabled, the council responded in March this year to a Government consultative paper entitled Equality of Opportunity of Employment—Future Strategy Options. The interest shown in that document can be well understood. In Northern Ireland, the unemployment rate for disabled people is over twice the rate of that for the able-bodied, and the rate for the able-bodied is chronically high.
The Government's paper raised expectations among the organisations concerned with disabled people. It suggested separate legislative measures for Northern Ireland to provide equal employment opportunities. Since early this year there have been a number of exchanges of papers and meetings with the Northern Ireland Department of Economic Devlopment, the Minister, Mr. Peter Viggers, and the Northern Ireland Council on Disability. The council is anxious to set up an equal opportunity unit within the functional structures of the organisation which should be resourced by the department.
The council considers that this type of unit would be a positive, constructive and helpful innovation in the interests of the disabled, of the Government and of the well-being of the general community in the Province. The proposal has been well supported throughout the Province.
On Wednesday last, when the Minister, Mr. Viggers, launched two new publications aimed at helping disabled people into employment, he expressed concern about employment opportunities. He said:These brochures will help to ensure that we get across the message that disabled people have a lot to contribute to society.This debate shows that they have a great deal to contribute to society. I ask the noble Earl on the Government Benches, Lord Arran, whether he will kindly use his good offices to invite the Minister, Mr. Viggers, sympathetically to review this request of the Northern Ireland Council on Disability for the establishment of an equal opportunities unit—a very modest request, I believe, in financial and administrative terms.
I end with the remark I heard from a disabled youth when he was politely turned away from a job. He declared, "I do not want pity; I want opportunity". I hope that this debate tonight will open up many opportunities for the disabled.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Lord Swinfen
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Banks, mentioned that disabled people want to be as independent as able-bodied people. It is not easy for disabled people who rely upon the public purse for their income to obtain full independence. I shall 595 illustrate that point with the story of a young married couple, both with cerebral palsy and with severe spasticity as a result, and the way in which the problem will be overcome within the next few weeks by getting round the system. However, I hope that the Government will take note of my story and will bring greater flexibility into the funding of disabled people.
At the present time this young couple are in a home run by John Groom's Association for the Disabled. I should declare an interest because, as many noble Lords know, I work for that organisation. The couple are about to move out of the home into a house provided and adapted by Surrey County Council. However, because of the degree of disability they need between them something in the region of eight hours' assistance a day, Theoretically this could be topped up by the county council, but in practice such topping up would mean an increase in their own personal income which would wipe out supplementary benefit which they need to live. They therefore cannot have the topping up.
The problem is being surmounted not by giving them the topping up but by giving it to the voluntary body currently looking after them, who will then help them by paying the 12 part-time staff that they will employ to help them during the week. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, earlier gave the impression that he was surprised at the number of people needed to look after some disabled people. The load on those who help to look after disabled people is very heavy and a lot of it can be done by part-time people.
Despite the fact that it will cost some £200 a week in topping up, the saving to both central and local government is of the order of 25 per cent. of the cost being paid from the public purse today. The Government should look into this matter to see whether they can learn from what the association and this young couple are doing and apply it to other people.
On topping up, there are a number of voluntary bodies who need to be topped up by local authorities on the costs of the residential homes that they are running for severely physically disabled people. It is the experience of a number of these bodies that local authorities are topping up with the greatest of reluctance at figures well below those required, and there is a danger that some of the smaller voluntary organisations will have to stop providing the residential care that is absolutely essential for some severely physically disabled people. I hope that my noble friend will bring this to the attention of the Minister and that it will be looked into.
Finally, perhaps I may follow the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, on the point about signing for severely deaf people. Can we have greater provision of teaching in schools for profoundly deaf children? To try to teach them through the medium of spoken English is to my way of thinking like trying to teach a totally blind person by giving him only ordinary printed books from which to study. To a profoundly deaf person who learns sign language, English is a second language, it is not a primary language. The primary language of such people is sign language and it is essential that teaching takes place in the language that they will use for the most of their lives.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
My Lords, it is most encouraging to see a debate concerning the problems of disability engendering so much support and it is excellent that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, as a relatively new Peer, has joined the ranks of those of your Lordships who understand the wide problems that disability brings to families and individuals throughout the country. I thank him for introducing this debate.
On returning to Westminster this Autumn my noble kinsman and I were very pleased to find the pavements around the area where we live had had dropped kerbs inserted. To your Lordships this may seem a small point. To one who uses a wheel chair it is of immense importance. As my noble friend Lord Ingleby understands, I can tell him that there are some twins.
As a founder member and now President of the Spinal Injuries Association—an organisation which helps and advises the families and the people who have broken their backs and necks—we are concerned at the escalating costs of care in the community. A tetraplegic, someone with four limbs paralysed, needs a great deal of help. The noble Lord, Lord Basnett, will understand this as his son is a young doctor who broke his neck.
One of our many activities is to run an emergency care service so that a member may employ a trained care attendant for a period of up to two weeks. As well as other help, spinally injured people need assistance with their paralysed bladders and bowels. This specialised service is most valuable. What happens if their normal carer becomes ill or goes away? They will have to go into hospital (an expensive exercise) and there may not be a bed readily available. We have heard that we may be losing the grant we have had to help run this service which is subsidised to our members. Much fund raising goes on throughout the year but this does not cover the whole cost. Some members can pay, and do. Others cannot. There is a dilemma.
With so much emphasis having been put on the elderly and the long-stay mentally handicapped and ill patients coming out of hospital, the physically disabled have come a long way down the list of priorities. One day, while watching television, some patients and nurses heard that their young disabled unit was to close. What can they have thought, my Lords? These are the very severely disabled who may have multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, motor neuron disease or brain injury. And where will they go? If it is to a geriatric ward that is against any principle of the 1970 Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act. I hope that the Government will look very closely at the needs of the severely physically disabled patients as well as the other groups.
At the London Hospital the occupational therapy department was told to give up their daily activities room—where they taught stroke patients and others such skills as getting in and out of a bath—so that it could be used for counselling for HIV (AIDS). This has been bad for morale and frustrating for the staff as the room has remained empty. One should not rob Peter to pay Paul as both are equally important.
597 I end by saying that there is extreme concern about the difficulties disabled, people are having with parking their cars. Can the government take this seriously? They are lagging behind. If all the present badges were scrapped and new ones of a different colour allocated and disabled people carried an identity card with a photograph—as is now done in the City of York—this might halve the badges and solve the problem. Also much credit must be given to Dial-A-Ride schemes, a most admirable service which needs expanding so that severely disabled people can have a better quality of life.
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, before turning to the remarks which I have prepared, I feel obliged to refer to the powerful and, in my opinion, important speech of my noble friend Lord Carter. It is not too much to say that I was deeply shocked by what he had to say about what is happening to the real income of the severely disabled. One may argue backwards and forwards about possible social security reforms but it seems to me that as a minimum condition of a civilised society one would certainly insist that the real income of the severely disabled should never fall and at the very least should rise in line with the prosperity of the rest of the society in which we live. I do not expect the noble Earl, Lord Arran, to give us any assurances on that at this moment, but I hope he will tell his right honourable friend the Secretary of State that some of us are more than unhappy to be told that this is the state of affairs that will rule in our country. Since occasionally we understand that Ministers are willing to think about matters, I feel he really ought to consider this again.
I should like to say a little about speech therapy and to declare an interest in that my wife was trained as a speech therapist. There are a wide variety of problems and defects concerned here: cleft palate, dyslexia, stammering, language difficulties of all sorts, strokes and cerebral palsy and a multiplicity of physical handicaps, as noble Lords are aware, with which are associated speech and language difficulties. One thing I should like to say in general about this whole area is that I do not regard these disabilities as a subject for amusement or derision. I strongly deplore comedians who do not have that much talent, who think that making fun of the deaf or those who stammer is somehow a suitable subject. I also deplore the media who are quite happy to show that kind of material. I say that en passant, but it is a serious matter.
In this general area treatment is more effective than it used to be. We know that a lot of good can be done for stroke patients, although in that case the earlier and more intensive the treatment the better the prognosis. There have been many other considerable advances in therapeutic methods: the use of artificial larynxes, for example. There are many computer aids which enable people with multiple difficulties now to communicate. But many of the computerised audiovisual techniques make increasing demands on the speech therapists' time. This is not true only of stroke patients but at the other end of the age spectrum there is now a great deal that can be done to help all sorts 598 of young people who have language and related difficulties.
The problem is that there is a general shortage of therapists. I ask the Minister to tell us whether he is satisfied that enough speech therapists are being trained. Does he feel that their pay is adequate? What about their career prospects? Or do we have here, as we have in many other areas, yet another case of a devoted body of people being appreciated by the public but exploited by the authorities?
Having said that, I hope we all agree that more funds must be found for the NHS and one must keep up continuous pressure to find those funds. I also add that within the given budget, whatever its size, it is always necessary to emphasise the needs of the handicapped and also to argue that at the present time they certainly deserve a higher priority than they are getting, even if this might have to be to a limited extent at the expense of what at the moment is more fashionable in other parts of medicine.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lord Henderson of Brompton
My Lords, I should not like to be the only person to speak who does not congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Carter. I do so wholeheartedly and thank him for introducing this debate. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, and the noble Lords, Lord Basnett and Lord Blease, have all spoken about the need for anti-discriminatory legislation. This is a subject that is absolutely germane to this debate. Disabled people need, so far as possible, to be treated on terms of equality with other people. Disabled people need, so far as possible, to be integrated into society. They also have most frustrating problems which are often partly or wholly soluble, in a wide range of activities—I quote the Bob Wareing Bill—includingemployment, education, recreation, the provision of goods, facilities and services, insurance, transport. property rights housing and accommodation, occupational pension schemes, membership of associations and clubs and civic rights and duties—across the board.
This great question was raised in the Bob Wareing Bill in 1983. The Bill failed in the House of Commons, and as the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has reminded us, he took the Bill up in this House. After a good deal of argument it was defeated in its last stage on the Motion, That this Bill do now pass. The Bob Wareing Bill went for a full-blooded disablement commission, comparable to the Race Relations Commission and the Equal Opportunities Commission with wide powers of investigation and enforcement. This was not acceptable to the Government.
A much more modest Bill was introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, who has an abiding interest in the subject of disablement. His Bill sought to establish a commission with much more modest powers, merely to consider matters concerning the treatment of disabled people and to make reports and recommendations from time to time. This Bill passed this House after the failure of the Bill of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, but the Government gave no hope of finding any time in another place and so it never came into force and effect.
599 So we reached a parliamentary impasse in 1983–84. I recall that there was a most unpleasant and rancorous atmosphere between the parties on those occasions. I know it is not possible to keep party politics out of any subject and disability is no exception; but I feel that every effort should be made to find a consensus view on a subject so important as discrimination especially in the field of employment, as particularly mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Basnett.
Where there is a parliamentary impasse it is fruitless in my view to introduce again and again a Bill which one knows will not be received favourably by the Government. We have now a five-year Parliament ahead. I feel it cannot be a good thing for disabled people. I know that Mr. Wareing disagrees with me and I know that Mr. Jack Ashley disagrees with me. They would like to continue to reintroduce the same Bill over and over again. I beg to differ from them. My advice in this case—as in all such cases—is to resort to the well-tried procedure of a parliamentary Select Committee empowered to hear all the evidence as to discrimination and, in the light of that evidence, to make recommendations for statutory or perhaps non-statutory remedies, or a combination of both.
The disabled organisations have come together and feel very strongly about this. They operate under an acronym, VOADL. Please do not ask me what those initials stand for. VOADL is an active body and presses for legislation of one kind or another. It favours a Select Committee and has asked me to do what I can to secure a Select Committee. I put this notion to the All-Party Disablement Group and secured its agreement to pressing for a Select Committee, although Mr. Jack Ashley said that this should be without prejudice to any attempt to bring in Bob Wareing's Bill again. So there is a considerable degree of support for the notion.
As a matter of fact I made approaches to the Leader of the House and he was very receptive to the idea of having such a committee. I made those approaches in the last Session of the last Parliament and he quite rightly pointed out to me that that was a most inappropriate time to have a Select Committee on the subject; and of course I agreed. This Session the Infant Life (Preservation) Bill Select Committee has been re-appointed. I cannot fault that as an appointment; but there is simply not the capacity in the House to have more than one such special Select Committee running at the same time—in addition, that is, to the EC Select Committee and the Science and Technology Select Committee. However, I am assured by the Leader of the House that my proposal for a Select Committee will receive every consideration when the Infant Life (Preservation) Bill, Select Committee has finished its deliberations. I hope that support for such a Select Committee will come from all quarters of the House.
My Lords, I see that my time is up. I would only ask that when the time comes my attempts to get a Select Committee on this subject will meet with success and that we might thereby get a consensus view on the way forward in cases of discrimination against disabled people.
§ 7.23 p.m.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, it will not surprise the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, to know that I am in broad agreement with him in that I favour the idea of a Select Committee. Early in this debate my noble friend Lord Ferrers referred to the fact that there is now a better understanding of mentally handicapped people in this country. He was good enough to say that MENCAP as a voluntary organisation had something to do with it. I hope that it is in order and proper for me to point out that for the past nearly seven years Sir Brian Rix has been secretary general of MENCAP and this is his last week in that post. He as much as any other individual has done such a lot to help towards that better understanding mentioned by my noble friend.
The next speaker in the debate is the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, chairman of MENCAP, of which I am president. I shall shorten my speech so as to leave him more time. There are a few minutes spare, thanks to the brievity of some of the earlier speeches. I hope that he may use some of them.
I want to mention one important MENCAP matter. It is our policy at MENCAP, as well as the Government's, to get mentally handicapped people, especially the younger ones, out of those enormous long-stay hospitals and into the community. But it is vital that they should not leave hospital until suitable arrangements have been made for them to live in the community in one way or another. I would be grateful if my noble friend Lord Arran could give us a progress report as to how many have been discharged from these long-stay hospitals and what proportion of them have not been settled in the community. There has been a certain amount of wild talk about people being sent out into the world without proper arrangements. I think that those reports have been exaggerated, but perhaps my noble friend can enlighten us.
Another matter I wish to mention is the difficulty many disabled people have in using public transport. It was touched on by my noble friend Lord Ingleby and by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham. I wish to follow that up. The Greater London Association for the Disabled has made a most interesting and valuable survey called "All Change". It is a survey of the difficulties disabled people have in using public transport. The survey points out that one Londoner in 14 is "transport handicapped"—that is to say, unable to use buses, tubes or trains.
It may not surprise the noble Lord, Lord Carter, to whom we owe so much for having initiated this debate, to know that a very high proportion of those who are transport handicapped are people on low incomes. They cannot afford taxis or cars. Therefore there is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, said, a great need to expand the Dial-a-Ride scheme. I would mention also the taxi-card scheme. Both of them are already overworked. The invalid car scheme which started many years ago, mainly after the war to help disabled ex-servicemen, although expensive would be worth developing as funds become available. Perhaps I may ask my noble friend on the Front Bench whether the Government have received the GLAD Report on transport and the use of public 601 services by the disabled and whether he can yet say what the Government will do about it.
It is extraordinary that in days gone by access to buildings was made so difficult. I refer to access to great churches and even to getting up to the Central Lobby of the House of Commons. If one reads back in history one realises that there was a custom of having strong men carrying what they called "litters". They were simple sedan chairs. This was before the days of stretchers. A couple of strong men would be needed to take a disabled person up the steps of St. John's, Smith Square. I do not know whether it is wildly impracticable for those who wish their churches and other public buildings to be filled to arrange to have two strong men with litters.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Lord Allen of Abbeydale
My Lords, I have indeed been chairman of MENCAP for some years, in succession to my illustrious predecessor who has just spoken. I propose in my few minutes' contribution to this timely debate, for which we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, to concentrate on the mentally handicapped.
There are in Britain something like 1¼ million people with mental handicap and, although many of them are not significantly afflicted, some need support and guidance throughout their lives. For them the watchwords of independence and self-help are not all that meaningful. I take it that the Government accept the desirability of seeing that as far as possible people with mental handicap are able to develop their full potential to live in the community.
I go along with the noble Lord, Lord Renton, in the hope that when he replies the noble Earl will be able to give us a progress report on what has been happening about closing down the long-stay mental handicap hospitals. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, would be the first to agree that that is not the end of the story by any means. For a start, the vast majority of people with mental handicap have always lived in the community, but at the cost of hardship and sacrifice on the part of thousands of carers and their families.
Then again living in the community does not of itself ensure taking part in the life of the community. For too many it has so far meant isolation, public prejudice, poor living conditions and inadequate income, and for parents there is the constant anxiety of what will happen when they are no longer able to care and when they are no longer here.
I have long been uneasy about the way in which public resources are used to support community care, and I very much welcome the setting up of the Griffiths Review, following the strictures of the National Audit Commission. I hope that that review, to which MENCAP was able to give evidence quite recently, will go some way towards solving some of the problems such as the gaps which exist between the services. I am afraid that co-operation is not really as good as it might be.
Behind the Griffiths Review there are, I fear, some grounds for anxiety about the Government's own attitude to community care. Of these I shall briefly 602 mention four. First, there are the issues already touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, about the prospect of certain disabled families being considerably wose off under the new social security provisions next April than they are at present. There is the decision of the Government's own advisory body on social security to go on record as saying that it cannot go along with the decision to continue with the social fund. All this is causing grave concern.
Secondly, there are looming up problems about education, additional to those which are being rather more widely canvassed. The effect of the Education Act 1981—albeit, as the noble Earl pointed out earlier, it can hardly be claimed to be functioning perfectly—is to require local education authorities so far as possible to make special provision in the ordinary schools for children with special educational needs.
These children, as I understand it, will be exempt from the core curriculum, but what I do not know—and I suspect that I am not alone in this—is what is to happen if a school exercises its right (which is forecast) to declare itself independent from the local education authority. Will there be any obligation on that school to provide for the special needs of children with learning difficulties, and to furnish any necessary equipment? Or are these children always to be dependent on the local education authority? If so, where is the freedom of choice, for them and their parents?
Thirdly there is the poll tax. In the Scottish legislation, in response to representations in this House, a provision was inserted exempting the severely mentally handicapped, but we still do not know how it is proposed to define what constitutes severe mental handicap. Anyway it does nothing for the parents with say, two mentally handicapped sons or daughters who are over 18 and living at home, who do not qualify under whatever criteria are in the end laid down to define severe mental handicap. I am far from happy about the forthcoming Bill as a whole, but I wonder with particular apprehension what will be in the Bill about the mentally handicapped and still more, my Lords, what will not be in the Bill.
Lastly there is the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986. This Act received Royal Assent 16 months ago, but so far absolutely nothing has been done to implement the provisions which will make a real difference. In one respect there is indeed something of an absurdity. Section 8 has been brought into effect. That section requires a local authority, when deciding whether to provide welfare services for a disabled person living at home, to take into account the abilities of the carer. But Section 3, which provides for an assessment of the needs of the person being cared for, has not been brought into effect. It simply does not make sense. The failure to take action on this Act, on which such high hopes were placed, is really rather a disgrace and accords ill with the Government's professed support for the policy of care in the community.
We have heard many fine words from the Government about choice and their desire to see that resources are devoted to those in greatest need. The areas I have touched on present splendid 603 opportunities for them to demonstrate that they have in mind more than words.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ Lord Ennals
My Lords, I want first warmly to congratulate my noble friend Lord Carter on introducing this debate, not only for the manner in which he did so but also because his Motion has attracted so many noble Lords. I never cease to be inspired and moved by the degree of experience which exists in your Lordships' House. I doubt whether there is a Chamber in the world which could bring together a group of people with such experience, all addressing themselves to the Minister who is to reply.
We have heard of experience with the deaf-blind—one of my sons works for SENSE—with sufferers from dyslexia, those who have housing problems and those who are in institutional care. We have heard about mental handicap and mental illness—I speak as chairman of MIND—and about employment, speech therapy and occupational therapy. I am president of the College of Occupational Therapy. There is an enormous breadth of experience. Not only was it started so well by my noble friend Lord Carter but it was brilliantly followed by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, who brought in his experience. Again, we are co-vice-presidents in the same organisation.
Secondly, I want to say how much I agree with the proposal made by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson. I would have wished, as he would, that the Bill against discrimination had been carried through this House and another place. But the issues raised today are not ones that can be dealt with in a two-and-a-half-hour debate with so many speakers and a reply from the Minister. I agree that we need a Select Committee so that we can bring in all our experience. I hope that the Minister will respond to that practical proposal.
The only other general remark I want to make is to say how much we should pay tribute to the voluntary organisations. So many noble Lords and noble Baronesses who have spoken have done so because of their connection with voluntary organisations. If you took away those voluntary organisations and relied only on the statutory bodies with the financial restraints that they are facing, I am afraid the situation which today is distressing would be desperately more distressing.
Of course I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, that there have been improvements. Of course there is better access, and of course there is greater understanding. That is clear from our debate. We have the common objective to see that disabled people, whatever the nature of their disability, can play as full a part in life as possible. That may mean a great deal of sacrifice not only by families but by taxpayers in providing the funds to enable the Government to carry out their responsibility.
We want to see the maximum number of disabled people able to live at home and not in institutions. We recognise that some must live in institutions but our objective is to have people at home. At a time when 604 Ministers are proclaiming the strength of our economy, it is an extraordinary indication of the priorities of the Government that they are involved in a number of initiatives which in some cases—I do not say in all cases—make the plight of disabled people more difficult to bear while the young and upwardly mobile are pushed ahead.
I have time to give only three or four examples. First, the results of the Government's 1986 Social Security Act are beginning to be understood. In many debates in your Lordships' House, I and my noble friends, and noble Lords on all sides of the House including the Cross-Benches, have expressed concern, as was expressed so movingly a moment ago by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale. We have argued that there would be a damaging effect on disabled people. The Government promised transitional protection for existing disabled claimants whose level of income would be lower under the new income support scheme than under the supplementary benefit scheme. In cash terms their level of income will be frozen at the supplementary benefit level until the incomes support level catches up. That point was well made by the noble Lord, Lord Banks. As a result, over a period of time, income will be eroded by inflation and the standard of living of those disabled people will fall. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, stated that overall 340,000 disabled people will lose from the transition from supplementary benefit to income support. I find that fact appalling and I believe that the Minister must justify how it is that this proposal can be carried through.
The noble Lord, Lord Carter, also raised the point that disabled people who will be claiming for the first time after April 1988 will not receive any transitional protection. Many of them will immediately be worse off than people with similar disabilities who claimed before 1988. The Government have said that provision can be made for severely disabled people from payments through the social fund. Disability organisations are opposed to that. As a point of principle they are concerned that claimants who previously received benefit payments as of right may now have to rely on discretionary payments from a limited cash fund with that money available only as loans. How will they repay those loans in view of the problems of unemployment so well brought out by the noble Lord, Lord Basnett? The voluntary organisations have also pointed out that it is not practical for disabled people to try to lead lives in the community without a secure, regular income. None of us here, from whatever side of the House, can doubt the truth of that statement. In spite of pleas from so many responsible voluntary organisations we are left to conclude that the Government know that disabled people will suffer severe financial loss and yet they are not prepared to do anything to protect them.
The second point I should like to make is that one of the most important measures passed into law during the past 20 years—as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale—was the 1986 Disabled Persons Act. It is better known as the Tom Clarke Act or, in this House, the Sue Masham Act 605 because it was the noble Baroness who carried it through your Lordships' House.
The staggered introduction of the Disabled Persons Act is proving extremely difficult for many local authorities because no extra resources have been made available for its implementation. The Act seeks eventually to improve the lot of mentally or physically handicapped people and their community carers by ensuring that their needs are thoroughly assessed and that necessary services are provided for them by their local authorities. The failure of the Government to provide any additional resources for the practical enforcement of the Act is clearly against the intention of Parliament. In the passing of that Act, with all its implications, Parliament could not have intended that somehow or other it should be implemented for nothing or only at the expense of rate-capped local authorities. The Association of County Councils suggested that the cost of putting the Act to work, and therefore ensuring a far better deal for disabled people, would be approximately £25 million a year for assessments and up to £100 million for extra services. The Government say no.
Dealing with another part of the Act, the Association of Municipal Authorities estimates that only one-third of disabled school leavers claim the services to which they are entitled and that ordinary schools do not always correctly identify the needs of young disabled people. That point was well made by the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, in relation to the deaf-blind. In an effort to establish the possible cost of these proposals, negotiations are now under way with a view to the commencement of the identification of children who are in their final two years at school at the earliest possible date.
I understand from the AMA that it has agreed with government officials a figure of £5 million for identification and assessment of disabled school-leavers in 1988–89 and a further £20 million per year for services to those children. Therefore, the full year cost of each cohort of leavers will be £20 million starting in 1989–90. As a part year, the cost will be £14 million. I should be grateful if in replying the Minister will confirm that that agreement has been reached, because it will be some way forward and I should like to have something to welcome at the end of this debate.
Thirdly, we are faced with another cost-saving social security Bill. We hear that we are to have another Bill which will be the greatest review since Beveridge. That is exactly what was said by Mr. Norman Fowler when he was appointed Secretary of State for Social Services after the previous election. He said that his review was the greatest since Beveridge and he introduced what he considered to be the requirements of the nation.
Now a new Secretary of State is appointed under the same Government by the same Prime Minister, and he says, "We are going to do it all over again". Can the Minister confirm that part of the Bill will overturn the Court of Appeal ruling that could lead to thousands of the 348,000 epilectics, diabetics and mentally and physically disabled people in receipt of the lower rate of attendance allowance receiving the higher rate through needing care at night as well as 606 during the day? If the Bill is to block that gap to the disadvantage of 348,000 severely handicapped people we are beginning to see the large number who will suffer if the Government's intentions are carried through.
The final point I should like to make, because I want to leave the Minister the maximum time to reply to the many points that have been raised, concerns community care on which so much voluntary effort is being concentrated by so many different organisations. Of course, I am acutely aware of what MIND is doing in this particular field for those with mental illness or recovering from mental illness.
Although, largely thanks to disabled people themselves, there has been an improvement in attitudes toward disability and the responsibility of society for its disabled citizens. Far too often people are forced to choose between institutional care or a degrading life in their own homes because the service they need is either not available at all or not available at the time they require it. We have been reminded that the Audit Commission in its report, Making a Reality of Community Care, described the "perverse incentives" which so often mean that, despite the community care policy, it is easier to obtain cash for admission to residential care than for remaining in one's own home. To give one example, the DHSS is empowered to pay up to £230 per week for nursing home care for disabled people with few obstacles or checks, but only up to £48 to £70 a week for personal care at home, and that is paid only in the most exceptional circumtances. In my view there is now a ridiculous situation in which, because of the need to draw up some sort of priority system, services are actually being targeted to those who need them least. I believe that any expenditure is likely to miss out completely the most disabled and the most dependent.
Changes which are to take place next April under the Social Security Act will make it even more difficult for newly disabled people to remain at home. Already acknowledged to be among the very poorest in society, many disabled people will find themselves worse off by up to £60 per week as a result of the loss of additional payments for heating, laundry, diets and domestic assistance. Once again, practice is in direct conflict with policy.
I hope that, in view of all the points that have been made with great sincerity from all sides of the House by people with great experience, the Minister has not only been listening to what has been said but will convey to his right honourable friend who takes these decisions, and indeed to the Cabinet, the depth of the concern and anxiety that have been expressed in your Lordships' House today.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ The Earl of Arran
My Lords, I should like first of all to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Carter, on his choice of subject for today's debate; namely the needs and problems of people with disabilities. It is of course far from being a subject new to your Lordships' House. There have been a number of excellent debates on various aspects of disability over recent years. Today's debate has at least matched the quality of its predecessors and, as usual, noble Lords 607 have spoken with immense knowledge and sympathy about the wide range of problems which disabled people face and the best ways in which their needs can be met.
In these circumstances, I am the first to realise that many noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon possess very much greater knowledge and experience, much of it personal, than I do. However, I like to think that my sympathy is just as great. Although we may differ about means, I am sure that we can all agree about the ends we want to achieve, that is, to give disabled people the maximum possible access to the opportunities which able-bodied people have, so that they can develop their potential to the full and thereby make the maximum contribution to society.
Before I try to deal briefly with particular points made by noble Lords, I hope the House will allow me to say a few words about the measures which this Government have taken to help disabled people. As your Lordships are quite rightly swift to point out, many tasks remain to be done, but it would be wrong to lose sight of the things which have already been accomplished.
One important initiative which this Government have taken is one that has not yet borne fruit. We commissioned from the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys the first major survey on disability in the population since 1968. The first results of this will be published next year and will provide up-to-date information about the numbers, circumstances and needs of disabled people. Unlike earlier studies, it will include children and people in non-private households, and sensorily impaired and mentally handicapped people will also be covered.
As the results of the survey become available, we shall of course be examining very carefully the implications for our policies. At the same time, we shall be taking account of any other developments affecting people with disabilities. One such development is the inquiry into community care which Sir Roy Griffiths is currently undertaking. In view of the importance of community care for the Government's strategy for the health services, personal social services and social security, it is crucial that help and assistance is delivered effectively and economically. Sir Roy will be making his recommendations to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State at the end of this year, and I look forward to his report with considerable interest and keen anticipation.
Another extremely important milestone in the field of health and personal social services has been the passing last year of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act, to which a number of noble Lords have made reference today. This measure originated in another place as a Private Member's Bill introduced by Mr. Tom Clarke. As the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, has mentioned it was skilfully piloted through your Lordships' House by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, and noble Lords played a notable part in ensuring that it reached the statute book in a sensible and workable form. The passage of the Bill through Parliament was a tribute to the co-operation achieved between 608 voluntary organisations, the local authorities and the Government.
As was mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Allen of Abbeydale and Lord Ennals, there is much concern about the pace of implementation of the Act. I sympathise wholly with that concern. Ever since the Act received Royal Assent, the Government have consistently made it clear that in their view it is a worthwhile piece of legislation which they would like to see in operation, and working for the benefit of disabled people, at the earliest possible date. Commitment to the principles of the Act has been demonstrated by the fact that four sections—4, 8, 9 and 10—were already implemented in April this year.
The Government have also consistently made it clear that those sections of the Act which have significant resource implications can only be implemented when the necessary resources can be made available. I am sure that they have been right to do so. Making a commencement order is in itself a simple enough operation. It is much more difficult to ensure that local authorities have sufficient resources to enable them to meet the additional demands which the requirements of the Act place upon them. We are talking here largely about additional trained staff and the costs of providing them. Those resources cannot be conjured up overnight.
Some noble Lords reminded the House that the Government originally expressed the hope that Sections 5 and 6 of the Act, which are very important sections dealing with the assessment of the needs of disabled school-leavers, would be in operation by now. That was on the basis of the original estimates by the local authority associations during the passage of the Bill—necessarily hasty ones, given the pressures of the parliamentary timetable—that those sections would not have a significant extra cost for them. But when the associations subsequently revised their estimates and said that Sections 5 and 6 would indeed have significant resource implications, the Government had no choice but to decide to postpone implementation until issues surrounding the resources could be sorted out.
There have been two meetings with the local authority associations at ministerial level to discuss further progress in implementing the Act, the last of which was on 16th September. There have also been a number of meetings between the DHSS and local authority association officials, the last of which was held some 10 days ago. Latterly we have concentrated on the issues on Sections 5 and 6, although we have not lost sight of the need to make progress on other sections as well. As the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, has indicated those discussions have been going well. At its meeting last Friday the Association of Metropolitan Authorities social services committee agreed the figures on the costs of Sections 5 and 6 which emerged from officials' most recent discussions, and indicated that on that basis they wanted the implementation of Sections 5 and 6 to go ahead as quickly as possible. I understand that the Association of County Councils is also considering the matter urgently. When he has heard from them, my honourable friend the Minister for the Disabled should be in a position shortly thereafter to make an 609 announcement on the implementation of Sections 5 and 6.
I now turn to social security matters. We have heard in the debate about some aspects of the benefits which are provided to meet both the day-to-day needs of disabled people and the additional costs arising from their disabilities. Some noble Lords have argued in support of further extension of these benefits. I would remind them that this Government have in fact found the resources to increase expenditure in this area very significantly.
In 1986–87, we spent some £6 billion on disability benefits. an increase of about 70 per cent. in real terms since we took office in 1979. Far more people are getting disability benefits now, and there has also been a considerable increase in the amount being paid. Overall, expenditure reflects a considerable amount of new money which we have been able to find for this purpose. There have been important changes affecting individual benefits. We have extended the availability of invalidity care allowance; introduced the new severe disablement allowance; and increased the rate of mobility allowance in real terms, as well as taking it out of taxation. The development of our policies on disability benefits has been hindered by a lack of reliable and up-to-date information about the numbers, needs and circumstances of people with disabilities. That is why we commissioned the OPCS survey of disability to which I have already referred. We shall be considering what conclusions can be drawn from the results of the survey in relation to the provisions we currently make for disabled people.
I now turn to supplementary benefit and its successor, as from next April, income support. We have, since we took office, been able to improve the help that goes to disabled people receiving supplementary benefit. There has been an improvement in the value of the scale rates compared with inflation. In 1980, we reduced the qualifying period for the long-term rate for disabled claimants under pension age from two years to one year. As a result, the latest data shows that nearly 34,000 living in the community either in their own or other people's homes are receiving extra help a year earlier. We also tackled the invalidity trap so that periods in receipt of long-term incapacity benefits now count towards the qualifying period for the long-term scale rate. Some 55,000 sick and disabled people benefited from this change.
In approaching next April's reforms, we therefore start from a higher base of support than that when this Government came to office. A number of noble Lords have raised questions about the effect of the new arrangements on severely disabled people living in their own homes. Let me put the issue into perspective. An increase in financial help is planned for those who will receive the disability premium. This increase will more than match the £50 million illustrated in the technical annex to the Government's original White Paper published in 1985. And, on top of that increase, it is estimated that a further £8 million will go to people who qualify for the severe disability premium.
The great majority—85 per cent.—of sick and disabled people under pension age will gain or be 610 unaffected by the changes. The illustration of the effect of the reforms shows people receiving the disability premium gaining £4.80 on average in real terms. And no disabled people at present receiving supplementary benefit will be worse off. Transitional protection will help existing claimants who would otherwise lose at the point of change. This is not just protection in cash terms. We have provided real terms protection for those with very high domestic assistance additions—an important safeguard.
Because in assessing income support we will continue to ignore mobility allowance and attendance allowance for most purposes, we will have a more varied system of state financial help than is visible in the disability premium itself. It will also enable significant entitlements to be built up by way of the personal allowance, disability premium, mobility allowance and attendance allowance where relevant, with in certain cases either the severe disability premium being paid direct to the person or invalid care allowance paid to someone else providing care and support. To give an example, a single disabled person aged more than 25 getting higher rate attendance allowance, the disability premium and the severe disability premium will receive £104.15 in benefits. In addition, he or she would get maximum housing benefit. Given the obvious constraints there always are, I really do not think that this could be labelled either mean or uncaring. In addition, the benefit system will continue to give help with rent and rates. There will therefore continue to be significant support through the benefit system for severely disabled people living in the community.
We have carefully considered the alternative proposals produced by the voluntary organisations for extra help for very severely disabled people. But these would either have produced very substantial extra costs—up to £300 million— or have implied a system so complicated that local offices would not have been able to operate it without an unacceptable degree of confusion and uncertainty. We are, however, conscious of the needs of a very small number of severely disabled people whom we would wish to help to stay in their own homes. My honourable friend the Minister for Social Security and the Disabled is trying hard to find a way to assist this small group.
I now turn to particular points which noble Lords have raised in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, asked about the social fund. Supplementary benefit is too complex, so weekly benefit will be provided by a new, simpler income support scheme, but exceptional one-off needs will be handled separately by the social fund. This help will provide more flexibility than now. Vulnerable groups, such as the disabled, will be able to get community care grants to enable them to rejoin or stay in the community. We believe that it is better for special help to be provided in this flexible way rather than under the existing regulated scheme.
I agree very much with what my noble friend Lord Ferrers said about the importance of co-operation between professional and non-professional sectors. I am sure that everybody in your Lordships' House joins him in his tribute to the important role of the 611 Voluntary sector. The noble Lord, Lord Banks, reminded us of his party's interesting proposals in this area. These seem similar to those put forward by the Disability Alliance and Disablement Income Group. The costs of the latter proposals—£2 billion to £3 billion—must constitute a serious obstacle.
The noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, raised questions on deaf/blind people. The noble Lady is right to highlight the special problems of this group. She referred particularly to the question of mobility allowance. Many people who are handicapped in this way already qualify for the allowance and there are legal and financial problems in amending the regulations to make specific provision for them. We are therefore looking at the way in which the current regulations work to ensure that as many as possible get their proper entitlement.
The noble Lord, Lord Basnett, raised a wide range of issues on the vital question of employment of disabled people, on which he speaks with much expertise. Perhaps I may respond briefly by pointing out that we have achieved a good deal in the area of employment and training. In 1986–87, over 80,000 people with disabilities were placed into jobs or into community programme projects. In the same period, the number of people with severe disabilities in sheltered employment increased by 1,033 to 17,400. The number of people with disabilities entering training schemes also increased to nearly 13,000, of whom nearly 9,000 were young people entering the Youth Training Scheme.
The noble Earl, Lord Radnor, raised the issue of resources for the 1981 Education Act. The Government are already providing substantial resources. The average expenditure bill in special schools has risen by 14 per cent. in real terms between 1982–83 and 1985–86, compared to a 5 per cent. increase in primary and secondary schools. In the current year, the Government's plans for total local authority expenditure on education represent a cash increase of 18.8 per cent. over 1986–87 plans. Other funds are being provided for teacher training, educational psychologists and electronic aids.
The noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, raised a number of interesting issues about access and mobility. Perhaps I may comment on what he said about pedestrianisation. The Government believe that pedestrianisation schemes can bring significant benefits to the community as a whole and that it would not be right to circumscribe local authorities' freedom to provide them. Local highway authorities have general duties to secure and maintain reasonable access to premises and are in the best position to take account of local needs and conditions, including the interests of disabled people in their areas.
My noble friend Lord Auckland raised the question of speech therapy and eye clinics. Speech therapy services have increased at a rate faster than the general increase on national health expenditure. The number of speech therapists has doubled since they have all been employed by the NHS. The noble Lord was right to draw attention to the importance of proper provision for blind people.
612 The noble Earl, Lord Longford, raised a question concerning discrimination against disabled people. We are completely opposed to discrimination against disabled people. That said, we are not convinced that widespread discrimination exists; nor, indeed, that generalised legislation will be the best way of tackling it.
The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, mentioned alarm systems for elderly and disabled people. All that the Government are doing is to clarify the present position on the availability of housing benefit to help people with the costs of alarm systems. No one should be affected provided that local authorities have advice from the department.
The noble Lord, Lord Blease, raised a question about general funding and the Equal Opportunities Commission in Northern Ireland. The Government are still consulting on the subject of the Equal Opportunities Commission in Northern Ireland and will study with great interest a report of the Northern Ireland Council on Disability.
My noble friend Lord Swinfen raised the issue of flexibility in financing residential care for disabled people. The Government will need to consider this issue carefully when we have received Sir Roy Griffiths' report on community care.
The noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, was concerned about people with spinal injuries and other physically disabled people somehow slipping down the list of priorities. I assure the noble Baroness that the Government continue to treat physically disabled people as a priority group. We do our best to ensure that their position is protected, given the other demands which are properly made in other areas. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, raised the question of what the Government are doing to support speech therapy. There is no evidence of widespread vacancies in this expanding profession although the position will vary from place to place.
The noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, spoke about a Select Committee on discrimination against disabled people. My noble friend the Leader of the House will no doubt carefully note the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson.
To attempt to cover the needs and problems of the disabled in a debate lasting two and a half hours is of course an impossibility. Because such constraints limit us to merely scratching the surface of a few of the problems, we must inevitably rely upon good faith and a generous attitude in terms of the general spirit of the debate. This has been a good debate in which the Government for their part, I trust, have clearly shown that they are not an administration who, in the face of the infirm, cast down their eyes and pass by on the other side. The Government wholeheartedly accept the problems of the disabled.
However, while accepting that there is much yet to be done, as indeed will always be the case, the Government are never less than realists when it comes to the resources that can be directed to the needs of those who suffer from disability. Those resources, as we all know, can be determined only by the economic development of the nation, for the greater the wealth the greater the amount of that 613 wealth that can be directed towards the problems and needs of those who are disabled.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, I thank all those who have taken part in what has been a wide-ranging and excellent debate. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Arran, for his courteous response on behalf of the Government. I must say that I was disappointed. I took the trouble to tell the noble Earl before the debate that I would be concentrating on the 1986 Act. I asked the noble Earl a number of specific questions on the operation of the Act. The House will have to draw its own conclusions from the fact that he declined to answer any of them. It remains only for me to beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.