People with Disabilities: Access to Services - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 1:42 pm ar 16 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Davies of Brixton Lord Davies of Brixton Llafur 1:42, 16 Mai 2024

It has truly been a privilege to sit and listen to this debate. Thanks are due to my noble friend Lady Hughes of Stretford for introducing it but all the other speakers have contributed so much. I have just two thoughts to advance: first, this is as much about mental as about physical disablement; secondly, I am going to say something about the challenge faced by disabled people in securing an adequate pension.

It is totally appropriate that we consider the mental health aspects. The noble Viscount, Lord Younger, has had to leave the Chamber but I can see that he is aware that it is Mental Health Awareness Week, so we need to include that in our thoughts. Of course, it arises in two ways. First, as I think a number of speakers have highlighted, coping with the situation creates mental health problems for people with physical disablement but, secondly, parallel to that are the problems faced by people who have mental health problems in coping with the situation as it is. My noble friend Lady Donaghy quite rightly drew attention to the excellent briefs that we receive because we are taking part in these debates. I will just highlight those from the Royal College of Psychiatrists and from the British Psychological Society, which clearly focus on the mental health aspects.

The royal college is particularly forthright about the reform of the disability benefits system. It points out the stark rise in the number of people facing mental problems and nails the canard that it is, in some way, due to more people taking a day off because it is a blue Monday. The royal college says:

“This increase is driven by serious issues such as poverty, housing and food insecurity and increased loneliness and isolation. These factors are known to put people at greater risk of having a mental illness and were compounded during the pandemic”.

It is absolutely clear that it is no easy ticket to be receiving support for a mental health problem. It stresses:

“Only those with conditions which significantly impact their ability to function and have lasted over a year can receive PIP”.

It would be good if the Minister could acknowledge the knowledge and experience of the royal college in assessing where we are in this situation.

The royal college also stresses the importance of getting the Mental Health Act on board and of having resources to support mental health services, not just in the health service but in schools and the employment service. The British Psychological Society echoes those concerns. It stresses the importance of more education and understanding within the public services, so that the people providing these services are more aware of the challenge faced by people with problems with their mental health.

Turning to pensions, I recall that, more than 40 years ago, I was a member of a body called the Occupational Pensions Board, which produced a report Occupational Pension Scheme Cover for Disabled People. I reread our report, and we quite rightly found that the difficulty faced by disabled people is not with the pension; it is with getting a job in the first place. When they have a job, they accrue a pension. I think I have learned a little more since then because, of course, being disabled interferes with your career pattern. It means often that you have periods out of work. Because of that, your earnings and earning prospects are lower and you have gaps. Because of those factors, you end up with a lower earnings-related pension, and we have a system that depends on earnings-related pensions. That is an issue which needs some further consideration in the context of the benefits system.

I declare an interest, as in the register, with the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, which is doing work on identifying the problems faced by people with mental health problems in the financial arena. It has recently produced a report on pensions that included a series of key recommendations, which I would like to highlight, regarding the issues faced by people who are mentally disabled in achieving a decent pension. It highlighted the importance of the Money and Pensions Service—MaPS—and calls for MaPS to put more effort into understanding and providing support for people with poor mental health. There is a need for specialist advice in this area and a need for MaPS to train the staff it has to acknowledge the problems that are faced. It is also important to ensure that, when advice is given, it is provided in an accessible way.

These issues come together. Poor pensions go with disability, and this needs to be acknowledged. I know the Minister has heard my speech on the gender pensions gap on more than one occasion; no doubt he will hear it again. Equally, we have a disability pensions gap, which needs to be addressed and acknowledged in a similar fashion.