HL Deb 20 November 1991 vol 532 cc898-900

2.59 p.m.

Baroness Lockwood asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their policy for the future of clothing workshops for the disabled, in the light of the Science Policy Research Unit/Social Policy Research Unit report on this subject.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Hooper)

My Lords, the report highlighted the fact that clothing workshops meet the small and specialised needs of severely disabled people in the locality which they serve. They arose mainly in response to the former job creation schemes sponsored by the Department of Employment, funding from which has now been redirected towards training schemes. Nevertheless, the more successful workshops have remained viable by attracting local support from both statutory and voluntary groups. In our view the recommendation of the report for local support is more appropriate than the recommendation for short-term emergency funding.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. However, is she aware that about two years ago there were over 20 workshops providing special clothing for the disabled, that at the time this pooled research began there were 11 and that since that time four have closed, with the remainder facing financial difficulty? Does the noble Baroness accept that clothing for the disabled is an essential part of the health service and that it is necessary for disabled people to be able to obtain clothing which is both comfortable and convenient to wear in the light of their disability and which will give them a sense of dignity and pride in the wearing? If that is so, would it not be better for the Government to accept the recommendation to provide emergency funding for these centres until a long-term policy is established?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, we certainly acknowledge the needs of what is a small group of severely disabled people in this respect. However, we believe that the department should look at the broader context of how acceptable clothing can be provided for all disabled people rather than from the perspective of one particular type of supplier.

Nevertheless, we are looking at the needs in this area. The suggestion in the report for longer-term arrangements, which suggests that this may be achieved on a fee-per-client basis from the local authority of residence, would fit in well with our community care reforms.

Baroness Young

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether any help will be coming from commerce, industry or the retail side of business to help in these particular workshops, so that all the money which is required does not come only from statutory authorities?

Baroness Hooper

Yes, my Lords, to remain viable clearly the workshops which remain in existence will need to improve their marketing techniques. We are investigating this with leading retailers and we have reason to believe that help will be forthcoming.

Lord Carter

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the comment on page 52 of the report from the Social Policy Research Unit? The sentence reads: We think that the clothing workshops have an important part to play as the core of future provision for the special clothing needs of disabled people". Later, on the same page, the report states: Urgent intervention is necessary if the workshops are to be retained in their present form". Can the Minister tell the House what disabled people who need this special clothing are supposed to do if these workshops are closed? They cannot wait until April 1993 when the community care proposals come into force.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, as I said before, we cannot consider the clothing workshop movement in isolation. The Government are helping in a variety of ways. We already fund the Disabled Living Foundation, which runs a clothing advisory service. That is the country's primary source of information on clothing and dressing for the disabled. We also fund the Disability Information Trust, which publishes a series of illustrated reference books that provide information on the types of clothing, adaptations, patterns and so on, including suitable styles for particular problems, dressing aids and the care of clothes.

The workshops carry out excellent work. Indeed, I had the opportunity of visiting one with the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood. However, it is important to remember that they serve very local needs because an essential component of their work is to be able to measure and fit. Therefore, we need to look at the matter in a very much broader context. Appropriate local authority or local health authority support is the best thing for the long-term future.

Lady Kinloss

My Lords, are the Government aware of how important clothing and physical appearance are to disabled people, especially young disabled people who may be looking for a job or who may want to join community activities? Is she also aware of how embarrassing it is for severely deformed people to go into an ordinary shop where they may feel that their needs are not understood? Therefore, can the Government make every effort to help keep such workshops open?

Baroness Hooper

Yes, my Lords, the noble Lady has made an important point. We are very much aware of the needs of this particular group of severely handicapped people. We intend to do everything possible to help them.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, would it not be cost effective if the Government were to subscribe towards the appointment of a development officer who could efficiently develop the present workshops, and also co-operate and work with the retail business as suggested by my noble friend Lady Young?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, the Department of Health has received an application for Section 64 funding along the lines suggested by my noble friend. We are considering this in terms of next year's grants under the Section 64 funding scheme.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, with so many people coming out of long-term hospitals into the community, and bearing in mind our cold climate, does the Minister agree that this is really no small matter and that choice is most important? As the needs of disabled people are so varied, does she also agree that having the right advice is most cost effective?

Baroness Hooper

Yes, my Lords. That is why the government schemes to which I referred earlier are essentially advisory. However, we are aware that both commercial and not-for-profit organisations can do more to develop special clothing provision. They are being encouraged to do so. Indeed, some commercial firms already market regular lines of special clothing; for example, through mail order.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that the report states that an alternative approach would be to give disabled customers the financial resources to obtain the special clothing that they require? Indeed, the report adds that that would give them greater choice and flexibility. The report continues that these people receive income support and severe disability premiums. However, it also points out that there is a problem as regards the take-up of existing benefits which would allow them this freedom of choice. Can my noble friend say whether anything can be done to increase the awareness of the availability of such benefits?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, as my noble friend said, there are disability premiums for those on income support which take account of additional living costs, including the cost of clothing. We shall continue in our efforts to ensure that these benefits are brought to the attention of those who need them.

Back to
Forward to