HC Deb 26 March 1979 vol 965 cc18-21W
Mr. Ashley

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what extra efforts he is making to improve employment opportunities for disabled people.

Mr. John Grant

I am informed by the Manpower Services Commission that in January 1979 there were 139,700 unemployed disabled people, 9,000 fewer than a year earlier and that placings of disabled people by DROs in 1978 rose to nearly 59,000, an increase of over 10 per cent. compared with the previous year. These welcome figures can be seen in part as an indication of the effectiveness of the measures being taken to improve employment opportunities for disabled people.

Last year the Commission published its programme for developing employment and training services for disabled people over the next 5 to 10 years. The programme is designed to help create more employment opportunities for disabled people and to give them the support they may need. It re-affirms the Commission's commitment to providing and improving specialist services to help disabled people choose, train for, get and keep worthwhile jobs. Many of its proposals are now being implemented. To help improve employment opportunities for severely disabled people, the Commission plans to expand the total number of sheltered employment places by an annual average of up to 200 places over the next few years. It also hopes to improve the arrangements whereby sheltered workshops obtain work from public sector purchasing organisations.

The Commission is also carrying out a long-term campaign encouraging employers to adopt positive policies on the employment of disabled people. This campaign was launched in 1977 by issuing guidelines to 55,000 employers on how to adopt constructive policies and practices in the employment of disabled people. Since then, many employers have ben visited by disablement resettlement officers to discuss practical employment opportunities and there have also been presentations to groups of employers. I myself have written to remind my ministerial colleagues of the need to increase the number of jobs for disabled people in the nationalised industries and public boards for which they have responsibility, and I shall be keeping in touch with developments. My right hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for the disabled has written in parallel to health authority chairmen, and local authorities have been approached through their associations. I have also had discussions with my ministerial colleagues who have responsibility for the Civil Service. Local recruitment boards for the Civil Service are being encouraged to give due consideration to the employment needs of disabled applicants when local panels are convened, and discussions will continue about further measures which might be taken to encourage recruitment of disabled people.

Research into the effectiveness of the positive policies campaign emphasises the need for continuing follow-up, and a major national publicity initiative is being planned for this autumn to boost the impetus of the campaign.

These initiatives have been taken with the advice and support of the National Advisory Council on Employment of Disabled People. The Council is also making a detailed study of certain key issues affecting the employment of disabled people in particular the resettlement of mentally ill people and liaison between employment, health and social services and the role of disablement advisory committees in helping MSC promote the employment of disabled people locally. Together with the MSC, I am looking forward to receiving the Council's advice on these important isesues.

The Comimssion, as undertaken in its development programme, is also preparing a discussion paper reviewing the operation of the quota scheme. The discussion paper will be circulated widely by about the end of April and, in the light of comments received by the end of October, the Commission will consider making recommendations to the Secretary of State early in 1980. In reviewing the quota—and possible alternatives to it—the over-riding consideration will be how best to ensure effective protection of employment opportunuities for disabled people.

Mr. Ashley

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the take-up of special schemes available to help resettle disabled people into employment.

Mr. John Grant

I am informed by the Manpower Services Commission that the number of special aids issued to severely disabled people to enable them to undertake employment increased from 639 in 1976–77 to 669 in 1977–78, and in the first six months of the current year numbered 377. There has been a significant increase in the number of aids issued to the sighted disabled people from 95 in 1976–77 to 148 in 1977–78 and to 106 in the first six months of the current year.

In the first six months of the revised fares-to-work scheme, introduced in July 1978, 280 new applications from severelys disabled people unable to use public transport to get to work have been approved, compared with 103 and 72 in the comparable periods in 1977 and 1976. The increase is in line with that estimated by the MSC when planning its revised scheme.

In the first six months of the extended job introduction scheme, 756 people have been assisted through short trial periods with employers. This compares with about 700 who were helped in the whole of the first year of the experimental scheme up to July 1978. Encouragingly, almost 80 per cent. of those who were given trials remained in employment afterwards.

Since the capital grants scheme for adaptations to premises and equipment was introduced in August 1977, about 70 disabled people have been helped. Take-up has been slower than expected by the MSC which is now examining what steps should be taken to encourage greater use of the scheme by employers.

In addition, the extended job release scheme gives preferential treatment to disabled men by reducing the age of eligibility to 60 as compared to 62 for the able-bodied. This scheme not only gives some disabled men the opportunity to seek early retirement, if they so wish, but also aims to provide fresh employment opportunities for unemployed disabled people. We would ensure that, when a disabled person takes advantage of the job release scheme, the replacement should be an unemployed disabled person whenever this is possible.