HL Deb 20 January 1994 vol 551 cc713-6

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

What was the rate of unemployment among disabled people at the latest date for which figures are available.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Employment (Lord Henley)

My Lords, the latest available labour force survey estimates for summer 1993 show that in Great Britain the International Labour Organisation unemployment rate among people with health problems or disabilities which limit the kind of paid work they can do was 22 per cent. This figure has not been seasonally adjusted.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there has been no reduction in the percentage since the Government came to power 14 years ago? Not only have they done little about the failure of the quota system, but also they have done nothing to dispel the myths which cause so much difficulty to disabled people. There is the myth in particular, that disabled people are less productive in their work and have poor sickness records. Is it not now clear that the Government's policy, stated many times, of education and persuasion is totally inadequate and there is an urgent need for legislation to protect disabled people from discrimination?

Lord Henley

My Lords, the figures I gave were for those who had health problems or were disabled and therefore they do not precisely answer the noble Lord's Question. I have to say that the figure therefore should be treated with caution. Nevertheless, I would accept that unemployment rates for people with disabilities are consistently higher than for the population as a whole and possibly seem to fluctuate somewhat less than other unemployment figures.

For this reason, the Government and the employment service devote considerable efforts to assist people with disabilities. Perhaps I may give one example. In the last year, 40,370 unemployed people with disabilities were placed into a job by the employment service in the year to 31st March 1993. That was about 8,000 more than the previous year.

As regards taking these matters further and bringing in anti-discrimination legislation, I have to say to the noble Lord that I am not convinced of the need for anti-discrimination legislation in the employment field for people with disabilities. I do not believe that the issue is the same, say, as for race or sex. I believe that there could be major problems with definition and that the right way forward is to continue with what we are doing, to continue those policies and with what is already in place, to continue with access to work, as has been announced, and to continue our own policy of education and persuasion.

Lord Renton

My Lords, do the figures which my noble friend has given refer to the mentally handicapped or those for whom people insist on using the misleading expression "with learning difficulties"? Is he aware that many people with mental handicap are capable of doing simple manual jobs as well as anyone else can do them? Can my noble friend assure us that that factor is borne in mind by the employment agencies?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I believe that the figures include the class of people to whom my noble friend refers. As I said, I believe that the figures have to be treated with caution, they come from the labour force survey and are therefore a response to questions asked of a fairly large number of people who were surveyed. But I agree with the subsequent point made by my noble friend that a lot of people with what might be termed learning difficulties are capable of doing a large number of jobs.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, the Minister will remember that on Monday he informed the House that instead of industry arid business taking up their 3 per cent. quota of disabled persons, they have taken up 1.5 per cent. What does that mean in numbers? How many disabled persons have been employed? Further, what recommendations is his department making to business and industry to achieve the 3 per cent. take up?

Lord Henley

My Lords, as regards the quota, the problem with it is that it asks people employing more than 20 to ensure that 3 per cent. are registered disabled. The problem is that there are not enough registered disabled people to go round. I can say that as regards the future of the quota, the whole question of its future was raised in our 1990 consultative document. The responses were inconclusive and we decided to keep the quota but keep the position under review. That remains the case and while it remains in force we shall certainly continue to use it as part of our efforts to educate and persuade.

Perhaps I may add slightly to that, in case my earlier answer was misinterpreted. What I meant was that there are a large number of disabled people, but a great many choose for their own reasons not to register. Therefore there are not enough registered disabled people to meet the 3 per cent. quota. I can confirm that my own department, the Department of Employment, meets the 3 per cent. target.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, in view of what the Minister said about the very high level of people with disabilities who are unemployed compared with the general population, will the Government reconsider the situation under the Statutory Sick Pay Bill and give support to any amendment that our side produces in order to give special protection to the disabled in that context?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Baroness will be quite happy to wait for the Committee stage of the Statutory Sick Pay Bill, when she can put her points forward.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, the Minister is no doubt aware that for many years I have been involved with a few disabled organisations. Are the Government also maintaining a liaison with such disablement organisations, which value very much indeed being in contact with the department?

Lord Henley

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very good point. I believe that dialogue with all organisations of and for disabled people is very important. I can inform the noble Lord that we have within the department a national advisory council for the employment of people with disabilities, and we listen very carefully to the advice that it gives us. Certainly, we are always prepared to speak to and meet with any organisations either of or for disabled people.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, does the Minister agree that disabled people have to be properly trained for employment? Will the Government ensure that the four colleges which exist for training disabled people are not under-funded? Is he aware that the changes which the Government have made mean that they now have an extremely difficult time making ends meet? If the noble Lord would like to visit one of those colleges, not too far from where he lives, I would be very pleased to arrange such a visit.

Lord Henley

My Lords, on that latter suggestion I would certainly be prepared to take up the noble Lord's offer. I believe that I am to visit another of the colleges at some point later in the year. I can assure the noble Lord that we very much value the work that they do. I can also assure him that all unemployed disabled people have priority for a place on every main employment and training programme for which they are either suitable or eligible.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, when talking about disabled people, will the Minister consider the blind, who are not normally included among those whom we describe as disabled? Is he aware that the advanced training that blind people now receive through colleges, and the very good mobility training that they receive, makes such people very easy to put into employment?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I can assure the noble Baroness that we do not ignore the blind. They are certainly included among those who are defined as disabled. I can also assure her that I quite recently met with two organisations which represent blind interests, and I shall continue to take on board any particular suggestions that they would like to make.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, is the Minister aware of how very disappointing all his replies have been to this Question? To say that we shall carry on as we do now, which is what he did say, shows a complacency which is quite breathtaking, particularly in view of the figures that he has given. Will he say more precisely why the Government are so opposed to legislation? He and his department must know what is happening in Germany, in France, and particularly in the United States of America, where by any standard the legislation is very effective indeed.

Lord Henley

My Lords, first, I reject the noble Lord's allegations of complacency. I have tried to make clear that the Government believe that they are doing a good job, and will continue to improve and enhance what is being done. We will also look, as colleagues in my department have done, at all the experiments in other countries with their different forms of legislation, and learn where possible from those. But I stick to what I said earlier on anti-discrimination legislation. We are not convinced that it is the right way forward.

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