§ 3.16 p.m.
§ Lord Morris of Manchester rose to call attention to initiatives to enhance the well-being and status of people with disabilities in the context of the European Year of Disabled People and the Charter for the New Millennium for disabled people worldwide; and to move for Papers.
The noble Lord said: My Lords,
I wept because I had no shoes",
said the poor orphan—
until I saw a boy who had no feet".
§ This debate is about people with no limbs at all; others who are both blind and prelingually deaf; and those trying to cope with often devastating effects of chronic mental ill-health or severe learning difficulties, among Britain's 8.6 million disabled people.
§ I am delighted the debate has brought together so many specialists in this policy area. Others would be with us if they could have been, including my noble friends Lord Callaghan and Lord Healey, to whom I shall refer again as I proceed. Among them, too, is my noble friend Lord Jones, who worked with me in the service of disabled people as a fellow Minister in the 1970s, and whose friendship I value deeply.
§ I am especially glad that my good and noble friend Lord Ashley is here. We have been close friends and parliamentary colleagues for 37 years now, and his contribution to improving the quality of life of disabled people is immeasurable.
The Motion calls attention to the European Year of Disabled People (EYDP) and the Charter for the New Millennium, because it is in the context of their objectives that initiatives here will ultimately be assessed. Thus I want briefly to summarise their aims. In the case of the charter, I do so having chaired the World Planning Group appointed by Rehabilitation International (RI) to draft the document. RI is the coordinating body for disability organisations in over 100 countries. Its affiliates in Britain include Rehab UK, RADAR and the Disability Rights Commission. The European Year's website states that its,
objective is to drive progress towards achieving equal rights for disabled people",
and that activities to promote EYDP—launched in Athens three months ago—would be decided and organised by the disability community in each country.
The statement of objectives stresses the multiple discrimination facing the EU's 37 million disabled people, who are two to three times more likely to be unemployed than non-disabled people and only half as likely to reach higher education. The Charter fir the New Millennium, launched three years earlier here at the Palace of Westminster, at a service in the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft in December 1999, insists on,
the same human and civil rights for people with disabilities as for everyone else".
It insists also that
disabled people's organisations must be empowered with the resources necessary to share responsibility in national planning for rehabilitation and independent living
every nation to develop a comprehensive plan with clearly defined targets and timetables for implementing the aims set out in this Charter".
§ Its principal aims call for a UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People as a key strategy; action worldwide to protect millions of the world's poor from disabilities that are easily preventable at minimal cost; and international development programmes that mandatorily require accessibility for disabled people in all infrastructure projects.703
My noble friend Lady Hollis, who knows how glad I am that she is here, said when responding to EYDP for the Government on 11th February that they proposed,
to use the European Year to raise awareness of disability issues—especially rights and participation—throughout the United Kingdom".—[Official Report, 11/2/03; col. 553.]
§ She listed the projects involving disabled people funded by the Government to mark EYDP. They outnumber those approved in any other European country and include a national disabled people's Parliament of 180 elected members, drawn from around Britain and reflecting both cultural diversity and the whole range of impairments.
§ Of course, the Government's response to EYDP goes very much further than funding projects. It includes legislative changes to protect more than 1 million young people from discrimination in educational services; brings 7 million more jobs and 1 million more small employers under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA); and strengthens the Act as it affects employment, access and the built environment. A new disability Bill, which it is hoped will address the Act's still major deficiencies in, among other areas, transport, housing and the defining of disability, has also been announced.
Bob Niven, whom all of us respect for his achievements as the DRC's first chief executive, describes the Government's initiatives, taken together, as a,
fine way to mark the European Year".
§ All that reflects well on Ministers but also on the high standing and influence of the All-Party Disability Group of MPs and Peers, chaired so ably by my noble friend Lord Ashley.
§ As the author of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, which was systematically obstructed in another place from 1991 to 1995, I naturally very much welcome the Government's new initiatives, as I did the honouring of their pledge to legislate for a Disability Rights Commission (DRC). Without it, the DDA was a car without an engine and the achievements of Bert Massie, Bob Niven and their colleagues at the DRC could never have been attempted.
Turning to the Charter for the New Millennium, again the Government's response was wholly positive. When it was presented to the Prime Minister at a ceremony in 10 Downing Street in July 2000, he stressed the Charter's importance to the world's over 600 million disabled people and said it would,
form the basis of a global consensus on priorities for at least a decade".
§ As my friend the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, recalled in her debate on the Charter on 14th July 2000, it was as the architect in 1970 of the world's first wide-ranging legislation on disability—and as the first Minister for Disabled People—that I was invited in 1979 to open the UN General Assembly's debate which led to the International Year of Disabled People. At the same time, RI asked me to oversee the drafting of its Charter for the 1980s for 704 disabled people worldwide, which became the basis for the UN Decade of Disabled People and informed its standard rules on disability.
That was the background to my appointment to chair the World Planning Group that drafted the Charter for the New Millennium. Its membership included Chief Emeka Anyaoku, then Commonwealth Secretary-General; Deng Pufang, who chairs the China Disabled Persons Federation; Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa; Shri D K Manavalan of India; Justin Dart of the US President's Committee on Employment of Disabled People; Anatole Ossadchik, Russia's Minister for Social Affairs; Prince Ra'ad Bin Zeid of Jordan; Professor Stephen Hawking; and Sir Harry Fang of Hong Kong, a former RI president.
§ George Wilson, a senior officer of RI who chairs Rehab UK, had an important role, not least in promoting the Charter across the world, and Bert Massie was also helpfully involved.
The Prime Minister told the House of Commons on 25th March 2002 (at col. 620W):
I welcomed Rehabilitation International's Charter for the Third Millennium in July 2000. In doing so, I said that I believed that it would form the basis of a global consensus on priorities for at least the next decade. This absolutely remains the Government's view".
§ He was also able to report that at the UN General Assembly in November a resolution calling for an international convention on the rights and dignities of disabled people as envisaged in the Charter for the New Millenium was adopted.
§ The Government's new legislative initiatives strongly reaffirm their backing both for the Charter and EYDP. Sadly however the long obstruction of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill deprived this country of world leadership in disability rights legislation.
§ It was in January 1979 that I appointed a committee of inquiry—the Committee on Restrictions against Disabled People—to examine the case for making discrimination against disabled people unlawful. It was chaired by Peter—now Sir Peter—Large and, had his report been acted upon when it was published in 1981, we would have been almost a decade ahead of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Instead, the United States acted on the CORAD report long before we did, and there was a 14-year delay before much weaker legislation was enacted here.
§ Every statute on disability discrimination, all across the world, lineally descends from the CORAD report, and I pay warm tribute again today to Peter Large for performing the task I gave him so admirably. He was also involved in the setting up of Motability, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, and that too is worthy of attention in this debate.
§ Motability is a striking example to the world of what can be achieved when Ministers and voluntary agencies act together and in fellowship with industry and commerce to make life better for disabled people. The enterprise began long before the acronyms PFI and PPP were ever thought of but has done more for lasting social improvement than anything since created in their names.705
§ The political climate in which it was set up was starkly unpromising. Treasury control of public spending was at its most stringent and credit never more tightly squeezed. Yet the prerequisites for Motability's success included the creation of a mobility allowance; a doubling of its value in a year; and a £100 million relaxation of the credit squeeze to allow the clearing banks to back the scheme.
§ Happily there were those, however, in and out of Parliament—and quintessentially, in Jim Callaghan, a Prime Minister—who were determined that it would succeed. Among them too were Denis Healey, then Chancellor of the Exchequer; Joel Barnett, then Chief Secretary to the Treasury; and Patrick Jenkin, then Opposition Front Bench Spokesman on Social Services. The key was the decision to phase out the invalid tricycle and phase in a mobility allowance that could be converted into a car. More than 1.5 million cars were provided in Motability's first 25 years and it was said, not only jocularly, that its vehicle fleet soon grew to rival that of the Chinese army.
§ As Motability's founding Minister—and founder patron of the enterprise—I honour the memory of the late Lord Arnold Goodman, its first chairman, and the leadership of his successor, the noble Lord, Lord Sterling, Gerald Acher, CBE, Sir John Quinton, Noel Muddiman and all their colleagues over the years for their constancy in serving with such humanity those for whom it was conceived. With a team like that we may yet succeed in overtaking the Chinese army.
§ This year the Government are spending £3.7 billion on outdoor mobility and overwhelmingly it is from this sum that Motability's funding derives. Moreover, in the last year before the mobility allowance was introduced, total spending on the old scheme—with which before 1974 governments of all persuasions were serenely satisfied—was counted in millions, not billions. Indeed, the private car allowance, which nearly twice as many entitled disabled people chose in preference to the trike, cost only £2 million.
§ The mobility allowance is still unmatched in Europe or anywhere else and, without one, no other country has anything to compare with Motability. There remain problems, of course, but nothing to compare with those of the scheme that the mobility allowance replaced.
§ Like everyone here, I have had raised with me issues of current concern to disabled people and their organisations. I shall refer briefly to just three. First, notwithstanding the Government's welcome abolition of benefit cuts in the first 52 weeks of hospitalisation, 1 per cent of patients—those most severely disabled—still face financial distress. This was put to me by the Association of Disabled Professionals and I shall be grateful if my noble friend Lady Hollis can arrange for the association to be consulted about the worrying cases raised in its submission.
The second issue is the continuing concern among disabled people that the DRC could be merged in a single equality body. Again, it is severely disabled people who are most concerned, and I hope Ministers will find opportunities soon to discuss this with people such as
Sir Peter Large, Kate Nash and Jane Campbell. I urge them also to pay close regard to the DRC's reaction to their consultation exercise and its comment that:
It would be ironic if, in EYDP of all years, the Government set a direction on equality institutions that in fact diminished the priority accorded to disability".
The third issue is one raised in a letter from one of our colleagues. Acknowledging many "worthwhile improvements in benefits", he adds:
But handling of the various claims seems unnecessarily confusing. If you are not an expert it is difficult to distinguish where one overlaps another and I am sure it would be a blessing to a great many people if the system could be simplified".
§ Here too I know that my noble friend will respond as helpfully as she can, since it is to this difficulty that disability organisations often trace the failure of many highly vulnerable people to claim their statutory entitlements.
§ The European Year's aims and the Charter fir the New Millennium alike seek to substitute hope for despair in the lives of disabled people, empowerment for dependence and social inclusion for segregation. They want from heads of government acts not of compassion but of enlightened self-interest and moral right. Both documents look forward to a world where citizens with disabilities are seen as giving as well as receiving; where their potential is understood and valued; where if years cannot be added to their lives, at least life can be added to their years; and where disabled people have an undoubted right to participate on equal terms with everyone else in the life and work of their communities.
I began with a quote from a child and end with one from Chief Emeka Anyaoku about children. Speaking of his role in the drafting of the Charter, he writes:
I take pride most of all in the Charter's insistence that disabled children everywhere must now share the rights of all humanity to grow and learn, to work and create, to love and he loved".
§ Let that be our spur in facing the still all too long unfinished agenda of unmet need.
§ My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.32 p.m.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, on choosing this subject and referring not only to the European Year of Disabled People but also to the world-wide Charter for the New Millennium. Some 22 years ago, the International Year of Disabled People took place, sponsored by the United Nations. The noble Lord and I were both involved. I was asked to be chairman for Scotland. During that year, the chairman for England became seriously ill and then died. So I was asked also to take over his main engagements, and was able to do so where they fitted in with my being in London for Parliament. In the following year, 1982, the effects of the international year were assessed. It was estimated that in the United Kingdom more progress in public awareness of disabilities had been achieved in one year than in 10 ordinary years. The noble Lord has described events during that year. I hope that this European year will have similar success.
707 I should again declare a personal interest having been disabled in the Second World War, a bullet going through my middle, among other things. I have been a war pensioner ever since, starting with more than a year in hospital and then spending time in a wheelchair. Further surgery over the years has put me on my feet with calliper and sticks, although of course I get more and more tottery.
The noble Lord mentioned Motability. I think that that has been an excellent scheme. I remember when it was brought in. I supported the private enterprise involved. I myself benefited. Parked outside is one of the projects—a small Motability car specially adapted for me.
In 1981, I drew attention especially to mental disability, including mental handicap and other disorders. Another campaigner—who I am glad to see is here and who no doubt will speak—was the noble Lord, Lord Rix, before he became a Member of this House. I met him during that international year. I think that mentally disabled people have benefited from the resulting improved understanding by the general public prompted by the international year.
I have questions for the Government. First, what action are they planning to take to support initiatives in this field? Such action could be to enable more disabled people to live outside institutions, including hospitals, provided that the facilities they need are available to them and that they have access to helpers where necessary.
I wish all success to this European Year of Disabled People and to those who are organising it.
§ 3.36 p.m.
§ Lord Ashley of Stoke
My Lords, I add my thanks to my noble friend Lord Morris for securing this debate. He has an outstanding record on a very wide range of disability issues, both as a Minister and as a Back Bencher. Listening to his very moving speech, I was reminded how easy it is to forget those early days when campaigning for disability was a very tough job. He had a marvellous record in those days and has had one ever since. I congratulate him.
The European Year of Disabled People is an important landmark for Europe in general and the United Kingdom in particular. It marks the culmination of a decade of resolutions, policy statements, treaty articles and directives—all designed to bring disabled people in out of the cold, defend them from discrimination and provide access to jobs, buildings, education, and transport. A great deal has been achieved, and my noble friend has explained many of the developments. We are moving now into a new era in which people are increasingly setting these issues in the wider context of human rights and full citizenship rather than ad hoc advances. We need to go further along this route because it is a valuable key to a new world for disabled people.
The European Year follows the European Union's welcome decision to make anti-discrimination a clear priority. Its policies on equality of opportunity for 708 disabled people, on a barrier-free Europe for disabled people and in numerous directives on employment and other issues have been strong and farsighted. Now, however, it is up to the member states to implement those policies. There are some 38 million disabled people in Europe—about 15 per cent of the population—and some 25 per cent of people in the central and eastern European countries applying to join are disabled. The need for further advances is obvious as those disabled people are two or three times more likely to be unemployed than the non-disabled, and only half as many disabled as non-disabled are likely to receive higher education. In other words, in Europe as in Britain, the odds are stacked against them.
If this special year is to result in significant progress, we need action as well as increasing awareness. Enduring achievements require a multi-pronged strategy by all countries, not just a few, and they should focus on antidiscrimination measures, removal of barriers, reduction of prejudice and the provision of new rights across the board—employment, housing, transport, education and training.
Government initiatives in the United Kingdom have been very helpful to disabled people, especially the establishment of the Disability Rights Commission—referred to by my noble friend—the improvements to the Disability Discrimination Act, the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act, and the various pieces of legislation which have provided better opportunities for disabled people. I have praised the Government's efforts so far but my noble friend Lady Hollis would be extremely surprised, not to say shocked, if I did not add the word "but".
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Baroness Hollis of Heigham)
My Lords, I would be appalled.
§ Lord Ashley of Stoke
My Lords, my noble friend says that she would be appalled. The Government have many achievements to their credit such as those I mentioned a moment ago but they are inadequate because they are not comprehensive. I believe that one of the best contributions to the European Year of Disabled People that the Government can make is that when they deliver—I am sure that my noble friend is listening very carefully—their new disability Bill they make it a radical and comprehensive one instead of the piecemeal efforts seen so often in the past.
I should like to offer help to my noble friend Lady Hollis. I always want to be helpful to her. The new government Bill should embrace all the contents of my Disability Discrimination (Amendment) Bill which we debated in the House in January last year.
§ Baroness Hollis of Heigham
My Lords, does my noble friend wish the Government to embrace the clauses that he withdrew as a result of debate in this House, for example, those associated with the Armed Forces?
§ Lord Ashley of Stoke
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that comment. I withdrew those 709 clauses as a tactical ploy. The tactic now is to pursue all of them. We can easily outmanoeuvre the Government, especially in this House. When it comes to votes, the Government are in a minority. My noble friend will suffer for the comments she made but I forgive her just this once.
As I said, the new government Bill should embrace all the contents of my Disability Discrimination (Amendment) Bill which we debated in the House in January last year. The Government will find many necessary provisions there: to include people with HIV in the DDA; to ensure that private clubs come under the remit of the DDA; to give the DRC powers which are not contained in the DDA to act for disabled people under the Human Rights Act; to bring all firms into the DDA; to give employment tribunals power to order reinstatement of employees who have suffered discrimination; to include all transport in the DDA; to forbid public authorities to discriminate against disabled people; to place a duty on the public sector to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people; to extend the duties in Part 3 of the DDA to landlords in particular; to extend the DDA questionnaire procedure, which applies to employment claims, to Part 3 of the DDA (goods, facilities and services); and to ensure that all discrimination claims under Part 3 of the DDA are commenced in an employment tribunal.
In commending those suggestions to my noble friend I assure her that my Bill is easy to read, easy to follow and, given the political will, easy to implement.
§ Lord Addington
My Lords, does the noble Lord consider that corpsing in the House of Lords is a first for him and also that it is the first time he has managed to inspire this much mirth on this subject?
§ Lord Ashley of Stoke
My Lords, it is certainly a record which I do not claim with any great pride.
The time is flying due to the diversions of my noble friend Lady Hollis. The Disability Rights Commission—which I think is a marvellous organisation—under Bert Massie and his staff works to ensure that businesses and disabled people have the information they need to meet their obligations and secure their rights under the DDA. The DRC has carried out absolutely splendid work.
I turn finally to the problems associated with mental health. Discrimination and stigma remain all too common for people with mental health illnesses. Our own mental health laws are outdated and the Government's recent botched attempt to draft a mental health Bill rightly met with strong opposition, notably from the Mental Health Alliance, an alliance of disability charities, mental health practitioners and unions. The draft Bill introduces compulsory treatment in the community—a move that the alliance argues will lead to an increase, not a decrease, as the Government suggest, in compulsion.
In addition, under the current Act, to detain a person for compulsory treatment, there must be treatment available to alleviate their condition. However, the draft Bill removes this requirement. While there is a requirement that the treatment is 710 available, there is no requirement for the treatment to be of therapeutic value to the patient. Instead, the treatment can be provided in order to protect others against danger. I am in favour of protecting the public but not at the expense of ensuring that people who are mentally ill have the proper treatment. We should be able to achieve both aims; that is, protection for the public and helping people with mental illness. The proposed measure is ridiculous. The Mental Health Act should be about providing treatment for people's mental health. Public safety is a criminal justice matter and should not be dealt with in a health Bill. The Government are sending out the wrong signals by linking public safety and mental health. That will not protect but stigmatise. ultimately driving people away from seeking the treatment they require.
There is a great deal more to be said on many of the issues we are discussing but I shall conclude now out of courtesy to those who have yet to speak. This Government and especially my noble friend Lady Hollis have a fine record on disability. I readily admit that. I pay tribute to them for the fine work they have done. However, we need to go much further. The Government's new Bill is profoundly important in terms of transforming help for disabled people. If the Government grasp the nettle, we shall be able to do more for disabled people in the future than we have ever done in all previous legislation. I ask my noble friend and the Government to think about making that radical transformation a reality using this European Year of Disabled People as the peg.
§ 3.47 p.m.
§ Lord Rix
My Lords, as president of Mencap, one of the country's biggest disability organisations, I welcome the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, in drawing attention to this European Year of Disabled People. We should not need special years but until equal citizenship for disabled people is implemented as well as being acknowledged throughout Europe, we shall need special years.
Sadly, people with a learning disability do not always enjoy equal status with other people with disabilities—even within the community of people with disabilities itself, although I think that that is changing, as has already been indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, who mentioned IYDP. I think that that is when the change began to take place.
As eastern European countries come forward for EU membership, we become even more conscious of the marginalisation of disabled people in general and of people with learning disabilities in particular., and of the challenge to ensure that economic progress narrows rather than widens the gap between disabled and non-disabled people.
Mencap has played a significant part in Europe generally, and in eastern Europe in particular, with Gail Stewardson, Mencap's European Officer, being very much to the fore. The three key themes of this work have been: empowering disabled people and family carers; sharing experience and expertise; and local solutions to local problems using local resources.
711 Those same three themes characterise progress on services for people with a learning disability in this country where we share a surprisingly similar disability history with our continental neighbours.
We have come a long way in the world of learning disability since our Down's Syndrome daughter was born nearly 52 years ago. The first improvements surfaced in 1971 with the White Paper, Better Services for the Mentally Handicapped and with the implementation of the Education (Handicapped Children) Act, which included children with severe learning disabilities in the education system for the very first time.
It was in 1970 that the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, secured through a Private Member's Bill in another place the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act. All these groundbreaking achievements—for they were achievements, believe me—came only a year or two after the population of the old "subnormality hospitals" had peaked with the appalling number of over 60,000 men, women and children still virtually incarcerated. Today, about 1,500 people with a learning disability continue to live in English hospitals, but in greatly changed circumstances, while those still alive from that peak figure of 60,000 have become our neighbours in the community.
Then, 30 years on from that first White Paper, came the publication of Valuing People, a milestone in governmental attitudes towards the provision of services for people with a learning disability. The Government deserve great credit for this very different White Paper, which enshrines choice, rights, independence and inclusion—all of which could be summed up as treating people with a learning disability as equal citizens.
The All-Wales strategy for people with a learning disability, published in 1983, attracted great interest across Europe and indeed all round the world. I trust that my Welsh friends will not accuse me of xenophobia if I say that I think the English White Paper has secured the same wide audience. Mencap is a founder member of the erstwhile International League of Societies for People with a Learning Disability, now the highly esteemed Inclusion International. That organisation's European arm in particular is keenly watching progress with implementing Valuing People, and interested parties in the about-to-be new member states are also very much aware of what we seek to do. If I might stray a little further afield, we hope that the White Paper's principles may inform work that we are endeavouring to do with our Arab colleagues in post-war Iraq.
It is imperative therefore that we secure the White Paper's full and successful implementation, and I hope that your Lordships will understand why I want to take the opportunity of offering a few helpful comments and criticisms.
I start by welcoming the first government annual report to Parliament on Valuing People, which was published in April. An accessible White Paper followed by an accessible report on its implementation 712 is quite something. The report highlights the fact that much has been done, and there are certainly areas where we can be satisfied. We have made great progress in the inclusion of people with a learning disability in the planning and implementation processes at all levels. That is particularly true at task force level. However, the picture is more mixed around the country in the local partnership boards. Mencap's recent report highlighted the reality of patchy local development.
Perhaps the concept of putting the aspirations of people with a learning disability at the centre of the planning and implementation process is just too challenging. On the other hand, there is encouragement, as some areas have grasped the nettle, confronted the difficult issues, and are beginning to make it work.
I am concerned, however, that learning disability is not one of the key priorities for government departments, health authorities and trusts, or local authorities. The amount of money available is inadequate. Changes in funding arrangements mean that an overall picture is simply not available, but the experience of shortfalls and cutbacks is in sharp contrast to the picture painted by the Department of Health. That contrast is not, of course, entirely new. Nor is my expression of concern about funding shortfalls, or my feeling that government replies fall a little short of total reassurance.
One of the weaknesses of Valuing People is that very little extra money has been provided to implement it. Without adequate funding, many of the high ideals will continue to be frustrated. A central plank of the White Paper is "person-centred planning" —a horrible phrase, but that is the one used—which is intended to give people real choices in their lives. But choice means more opportunities and support, of better quality, for more people, and there is inevitably more cost. The common experience across Europe has been that better things can be done with the same amount of money, but that better things still can be done with greater amounts of money.
I wish that the Government would lift the curtain of the dark a little and provide us with the actual cost of fully implementing Valuing People. I also return to an old warhorse of mine. Why cannot the Government agree that adequate funds should be earmarked for local councils to implement the learning disability programme fully, without having to reduce services in other areas? I have asked that question many times in relation to various aspects of government funding, and the answer has always been a lemon. Surely by now the lemon has been squeezed dry. If so—if I may mix my drinks and my metaphors—could the Government not offer a little more milk of human kindness instead?
In applauding the Government's concern for outcomes, I also hope that they will offer an effective framework of outcome measures by which to monitor the progress in implementing Valuing People, otherwise its aspirations could be lost. Unless the range of government departments concerned develops and monitors clear targets, aspirations will become 713 expirations. I am sure that the French have an appropriate term to describe big dreams and modest reality.
People with a learning disability are still excluded from many mainstream services including housing, which is one area where there is a need for not only new and imaginative thinking, but simple growth in the services available. I hear regularly from elderly parents who still have sons and daughters with a learning disability living with them, and are desperate to know what will happen when they have gone. The needs of those elderly parents are highlighted in Valuing People, but there is little evidence as yet of plans to help. In Mencap's survey of 150 local authorities last year, we found that only half of the local authorities knew the numbers of people living with older parents aged 70 or over. Worse still, only one in four local authorities has planned alternative housing for them.
Probably the saddest feature of European learning disability history is the treatment of those described as irrecoverable, untreatable and ineducable—people with profound and multiple learning disabilities, and often associated sensory and physical disabilities. Probably the greatest achievement, in some parts of Europe, has been the discovery and implementation of ways to bring the most severely disabled people into the mainstream of services and opportunities. Probably the biggest gap in the White Paper is the relative lack of attention to that group, exacerbated by the tendency to lump it in with a very diverse group of people with extra problems.
Learning disability will not be treated as a priority in England or the rest of Europe, unless European governments and the community as a whole give learning disability the higher importance that it deserves. Having a dream is great, but the dream begins to lose its attractions if it remains forever unfulfilled.
An elderly lady from Surrey and a young woman from Romania with a learning disability provide an abiding image for the European Year of Disabled People. The lady and her late husband invested huge energy and money in Romania and befriended the young woman. The young woman once lived in a Romanian institution, suffered greatly there, and has had difficult times since. Her teeth have been kicked out; she was mugged on the way home from work. However, she travelled to Brussels to address European leaders, and with support moved from being someone put away and abused, to someone listened to and respected. That picture speaks for the new way forward for the new Europe in this year of disabled people.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, like other noble Lords I begin by congratulating my noble friend Lord Morris of Manchester on obtaining this debate to mark the European Year of Disabled People.
On a personal note, perhaps I should say at the outset that it is something of a culture shock for me to be speaking from the government Back Benches on 714 disability, after 10 years on the Opposition Front Bench berating the Conservative government on the subject. Then I had five years in government when I was not able to speak on the subject in the Chamber. What I said in government is another matter, of course. For a number of those years in opposition, I shared the Front-Bench brief with my noble friend Lady Hollis of Heigham, who will reply to the debate. I apologise in advance to her if I lapse into berating mode—old habits die hard.
I wondered how best to frame my contribution, but last week, in the Recess, I was sorting out some papers in my study at home. Purely by chance, I came across a pamphlet produced in 1980. It is entitled New Horizons for the Disabled. It was produced by the Co-operative Party and the author was one right honourable Alfred Morris MA, MP. The foreword is by the right honourable James Callaghan MP. The pamphlet sets out an agenda for action to help disabled people. It might be useful to see how we have fared in the past 23 years in helping disabled people by considering that agenda for action.
The first few words of the pamphlet are as true now as they were then. It states,many people still saw the disabled as objects of pity and occasional charity, to be looked after because of their disabilities rather than encouraged to make the most of their abilities".The pamphlet estimated that there were then 3.5 million disabled people. The figure now is estimated to be nearer 8 million, plus the involvement of those who have a disabled family member. The exact figures are hard to come by, but it has been estimated that one in four of the population is involved, directly or indirectly and in one way or another, with disability.
We have certainly made some progress when we consider, for example, the demands for accessibility that were made in the pamphlet in 1980. They related to access to shops. The pamphlet stated:A fully accessible retail store should have:… Easy access from car-parking facilities … No steps leading to the main entrance from the street … A simple entrance arrangement with wide doors that will stay open long enough to allow a person who is slow moving or in a wheelchair to enter safely and comfortably … Aisles wide enough for wheelchair customers, gripping rails in all toilets and locks that can be operated by people with arthritic hands or a weak grasp … Resting points for frail, elderly and disabled people who soon get tired".That is just as true now as it was then.
When we turn to the vital matter of employment, I cannot do better than to quote from letters written more than 20 years ago to the working party of the noble Earl, Lord Snowdon, on the integration of disabled people. It was stated that:Work is so important, not only to provide an income, but also to keep one in circulation in the wider world, still as an integral part of the community.The real secret behind a disabled person living a happy and useful life is simply to work.So far as employment is concerned, my friends feel that there is more discrimination against the handicapped than against coloured people".715 In comparison, the most recent figures indicate that 75 per cent of blind and visually impaired people of working age are unemployed. That compares with the national average of about 3 per cent. Yet, more than 20 years ago, research studies showed that disabled people were reliable, loyal, conscientious and productive workers. They had less time off for sickness than non-disabled people. That is just as true today.
There are many obstacles still to overcome. An article in the Guardian of 4th April highlighted the practical problems that are the everyday experience of disabled people and those who care for them. The article was written by a mother who could not book tickets for the National Film Theatre because her 10 year-old daughter was a wheelchair user and therefore a fire hazard. The new trick now is to use health and safety regulations as a way to get around the Disability Discrimination Act. The article also mentioned a man who was refused membership of a gym because his diabetes posed a risk to safety, as was a person with a visual impairment. The same girl who was denied entry to the National Film Theatre was also denied swimming lessons at school, again on grounds of safety. I am glad to say that the National Film Theatre and the swimming pool have altered their policies and the young lady can now attend both. But how many disabled people have a relative who can write an article for the Guardian?
Only today, an excellent report, which your Lordships may have seen, was published by Mencap. It is called Arts for All? and it is about the access to arts facilities in London for disabled people. The introduction to the report says:The project and report focuses on the experiences of families on their unannounced visits to popular family attractions in London.Some key findings include:… The attitude of some staff and members of the general public makes parents reluctant to plan a family day out … Access arrangements are complicated and inflexible. There is also a lack of seating and rest areas … Public transport presents many difficulties. Some stations do not have any suitable lifts, escalators and waiting areas … Lack of accessible toilets in venues. Most are shared with baby changing facilities and are unsuitable".I turn to the question of employment. I have over the years visited a number of organisations connected with disability, and have always asked them the same question: "How many disabled people do you employ?". A recent survey by the publication Disability Now gave the figures for 14 major nationally known disability organisations. The percentage of staff who were disabled ranged from 100 per cent to nil. Seven of the 14 organisations employed less than 10 per cent disabled people, and among those seven— they are well-known organisations—out of a total staff of 20,119, the number of disabled employees was 672. The parable of the beam and the mote springs to mind.
We have of course made progress. There was the Disability Discrimination Act, which was passed by the Conservative government. Here I pay full tribute to Mr William Hague, the Minister concerned, who I know overcame much opposition within that government to get that Act on to the statute book. It 716 was not all that we wanted but it was a start. Then we had the Act passed by this Government, which is coming into force with the backing of the Disability Rights Commission.
Those Acts mark real progress in principle and practice but the practical problems of everyday living, of getting to and from work, of the work environment and of going to entertainment are the still the problems that disabled people meet and have to overcome every day of their lives. We have heard that the Government propose to publish in the summer a draft disability Bill. In terms of pre-legislative scrutiny, that Bill appears to be an ideal candidate for scrutiny by a Joint Select Committee of both Houses.
My daughter is blind with substantial hearing loss. I asked her for two practical examples of the problems that she faces. The first was the simple problem of reading her personal post. She either has to take it to work and have it read by her reader or a fellow employee, although items in the post could be extremely private, or she must wait until a family member is available. She is the first to admit that there is no easy answer to that problem. Her second point was that if "Mind the gap" can be announced on Tube trains, why cannot the name of the station be announced? Before I could point out that "Mind the gap" is a standard recorded announcement, she said that the only way in which she recognised Victoria was because the voice that says, "Mind the gap" is different. Such announcements are made on certain lines but it would be an enormous help for visually impaired people if that were universal. I used those two practical examples deliberately because in all of the proper rhetoric about the European Year of Disabled People is the real, day-to-day life experience of disabled people, and that should be at the forefront of our concerns.
I began with a quotation from the pamphlet of the noble Lord, Lord Morris, and I shall conclude with a further quotation, which is an admirable statement of the principles and practice of the Motion and it well stands the test of time. The noble Lord wrote:we must seek a society in which there is a genuine respect for the handicapped; where understanding is unostentatious and sincere; where if years cannot be added to the lives of the very severely handicapped, at least life can be added to their years; where needs come before means; where the mobility of disabled people is restricted only by the bounds of technical progress and discovery; where the handicapped have a fundamental right to participate in industry and society according to ability; where socially preventable distress is unknown; and where no [one] has cause to feel ill-at-ease because of his [or her] disability".
§ 4.9 p.m.
§ Lord Corbett of Castle Vale
My Lords, I join the warm congratulations to my noble friend Lord Morris of Manchester on securing this topical and important debate. I declare an interest as a director of Rehab UK, which is so ably chaired by the dedicated and determined Mr George Wilson, CBE, to whom my noble friend Lord Morris referred earlier.
717 This debate is topical because, as we have been told, this is the European International Year of People with Disabilities. It puts a new focus on the need for governments to ensure that, in the words of Rehabilitation International's charter:In the Third Millennium, it must become the goal of all nations to evolve societies that protect the rights of people with disabilities by supporting their full empowerment and inclusion in all aspects of life".I want to thank the Government for topping up funding of £0.5 million from the European Union by £2 million to make possible in the United Kingdom more projects involving people with disabilities than in any other EU state. I also warmly congratulate the Disability Rights Commission on its central coordinating role in the European Year in the UK, not least in organising with others an international congress of young people with disabilities in Swansea.
I want to confine my comments to rehabilitation and I immediately welcome the two-year pilots in six areas started earlier this month to examine barriers preventing people returning to work after sickness absence and how to overcome them. Some of your Lordships may wonder, as I certainly did, why it took any government so long to think that that was worth considering. But there we go; we have it now. I hope that some of the comments that I shall make about rehabilitation may assist in the organisation of those pilots.
The Select Committee on Health in another place reported in March 2001:Head injury is the foremost cause of death and disability in young people … There is a growing population of head-injured people in this country, as improved medical techniques have led to many head-injured people … living into old age, with a normal life expectancy".It is, in fact, estimated that around 100,000 people a year are affected by problems created by brain injury. Many are because of road accidents; others are because of accidents at home or at work; and yet others result from violent criminal assault.
Most of those involved in head injuries are men aged between 19 and 30. Perhaps what is not properly understood is that about six in every 10 brain-injury victims are capable of being trained to return to paid work. That is what Rehab UK does in its centres around the country. At a cost of about £12,000 to £13,000 for a one-year course, a person with brain injury can be helped to return to work. That is enough in itself in terms of independence, dignity and self-respect; in cold cash terms, it saves around £300,000 per person in benefits over a working life and turns those individuals from tax takers into tax payers.
In his introduction to the booklet, Pathways to Work. Helping People into Employment, Secretary of State Andrew Smith wrote:I believe that everyone who wants to work has the right to do so".That is a very commendable statement and we can all agree with it. But if that is to be achieved and if the Government really mean that, then they need to make the sustained investment to make it a reality.
718 I have to say to my noble friend who is to reply to the debate that it may be the present reality but it was unhelpful and got in the way of Secretary Smith's good words when my noble friend said bluntly on 11th February this year in response to a question about the need for extra funding for Rehab UK's Tyne and Wear centre:I regret that my department cannot extend or increase its funding without taking it away from other forms of disability".— [Official Report, 11/2/03; col. 555.]As I said, that may be the present reality but it gets nowhere near to meeting the present and growing, need. In my view, that is the nub of the problem. There is no single government department with responsibility for ensuring the rehabilitation of those assessed after brain injury as being capable of returning to work—I repeat: no single government department.
Instead of opening a chain of regional assessment and training centres, for which there is need, Rehab UK has had to close its Manchester centre, not because of a lack of demand and not because of any doubt about the outcomes achieved at that and other centres but because of the inability of a disparate group of potential funders to find ways to work together and to do the things that are needed to be done at the same time. Perhaps I may say that it is bad enough when they do because normally that is simply on a one-year basis and, as the calendar changes around the circuit, those employed by Rehab UK must attend again. I believe that that is entirely the wrong way to mark the European International Year of People with Disabilities.
I acknowledge that the funding position over the Tyne and Wear Rehab centre has improved in the short-term and I am grateful for that. But that is not the whole or the proper solution. As I said to your Lordships, Rehab UK now has to knock on the doors of the Department of Health, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Education and Skills, local authority social services departments, primary healthcare trusts and often other parts of local authority structures.
That will never fulfil Secretary Smith's ambition for the right of everyone who wants to work to be able to do so; it will never get anywhere near to meeting the needs of people with brain injury; and it will never properly deal with a problem to which there is a known solution if government can better get their act together over this important area.
Personally, I do not believe that this is primarily a responsibility for the Department of Health because it is at the point where the hospitals and specialist units have done the best they can with an individual that an assessment can then be made about the potential of that individual to respond to training as a way back into work. It is possible that the Department for Education and Skills is the most appropriate department to deal with the issue. However, frankly I do not care which government department it is. The plea that I make to my noble friend on the Front Bench is that we need to have a single lead department to take responsibility for this important area.
719 In my view, those six in 10 people with brain injuries who are capable of being helped back to work demand and deserve nothing less. They will be denied the help they need and the economy will lose their skills and talents, of which we have need, unless the Government can better organise investment in their rehabilitation. The European International Year of People with Disabilities is a good time to pledge that that will now be done, and I very much hope that my noble friend will be able to make such a pledge when she replies to the debate.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ Baroness Howarth of Breckland
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Morris, on initiating this important debate and thank him for giving me the opportunity to celebrate the initiatives of John Grooms, a charity with which I have been associated for the past 15 years. The noble Lord, Lord Morris, took a very strategic overview as a campaigner. For many years I have been involved as a director of social services and in John Grooms as someone delivering services. Therefore, it is from that point of view that I want to address my remarks today.
There is, indeed, much to celebrate in the steady developments and improvements in the services and care available to enable people with disabilities to live rich and independent lives. Not only has environmental access improved beyond recognition but the greater integration of people with disabling conditions into our communities is totally different from the kind of segregation many suffered even a decade ago. We now have clear standards for care, and I declare an interest as the vice chair of the National Care Standards Commission. Those will ensure that not only residential care but also domiciliary and other services will undergo inspection, which must include consultation and partnership with users of services.
The charity John Grooms, an organisation delivering residential care, day care, domiciliary help and holidays to severely disabled people, is committed to that partnership. Community care is vital and in addition to our residential establishments we have been involved in supporting some exciting initiatives to enable people to live in their own homes. But today I want to focus on what is often seen as the less attractive option of residential care because for many severely handicapped people that is the only alternative they have to being in hospitals or other institutions. That has changed beyond all recognition since I have been on the board of John Grooms.
When I joined the charity, its flagship was a large, village-type, residential home at Edgware, which some noble Lords may remember. It was, indeed, called The Cripplage. It came out of the 19th century and was certainly not fit for purpose in the rapidly-approaching new millennium. The board decided to sell the site and to use the funds to build two state-of-the-art homes in North London that would meet our aspirations to be at the forefront of the kind of care that would give maximum independence to those least able to care for themselves but with the desire to do so.
720 These homes were added to the other establishments that we run including an older but similar establishment in Norwich, John Grooms Court. All these homes have large, self-contained rooms with en suite shower rooms, a kitchen facility and access to communal dining rooms and leisure rooms. Noble Lords would not, I am sure, expect me to be giving a description for no reason. I now want to turn to the difficulties that we are beginning to face.
Most of our residents require constant care and each of our homes is registered with the commission and subject to inspection. In most aspects, the establishments are far above the national minimum standards. We are proud of this and grateful for standards. Whether we will be able to continue this high level of provision is now under threat in a way we could never have anticipated and is almost beyond belief as we celebrate the good work undertaken by so many organisations in the present day.
I turn to my example. The issue concerns registered residential and nursing homes and the matter of disaggregation of council tax in that the council tax legislation provides for "single dwellings" to be treated as a number of dwellings where there are one or more "self-contained" units within, and for each of these to have a separate tax band. The test is a physical one and appears to be that the inside doors have a lock and separate kitchen facilities, something to which we would aspire for all our disabled people, however disabled.
In a recent hearing involving the RNIB, the Inland Revenue agreed to withdraw the disaggregation notice in relation to bed-sit flats on the basis that they were so small as to prevent use without the communal living space. Four larger flats are still the subject of consideration. At a tribunal in Norwich the same arguments were put in relation to John Grooms Court, which provides bed-sits for wheelchair users, who also require considerable personal care. The valuation officer argued that additional space provided and needed for a wheelchair user is irrelevant. The fact that the bed-sits are larger means that they are capable of use as a separate dwelling even though they are clearly not used as that.
I realise that this begins to sound like Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The good news is that after considerable deliberation the tribunal agreed and found in our favour. However, that was not before the association had incurred considerable costs, funds raised by the charity which would otherwise have been spent on service users in the establishments. The action has reduced what little reserves we had to plan for new homes like the one we hope to build at Southend. The demand for places in our homes is continuous. We do not run a waiting list as any vacancy is immediately filled. There is certainly a demand.
Had the decision at Norwich tribunal gone against the charity, the additional costs to John Grooms could have been as much as £100,000 per year, which we would have had to pass on to local authorities or have every resident make claims for housing benefit—as for 721 supported living—when most of them would be incapable of doing so themselves or to stop further development in capacity or quality.
But on to Through the Looking-Glass and why in this debate I raise the issue and ask for the Minister's response to the situation when we are considering here the provision of the best facilities to give quality of life to people with severe disabilities. After the tribunal found in our favour, the Inland Revenue appealed against the decision in order to get the High Court to clarify, as stated by the legal adviser,what is poorly drafted legislation".There is, indeed, a lesson for us as we look towards a new Bill in ensuring that any new legislation is clearly written. The effect of this in policy terms is that if we were to provide small rooms with shared facilities we would not have the problem. So, dormitories with no facilities are okay.
We understand that the valuation officer would not want to have flats behind care home facades but we are a registered, inspected care home and have to meet the criteria for personal care otherwise the provision would simply become supported living. I do not believe that the Government would ever have intended that organisations such as John Grooms and the RNIB should be faced with the costs of clarifying legislation or that this situation should have arisen at all. Just getting on with the job of running the services, training and recruiting good staff, continually ensuring quality care and developing provision to meet future needs is enough without this to take away energy and resources.
John Grooms is determined to continue to meet the future with the best provision possible and, with the support of the TSB Foundation, has recently undertaken a review of future needs. With the support of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Disability it will be launched here in Parliament on 3rd June. I had the privilege of chairing the review. The most encouraging finding was that the disabled people we work with are growing in confidence and independence and are demanding better services, equality and inclusion, a good indicator in looking at their status in this European Year of Disabled People.
But planning for provision seems to be inhibited by good statistical information. The inquiry found that both broader planning information and information relating to individuals lacked co-ordination and clarity. I wonder whether the Minister could say something about the future of information collection. I save the remainder of our findings for the launch.
I do not have anything to say about Europe, but I did want to say something in response to the wider debate introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Morris. As the noble Lord, Lord Rix, said, we have much in common with our European partners, but in Asia it is very different and standards are very different; starkly so. In 1995 John Grooms association commenced an innovative partnership with the Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed in Bangladesh. A nurse educator was seconded to work with CRP at its centre at Savar at what became the leading physical rehabilitation centre in the country. What I see as 722 particularly special about this project, apart from the amazing results on the lives of people who would simply have had no life at all, was the way we worked on a partnership between John Grooms, an Irish funding and support organisation and the staff of the centre in Bangladesh. Alongside complex treatments there were simple solutions such as a ground-level trolley which gives women who are seriously immobilised by paralysis of lower limbs a new way of getting about. Indeed, for some it was whizzing about! Perhaps I may say to the Minister that we could have spent our legal costs on that.
I have concentrated on the residential care aspect of our work as there is a topical and immediate situation to air and address, but I could have spoken about our brain injury unit filled to capacity and turning away referrals much to the stress and distress of the staff, not to mention the possible users and their families. I join the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, in his comments about that work. I could have spoken of the problems of local authority funding for essential day care because of variation in response of boroughs. I could have spoken of very positive programmes such as our school awareness programme or our lifestyle worker but time will not allow.
There have been huge changes in the past decade. I congratulate the Government on the fact that, indeed, much has been accomplished. My experience with John Grooms and other associated charities as well as my work in the National Care Standards Commission, demonstrates that there remains much to be done. I hope that the Government will continue to give support to the voluntary sector in its efforts to ensure that the aspirations that people with disabilities have for their lives can be realised in the European Year of Disabled People.
§ 4.29 p.m.
§ Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Morris of Manchester on securing the debate. I think that most of us anticipated that there would be one but that it was touch and go whether it would be my noble friend Lord Morris of Manchester or my noble friend Lord Ashley of Stoke who would sponsor it. So it is a delight to see both taking part in the debate.
I need to declare an interest: I am chairman of the Housing Corporation. I should like to concentrate on housing and how it affects people with disabilities. Home is a place—whether it is a residential home, an independent house, flat or bungalow—in which people with disabilities spend much more time than perhaps the rest of us. Therefore, that makes housing even more important to the quality of their lives.
Early last year, in preparation for this year's European Year of Disabled People, I set up and chaired a group within the Housing Corporation—although it was headed by the corporation, it involved people from outside the organisation itself and from several government departments—to see what we could do, more than we are doing currently, to address this issue. I am somewhat disappointed that the European Year of 723 Disabled People does not seem to have had the high public profile that other years for other subjects have achieved, certainly within the UK. It seems to be a debate that is almost insular within the field of people with disabilities. That is to be regretted.
In the UK there is a huge unmet demand not only for homes offering full wheelchair access, but also for housing that enables people with non-wheelchair disabilities to enjoy independence. We all want to be independent. The opportunities for many disabled people to be independent and to have their own home are blocked simply because of a lack of provision of adaptations within homes. The provision of a few adaptations would considerably support their lives.
I guess that I should declare another interest: I am president of the College of Occupational Therapy—a wonderful bunch of people who visit people with disabilities in their own homes, in hospital or in residential homes to see what they can do in order to provide access to improve their lives. Here also the demand for adaptations far outstrips the available resources. There is also confusion. If one lives in a local authority home there is no confusion: it is the responsibility of the social services department. But if one lives in a housing association home, the local authority with a restricted budget will often say, "Go back to your housing association, it is its responsibility". So the person becomes involved in the ping-pong between the two bodies.
The Government, through the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, recently published a paper that addresses the issue of adaptations. We very much welcome it. In the group that I chair, housing practitioners expressed concern that the paper, while very welcome, would raise demand because the availability of adaptations would be brought to the attention of people who were currently unaware of them. The situation of demand outstripping availability could get worse. We shall want to follow through that issue.
A key area of challenge for the corporation with its working partners—whether housing associations or local authorities—is in the design of new homes. We are looking closely at this area because there are what are called "lifetime- homes. In other words, when one builds a home—whatever kind of home it is—should one not take into account that the people going into that home may have different needs during their lifetime? Would they not prefer to stay there rather than having to move out if they become disabled?
The argument—I must confess that I was in this camp originally—has been that it is too expensive. In fact, with clever design and with clever purchasing and procurement, that argument does not stand up. We are assessing whether we should change how we advise housing associations. We plan to hold a seminar later this year as one of our contributions to the disabled year which will involve not just housing but a broader spectrum—the health department and right across the board.
724 There is much to be done. There is no doubt about that. But we are not starting from scratch. We do not feel depressed or discouraged by the current situation. We have a good start point. Over the years, housing associations have provided for very different groups in our communities—for example, the elderly. They are our biggest client group. We have a group looking at housing for older people. The two groups are working closely together. Sheltered and supported housing are other areas.
We hope that by moving into the new funding regime for supported housing the position will become clearer. We are monitoring it. We do not fund revenue; we fund capital bills. But if housing associations, such as John Grooms, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth of Breckland, do not feel confident about their revenue support in future years, they will not make bids to us for new build. That will start to have a detrimental effect.
For the debate I asked the Housing Corporation's investment department, "Have the bids gone down for supported housing?" The answer was, "Yes, chairman. This past year we have not had as many bids." It is too early to say whether that was in response to the changes in funding. It may well not be. We are monitoring the situation. I know that the Government would not want that to happen because they support strongly what we are trying to do.
However, with increasing numbers of us living longer, wanting to maintain our independence, but perhaps later in life needing support to do that, then the supply of the appropriate kind of housing to meet our needs as our circumstances change is very important.
Another factor that could affect the supply of homes to people who need supported or sheltered housing has not been raised in this debate. And why should it? It is the planning regime—an area not within the Minister's portfolio but as the subject is about housing for people with disabilities it is right that it should be raised. Early this week I met a developer of housing for elderly people. Not all developers are good: they are not all honest and they do not all have integrity. This one is good. He has worked for years in the area. He said to me—quite alarmingly that in the past year 41 per cent of planning applications for housing for the elderly, despite having been recommended by the planning officers, were turned down by councils. That 41 per cent represented a potential loss of 400 units of sheltered accommodation.
That developer provides for the private sector, so no public subsidy was being sought. This was in addition to what the public subsidy would provide. We should bear in mind that if one looks nationally at the figures the majority of people moving into that kind of accommodation would come from within a 10-mile radius of the area. In other words, it was local accommodation for local people. It brought to my mind the words, "Not here, not there, not anywhere", the Nimbyism which can be so damaging. In this case it is very hurtful and harmful. The changes in planning would not want to create a situation where that continued. I accept that the matter is 725 not within the remit of the Minister, but we do not want the unintended consequences of changes in the law to affect the planning regime. At the moment an organisation can put in a second bid and, one would hope, get permission to build. That would not be possible under the proposals. We have a requirement as a quango to advise Ministers; we certainly shall do so.
I said that much is going on and that we are not starting from scratch. We are not. The Government should be congratulated on the support they have given not only through the department to which we account—the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister—hut other departments, such as that which my noble friend the Minister represents—and, indeed, the Treasury. Who would have thought that the Treasury would be mentioned in a debate such as this in a positive way? But it needs to be congratulated on a scheme to be launched on 9th May in Reading.
Ability Housing Association, which specialises in people with disabilities, working with Reading Borough Council, the Reading National Health Service Primary Care Trust and about 30 other housing associations, will be launching the first UK web-based disability register for housing. It will be a two-way register: individuals will be able to log on with their needs; and housing associations will register the kind of housing that they have. I am delighted to say that the private sector has already registered an interest in joining up. That is very positive and helpful and was funded in full by the Treasury under its Invest To Save grant. That is most welcome.
There are several different schemes up and down the country. We need to know more about them, because we need to bring them to the attention of poor local authorities that are doing nothing. In the spring of 2001, 6.8 million people of working age in the UK had long-term or work-limiting disabilities. We are living longer. That is good, but it means that we must plan better than we have done.
People with disabilities are within and a part of our society. They are not over there as a separate group. However, too often the approach has been to see them as a special group, an adjunct to society, not as being within it. That is the wrong approach.
The English built environment is generally inaccessible to disabled people. I agree with what my noble friend Lord Carter said about accessibility. Recent changes to building regulations are definitely improving the situation. Housing associations have confirmed that to me. The whole issue is straightforward: it is about equality, citizenship and treating our fellow citizens equally, in the way in which we should want to be treated if we were in their position.
In the briefing that I received from various sources, including my party, not one referred to housing. Perhaps that is a statement about housing itself. I am not sure. But housing, I suggest, is critical to the quality of life of people with disabilities. We must recognise the need and what needs to be done.
It is not just a case of saying what we want the Government to do; it is for all public bodies, all organisations, to consider what they can do to 726 contribute to the European Year of Disabled People. I welcome the debate as a contribution to that year and I hope that when the year ends we shall return to the issues and monitor how we are doing as a nation.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ Lord Hussey of North Bradley
My Lords, I apologise for rising unexpectedly at this late moment, but I was in bed at home with 'flu when the debate was announced. I shall not detain your Lordships for long. I simply want strongly to make the point how far things have changed since I was first involved in disability.
I was wounded in 1944. Six years later, when, I was in hospital in Oxford, I remembered that I had been sent some modest pension and wrote to the Ministry of Pensions suggesting that it might like to continue it. I received a letter back stating that it had no record that I had had an amputation and asking, if I had, could I prove it? If I could prove that I had had an amputation, could I provide medical evidence that it had occurred more than six months earlier? That is a true story, which tells us how things have changed in recent years.
From where I sit as a disabled war pensioner—moving around quite a lot, I am glad to say—it is impossible not to be impressed by and proud of our country because of how much is now done for the disabled. There are toilets, the way that we get shown into a cinema and people who stop to help us in the street. I was pushing a trolley in a station two weeks ago and a young woman stopped and said: "You can't push that trolley; let me push it for you". That would not have happened a few years ago. The improvement in the treatment of the disabled has been immeasurable and a matter of great pride and confidence to all of us.
Of course, that is not to say that there is not a great deal more that needs to be done. One has only to listen to the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Morris, Lord Ashley and Lord Rix—moving speeches by people who are informed about their subject—to realise that we are only at the beginning of what needs to be done. However, I want to emphasise how much has been done much—of it due to the public efforts of those three noble Lords.
Disability is an important, lasting and, in many ways, growing problem. To move away from things such as war injuries—although we cannot move away from them at this moment—I think of my sister, who died at a relatively early age from Alzheimer's. I am bound to say that I think that I am getting it myself now, but leaving that aside, that area demands considerable attention. If one has a relation or is otherwise dealing with Alzheimer's, one realises how difficult it is to get competent, willing treatment.
Having said that, I got my sister into a hospital near Haywards Heath. When she died a year or so later, half the hospital turned up at her funeral. The feelings are still there, but the needs are great.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ Lord Addington
My Lords, the last time that we debated disability, I referred to the usual suspects being in order. When I look down the list of speakers, I find that the top three usual suspects were the first three speakers in the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, has managed to establish himself as a formidable fourth. That group of Peers are people who have maintained in Parliament—not just this House— the on-going struggle to ensure that disability is a subject that is taken seriously here, kept alive and driven through legislation.
Most of the speeches followed one theme: we have come a long way; things are much better than they were; we are improving all the time; the Government have done well; but so they should and there is so much further to go. We have a reluctant snowball here: every time we go slightly further to improve things, we have to take a bigger step.
We must involve more departments. I have some sympathy for the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, who is to respond, because, as the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, and the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, mentioned, one department can never really cover the subject. If disability is basically a civil rights matter, as formidable as the noble Baroness is, her current brief does not cover that. It is also to do with health and education services. We must consider the matter in the round. That is one of the major challenges before government.
Most of the work that has been done in the field has been piecemeal and patchy. Everyone has been frightened of taking on new ideas and responsibilities and has been sticking provisions on as and when they felt that they had to. How many of us were waiting here last night to speak on amendments about disability to the Broadcasting Bill that we did not reach? The noble Lord, Lord Carter, was one such noble Lord. That is yet another case of pushing the disability issue into other legislation. How many times have we done that? We do it constantly. We constantly try to find holes. The Government have patched up many holes, but unless they agree to take the issue in the round and to bring all the elements together, we will always be doing that.
I hold the disability portfolio on the Liberal Democrat Benches—they are rather empty at the moment—but I do not want to have to pop up constantly during every Bill to cajole my noble friends and others to support me. I want the Government to seize the opportunity this year—hopeful signs are coming from Whitehall—to introduce a disability Bill that covers most of the principles, at least, and that allows us to have at best secondary legislation and regulations behind us. I conclude that that is the only way to tackle the issue in the long term. No matter how good our intentions, or how friendly we get Ministers to become so that they batter some understanding into civil servants—I feel that at times that has happened—we must try to introduce a basic principle that will make the process easier; otherwise, we will always be tabling that extra amendment and taking on that extra argument.
728 The guiding principle that should be adopted in providing practical help for disabled people was much talked about during the debate on the Communications Bill—what is technically possible should be done. By "technically possible" I mean having the technology and resources to implement changes. We return to the concept of reasonableness—it is in the DDA. If that principle is introduced into legislation and government thinking, we will have a much more coherent approach. As the noble Lord, Lord Carter, pointed out, one person in four is touched by disability. Anyone who deals with disability groups knows that it is usually families of disabled people who carry forward movement, especially at the start. If such a principle is introduced, those groups will know what they can do and what they can expect. They will not waste time with unreasonable explanations. They will try to make progress.
We must put in place a statement of what we expect a disabled person to do as new disabilities are found. For instance, as someone with the hidden disability of dyslexia, dyspraxia was lumped together with it a few years ago but has now been removed from that category. The noble Lord, Lord Astor, also has experience in the field. It is a different group of disabilities, but it nevertheless exists.
If we continue to expand knowledge about reasons for people's behaviour and why they cannot do certain things, we will not have to write in provisions again and again. I am sure that the Ministers are as bored with the subject as we are. Little will be achieved if we must return to the matter, becoming the group that constantly picks up the same issue. I have heard bar conversations featuring comments such as, "Oh, there is more about disabilities coming in". I have a little information for those fed up hearing about it: I am fed up making the speeches.
It is to be hoped that, if new legislation is enacted, and we work towards a single commission for equality, we can achieve more. At the moment we are merely duplicating effort and wasting it. However, the Government deserve credit for having at least done more than the previous one and for taking major steps. They are mending or blocking some holes—it would be unreasonable to think that they should not do that. But it is not enough merely to carry on in that way; otherwise, we will not achieve our ultimate goal of ensuring that disabled people have as full a place in society as possible and that unemployed or underemployed disabled groups do not have to struggle and go through hoops to gain basic education rights. It is not about that.
Dealing with the problems piecemeal will never provide a final answer. We must take on the whole subject so that in a few years' time we can sit quietly, having dealt with the basic principle, and say that the rest is largely automatic. We will probably get the legislation in place, and it may last a fair amount of time. But, eventually, I am sure, technical matters and further research will prove the need to return to the issue. If we cannot stop the problem once and for all, we might at least take a holiday at that point and say that we have done as much as we can for now.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Lord Astor of Hever
My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, for giving us, once again, the opportunity to debate the important issue of disabled people. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy and the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke—the usual suspects—have all worked tirelessly to improve the lives of the disabled, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, rightly said. I am very proud that my late uncle, the Member for Newbury, worked constructively on the issue with all three.
The noble Lord, Lord Rix, mentioned learning disabilities. In declaring an interest as the father of an autistic daughter, I am personally very grateful to him for all his work in that field.
The first European Year of Disabled People was officially launched in this country on 20th January. My party fully welcomed the launch. Two days later, the Government's announcement of their intention to publish a draft disability Bill later in the year provided an ideal start. Initiatives designed to increase awareness of the situation in which many disabled people still find themselves, or to highlight good practice in tackling those difficulties, deserve the support of all noble Lords.
The European Commission has set aside 12 million euros to recognise the event. The UK's share is, I understand, just under £50,000 for launch events and £500,000 for project activities. In addition, the Government have contributed £2 million to support the year. It is important that that extra funding and the spotlight on disability is harnessed to produce effective action, as it represents a real opportunity for the Government to improve their so far disappointing record on disabled people's issues.
We, on these Benches, respect and support the dignity of the individual. We recognise that tackling the practical problems faced by people with disabilities must be given the highest priority. Like everyone else, they have aspirations and needs as individuals. It is our job to offer them realistic and practical support based on their rights as full citizens. We want to support them in worthwhile employment wherever possible. We are anxious to find and implement practical solutions so that all people, no matter what their disability, can reach parity and play their full part in society.
The Conservative Party has always been proud to push disability up the public policy agenda. William Hague, as Minister for Disabled People in the previous Conservative government, introduced the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, in an otherwise excellent speech I feel that he exaggerated the opposition in my party. I took the trouble to check the point with my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy. We supported recent legislation establishing the Disability Rights Commission and extending those rights to education. Our commitment to those with disabilities, and our concern for the disability agenda, will remain a focal point of Conservative thinking.
730 When the Labour Party first took office in 1997, all the signs were good. The 1997 manifesto made a commitment to,comprehensive, enforceable civil rights for disabled people.The 1998 Green Paper on welfare reform promised new help to people with disabilities and an "unwavering" determination to ensure that disabled people were,not left on society's sidelines".In March 2001, the Government issued a response to the report by the Disability Rights Task Force, From Exclusion to Inclusion, pledging to carry forward work on disability on a number of fronts, including a promise of primary legislation, where applicable.
Despite the promises and kind words, it is widely felt that improvements on the ground have not been as significant as hoped for. In some instances, the circumstances of disabled people have deteriorated. The Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 1999 represented the Government's first attempt at reforming the welfare system and should have been the vehicle through which it gave substance to its words on disability. Sadly, that was not the case. Many disabled people have still not forgiven the Government for what was described as a pernicious and unfair piece of legislation.
Through the provisions of the Act, incapacity benefit was subjected to means-testing for the first time. That met with widespread opposition. People who have an entitlement to a contributory disability benefit should not have it cut back because they have had the prudence to build up a pot of savings for retirement. Yet the Government chose to save money by targeting some of the most vulnerable members of society. People with disabilities who have savings over £3,000 gradually lose entitlement to means-tested benefits. Those with savings over £8,000 have no entitlement to income support. The rules for pensioners with savings have been changed, but Ministers have refused to do the same for people with disabilities. For the first time, different categories of recipient are being treated differently.
Despite pressure from my party, the Government have refused to budge. At the previous election, we promised to increase the capital rules for people with disabilities to bring them back into line with those for pensioners. That would have benefited 15,000 people with disabilities who already claimed income support and 5,000 people who would have become entitled to the benefit for the first time.
Given that the Government have followed a programme designed to make receiving state support as difficult and as limited as possible, it is not surprising to discover that, under Labour, the numbers of people claiming incapacity benefit has increased by over 100,000 since February 2000. The reason for the increase in claimants is not just the increased number of people joining the caseload but the average length of claims. Around half of all claims last for more than five years. The figures demonstrate an incredible waste of talent, enthusiasm and experience that is being allowed to go unchecked. For some people with disabilities, 731 taking a job will be difficult; for others, it will be impossible. However, for many, employment is what they want and what they need financially.
Despite the Government's lauding of their flagship programme, the New Deal for Disabled People, the gap between unemployment rates for people with disabilities and for the population as a whole, is still far too high. Despite the headline-seeking aspirations of the New Deal, even the Government had doubts about its effectiveness. Initially, Ministers insisted on excluding one in five New Deal applicants to create a control group by which to judge success. That move was heavily condemned by groups that represent people with disabilities. I am thankful that, belatedly, the Government saw sense.
There is a similar problem with the Government's approach to supported employment schemes, which have long provided safe working environments for people with disabilities. Ministers believe that people with disabilities should be moved from supported employment into mainstream work, even if it is not their preferred option. As a result, they are likely to be pushed into less fulfilling and lower skilled work than is available through supported employment. Assimilation can be a progression into isolation, the very thing that we must seek to avoid.
Aids such as artificial limbs, wheelchairs and hearing aids are often the key to independence for a person with a disability: they enable. Yet, in the 21st century, the provision of aids and modern technology is perhaps the worst part of our support for people with disabilities and is well below modern international standards. For those wanting to work or to stay in the labour force, there is often a bureaucratic tangle before anything is provided. As for regular users of aids provided through the National Health Service, there are countless stories of people being unable to get essential spares or replacements without long delays. The equipment, which can make a huge difference to people's quality of life, is often obsolete, is not always in the right place at the right time and is not properly inventoried and tracked. On these Benches, we have recognised that fact, and at the previous election we made the provision of appropriate equipment a cornerstone of our manifesto for people with disabilities. New technologies should be made widely available at the earliest opportunity.
In November last year, the Government published proposals to reform incapacity benefit in the Green Paper, Pathways to Work. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions said that the proposals combined,better and more intensive advice with mandatory work-focused interviews, new opportunities for rehabilitation and new financial incentives to encourage people to move into jobs".—[Official Report, Commons, 18/11/02; col. 366.]Phased pilot schemes of the new approach in six areas of Great Britain will start from next autumn. We have called on the Government, for some time, to give extra help to people with disabilities who want to work. If the proposals in the Green Paper really will help, we will support them. I am concerned, however, that we have been here many times before. Four years ago, Labour launched the New Deal for Disabled People 732 and began to means test incapacity benefit. Three years ago, they launched the ONE programme. Two years ago, they announced Jobcentre Plus. Last year, they promised a new Welfare Reform Bill to tackle the rise in incapacity benefit claims. None of those measures has reduced the number of disabled people out of work.
It is vital that the question of adequate flexibility in the interaction between benefits and work is fully addressed. It is also important that the business case for employing a disabled person should be fully made to employers. It is important to use a variety of methods to change attitudes. Furthermore, it is vital that we have a proper and rigorous evaluation of all pilot studies, when they take place.
It is clear that we still have barriers to overcome in ensuring that all disabled people are able to live in dignity and independence and play their full part in society. The European Year of Disabled People will help to highlight the many issues and difficulties that disabled people often face. On these Benches, we have always been proud to carry forward the disability agenda. We will continue to do so unreservedly.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Baroness Hollis of Heigham
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Morris of Manchester for initiating what has been an interesting and informed debate. I am sure that the House will join me in recording appreciation of the noble Lord's work as an indefatigable champion of the rights of disabled people over many years.
Interestingly, the debate focused primarily on what I would call the more severe end of disability. I had not expected that. There were the issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth of Breckland, to which I shall return, about John Grooms and wheelchair users. My noble friend Lord Carter spoke about the difficulties faced by blind and severely visually impaired people. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, spoke about people with substantial learning difficulties. My noble friend Lord Corbett of Castle Vale spoke about brain injuries. The noble Lord, Lord Hussey of North Bradley, spoke about Alzheimer's. A number of detailed points have been raised, which I shall pursue to the best of my ability and reply in writing to noble Lords. I accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, that many of the issues raised today are not primarily the responsibility of my department but reach into the work of other departments, with which I shall consult.
However, I am sure that noble Lords acknowledge—although possibly not the noble Lord, Lord Astor—how much the Government have done since coming to power to improve the lives of disabled people in this country. Perhaps it is worth reminding ourselves of the distance travelled. We all know that, in general, disabled people have lower incomes and higher costs than those without disabilities—often because they are excluded from work. Therefore, they face reduced employment opportunities and sometimes constrained access to the goods and services, education, travel, insurance, housing and leisure that the rest of us take for 733 granted. To repeat a phrase used by the noble Lord, Lord Rix, it is about mainstreaming their rights as equal citizens.
I turn first to incomes, which, apart from the noble Lord, Lord Astor, have not been discussed today. In the most basic way possible, income empowers people to make choices. Therefore, I do not apologise for starting with cash before turning to civil rights. Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Astor, said, the Government have done a great deal of work on this issue, but I wonder whether noble Lords realise how much. Many disabled people are elderly and have benefited from the huge boost in the minimum income guarantee which has risen in line with earnings and not just prices—unlike the inheritance from the previous administration.
In addition, for those people under the age of 60, the disability income guarantee was introduced in April 2001 and is worth nearly £200 per week to a couple. The numbers claiming DLA and AA have risen by one-fifth since 1997. Therefore, last year, nearly £11 billion was paid to 4 million disabled people to help them meet some of the costs of their disabilities, such as heating, laundry, diet and transport.
I apologise if I am being unfair, but, interestingly, I do not think that anyone has mentioned the issue of disabled children. The financial lift of which I am proudest is that which helps disabled children. In 1997, a disabled child drew £21 per week in income support. That figure has now doubled in cash terms to over £41 per week—a rise during the past six years of over 70 per cent in real terms. No one mentioned that. No one is shouting that from the rooftops. In addition, 40,000 families with severely disabled children also benefit from an extra £16.60 per week for each disabled child. As noble Lords know, DLA has been extended to three and four year-olds so that children using, for example, oxygen cylinders who need help with taxis and transportation receive financial support.
Putting this in context, the Government have a good record with children. Families with children—not disabled children—have seen a real increase in their average incomes of around one-fifth since 1997. That is good news. But families with a disabled child have received an increase in average family income of over one-third since 1997. That is even better news, as I am sure the House will agree. I am only sorry that no one thought that worthy of mention tonight.
As many of your Lordships said today, the surest way of helping anyone, including disabled people, to have both a decent income and a full adult life—the life to the years and not just the years to life, to quote the very effective and telling phrase of my noble friend Lord Morris is to enable them to work and to stay in work.
We have introduced a range of employment programmes to help disabled people gain and keep work, ranging from Access to Work, WORKSTEP and New Deal for Disabled People. Through the extension of civil rights, we have brought greater protection against discrimination, better access to employment, goods, services and transport to more 734 than 8.5 million disabled adults. In addition, we are opening up more opportunities in education for young people and children.
Let us look back at some of the major achievements. My noble friend Lord Carter paid tribute to the 1995 Act. I learnt much of what I know about disability as his underling through the battles of 1992 over DWA and the battles in 1995 over the disability Act. I am sure that he would agree with me that although the Act was a milestone, it was, as we argued at the time, a motor car without an effective engine. That is why, after coming to power, we established the Disability Rights Task Force in 1997, paving the way for the Disability Rights Commission—it has just celebrated its third anniversary—which, above all, has made a reality of many of the propositions in the 1995 Act.
In 1999, we made a significant improvement to rights of access to goods, services and facilities, requiring those who provide services to make "reasonable adjustments" where access is impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled people. That might include installing a hearing loop system or perhaps allowing a personal assistance dog into areas where animals are not normally allowed.
From October 2004, service providers will have to take reasonable action to tackle the physical barriers which prevent disabled people accessing their services. That will provide a major boost to the participation of disabled people. We are already seeing many enlightened service providers taking action to improve access to their premises.
Through implementation of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act, the first stage of which came into force in September last year, we are providing protection for disabled students and pupils against discrimination. The noble Lords, Lord Campbell of Croy and Lord Rix, made reference to the problem of those people particularly with learning disabilities and their need to be mainstreamed. As the noble Lord, Lord Rix, knows well, based on the White Paper Valuing People, we are working with the Department of Health on the four key principles of rights, independence, choice and inclusion.
We think that it will take perhaps five years to implement. But with the publication of annual reports, I am confident that your Lordships will keep government up to the mark every year in respect of the degree of progress that we have achieved. We could not be more transparent than producing the annual reports to measure the efficacy of our White Paper.
Through regulations made under Part 5 of the Act, we have ensured that many new road and rail transport vehicles are more accessible to disabled people. In addition, we are implementing Article 13 of the European directive on employment two years earlier than necessary. I shall speak to that in greater detail later.
However, legislation is not enough. Lack of work is one of the most common sources of social exclusion and disabled people are still approximately seven times more likely to be out of work and on benefits than non-disabled people. Strikingly, the degree of severity of 735 disability is no indicator of the degree of likelihood of exclusion from work. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, will not mind if I refer to his family. His daughter who has what appear to be overwhelming disabilities has none the less held down an important job very successfully. Yet only 11 per cent of those with what many might regard as mild to moderate mental health problems, such as stress or depression, are in work.
There is a real difficulty in seeking how best to overcome mental health issues in particular. I am the first to admit that the Government have not yet got this right. It is one of the biggest areas of difficulty. We are not dealing with a disability that is visually recognisable and therefore a perceived stigma needs to be overcome. Nor are we dealing with a problem of physical access which would allow for a bricks and mortar adjustment. This issue is much more profound and much harder to overcome. This disability spills into an area of almost sickness-like problems and, to some extent, some disabled people with mental health problems interlock with the employers' stigma to exclude them from the labour market when they still have so much more to offer.
In the field of learning disabilities, my noble friend Lord Corbett spoke movingly and powerfully about the problems faced by young men with brain injuries. We are working with the Department of Health to take into account the new national service framework for long-term conditions announced in 2001 by the Secretary of State for Health. We plan to publish the framework next year. I shall ensure that my noble friend's comments are taken into consideration. He was right to point out that some of these issues cut across government departments, but that is the price we must pay if we want to fulfil our wish to see disabled people integrated into the mainstream of every walk of life, whether it be education, transport, housing, the environment or income and financial support. Inevitably, that results in a more fragmented approach than would otherwise be desired.
My noble friend Lady Dean raised the issue of housing. I am glad that she highlighted this matter in her remarks because, as she so rightly pointed out, too often it is an area that is overlooked. My noble friend will know that since October 1999, Part M of the regulations applies to new housing, making such housing accessible to disabled people. My noble friend recognised that we are currently consulting on what should be done about existing property and the propriety of further extending the regulations. We very much welcome the work of her corporation. She will know better than anyone that around 13 per cent of Housing Corporation expenditure is being allocated to housing for people with supported housing needs.
My noble friend also spoke of the position with regard to sheltered housing for the elderly and described how some private development proposals have been rejected, at least initially, by local authorities. I do not know the background, but my experience in local government suggests that, increasingly, rather than opting for new-build 736 sheltered housing, local authorities are seeking to keep disabled and elderly people supported in their own homes. I know of at least one major housing association which has recognised that it faces a problem with regard to its supply of sheltered housing as a result of that policy. People's aspirations have changed from those of 20 years ago when some sheltered housing was being built. I do not know whether that development lies behind some of the problems described by the noble Baroness, but I shall pursue the matter. However, it is the case that, increasingly, the thrust of the services being offered by local authorities is changing. Equally, local authorities are now offering choice-based lettings and we are seeking to expand good practice in this area.
The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth of Breckland, raised issues associated with conflated council tax as opposed to disaggregated council tax, where it was possible that what lay behind a facade of seemingly separate flats, was in fact a heavily supported, interdependent mutual living arrangement. Given that the case she mentioned may be going to appeal, the noble Baroness will not expect me to comment in detail. However, I was a little puzzled because many years ago I was involved in setting up sheltered and halfway housing in Norwich for people with physical and learning disabilities. Since the introduction of council tax, I know that not only is it possible often to rebate a band down by virtue of that type of accommodation, it is also the case that practically every resident is entitled to a full rebate of their council tax. I wonder exactly how the problems outlined by the noble Baroness have arisen, given my own experience in this area. If the noble Baroness would be kind enough to write to me, I shall take the matter further and check to see whether I am missing any tricks here.
Before I turn to the European Year of Disabled People I, too, along with my noble friend Lord Morris, want to highlight the 25th anniversary of Motability. It was founded in 1977 as a partnership between government, charitable and the private sectors to help provide transport for severely disabled people. The scheme has offered choice in meeting transport needs by making available mobility allowances, leasing cars and so forth.
The first Motability car was supplied in 1978. Since then, over 1.5 million cars have been provided to disabled people and their families. Currently, 400,000 people are benefiting from the scheme. I join with my noble friend in praising the vision and insight of its founders.
I turn now to the European Year of Disabled People. The European Commission originally made available almost £550,000 to the UK to promote the European year. We matched that sum with a further £1 million from the Government. Following a comprehensive bidding process, our co-ordinating committee received almost 1,200 bids for funding. Such was the high quality of those bids that the Government made available a further £1 million to help an additional 78 projects, thus aiding 171 in all. Throughout the exercise, our concern was that it should be for disabled people themselves to 737 organise, run and benefit from these schemes. They are the schemes of disabled people rather than for disabled people.
Perhaps I may give a flavour of the different proposals that received support. Schemes that made successful bids include a multi-disabled football league in London; support for disabled parents to help them in their parenting skills in Berkshire; training videos in advocacy for young learning-disabled adults; work with minority communities, including Asian and Latin American families; dementia awareness training in Merseyside; access facilities for countryside paths; work to promote the sexual health of young disabled people in Stockport; and a mental health arts project in Sussex. I could go on. What is most impressive is the vitality, range, and high quality of these locally based skills.
The European year also gives us a great chance to take stock of where we are in terms of civil rights for disabled people, to review what we are doing and to raise awareness. Noble Lords will know how much of this work has been carried out by other departments. We lead on the Disability Discrimination Act. Although the Disability Rights Task Force made 156 recommendations for change, only a minority of them concerned changes to the DDA. Many of those recommendations have already been implemented, while others will be dealt with.
Transport Ministers have just completed a consultation exercise looking at how to protect from discrimination disabled people who wish to use buses, trains and aeroplanes. That, too, was a task force recommendation. Ministers in other government departments are pursuing task force recommendations and, as I mentioned earlier, we are bringing forward by two years a key employment directive to ensure that even companies employing only one person will no longer be able to use that as an excuse to discriminate against disabled people. As a result, for the first time 1 million small employers, covering 7 million jobs and employing 600,000 disabled people, will be brought under the protection of the DDA.
At the launch of the European Year of Disabled People in January, the Secretary of State announced our intention to publish a draft disability Bill later this year. As I expected, my noble friend Lord Ashley of Stoke has pressed me on this. The draft Bill is being published so that it can be looked at by a parliamentary committee which can give us advice if it thinks anything needs to be changed. We have yet to determine the most effective way of setting up that scrutiny. We are also still considering what should be put in the Bill, but we are thinking about other recommendations from the task force. For example, we are looking at extending the DDA definition of disability to more people with HIV and cancer; making sure that public bodies promote the needs of disabled people; ensuring that activities such as the issuing of licences are not counted as services and so are not covered at the moment, and ending the exemption of transport services.
738 We are seeking to extend further in the Bill our manifesto commitment to ensure basic rights and opportunities for disabled people. However, my noble friend Lord Ashley and other noble Lords will know that at this stage I cannot comment in detail on the content of the legislation, except to say that I look forward to the debates that I expect us all to enjoy as and when we secure the necessary parliamentary time.
I hope that the issues I have mentioned—our work to raise the incomes of disabled people; our work to achieve further advances in regard to the Disability Discrimination Act; our work on extending rights of access to goods and services; the initiatives we are sponsoring under the European Year of Disabled People, and the work we have in progress for what I hope will be a further disability Bill—will convince noble Lords that this Government take seriously the European Year of Disabled People not only for one year, but for the generation to come. I hope that, as a result, we shall all enjoy each other's support on these issues.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Morris of Manchester
My Lords, again I am most grateful to everyone who has spoken in the debate. Your Lordships' House always excels in debating the problems and needs of disabled people and that was eloquently set in bold relief in a debate of high quality today.
As my noble friend Lady Hollis made clear, she will be responding to any unresolved questions put to her; and I know that she will do so with all her customary care and concern.
My noble friend is aware of my interest in vocational rehabilitation for people who have suffered traumatic brain injury, an issue which my noble friend Lord Corbett addressed so well in his speech, and I hope that there will be further opportunities soon to debate that and some of the other issues raised in the debate by my noble friend Lord Ashley, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, and in one impressive speech after another from all parts of the House since they spoke.
One regret that I have is that we could not address at more length today the pressing need to maximise the prevention of easily preventable disability. Four out of five blind people live in the Third World and four out of five of them are preventably blind— a deeply shaming fact. Yet as that inspired crusader against avoidable disability, the late and widely mourned Sir John Wilson, so clearly demonstrated, the cost of saving people in the Third World from preventable disability has been falling as dramatically as its incidence there has increased.
All too often now one hears grossly complacent talk of the huge advances made by medical science in eliminating one after another of the age-old scourges of mankind. But there is scant room for complacency when HIV spread, the renewed menace of malaria, superbugs and SARS—to name but some of the new scourges—are posing such daunting problems across the world.
739 This is but one reason why everyone who can contribute to reducing the long agenda of unmet need in this policy area must go on doing so. Meanwhile, and thanking again all who have contributed to making this debate so memorably worthwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.