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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 1:49 pm ar 16 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol 1:49, 16 Mai 2024

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, on securing this important debate and setting the scene so well on the problems disabled people face in our country today. It is also a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton. I declare my interests as vice-president of the LGA and the chair of the LGA disability forum.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, for her comment on wheelchair users not being able to sit with their party groupings. Should any of us in wheelchairs become Government or Opposition Front-Benchers, we could not, for example, use the Dispatch Box. At least we have this space here, which is more than can be said for the House of Commons, where there is no provision.

The noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, and I took part in a survey by Westminster Council on the accessibility of Parliament Square, given the very large volume of pedestrians there. The researcher who conducted it said afterwards that he had never understood how hypervigilant people with disabilities need to be moving around our streets today. Actually, that woke me up too, because I had not understood the constant pressure one is under.

The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, also referred to John Pring of the Disability News Service. He is an outstanding journalist who is not afraid to expose the realities of how challenging it is for disabled people to live in the UK today. I think he has had more refusals on FoIs from the DWP than anybody else, but still he rightly persists and we thank him for that.

This building is getting worse for people with disabilities. With security problems, they are closing doors. I do not know if any noble Lords have ever tried to open a door towards you sitting down, but when you have arthritic shoulders, I have to tell you that it is almost impossible.

I am sure that the Minister, in his summing up, will extol the details of the Disability Action Plan published in March this year. I remind your Lordships’ House about how that was received by Transport for All. Katie Pennick said:

“Nothing on transport, nothing on housing, nothing on social care, nothing on PIP, nothing on hate crime, nothing on urban planning, nothing on healthcare, nothing nothing nothing…”.

My noble friend Lord Addington reminded us that the Government often say the right thing but then legislate in completely the opposite direction. Many noble Lords who have spoken have covered that issue.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for reminding us of the importance of unpaid carers and the consequences of the appalling benefits regime for them. Will the Government address the very particular problem they face now?

Health and social care remains a really big area for disabled people, especially under the current crisis conditions. The Cystic Fibrosis Trust says that people with CF should have access to social workers and to clinical psychologists. But one in four children with CF cannot access a CF social worker and CF clinical centres report that 61% of vacant psychology posts have remained unfilled for over six months. Young Lives vs Cancer reports that diagnosed patients face delays of upwards of 20 weeks for PIP/DLA decision-making. Why is there a three-month waiting period after diagnosis with cancer before applications can even be made for benefits?

Last month the UN once again criticised the UK Government on disability issues. The UN’s CRPD called on the Government to end the detention of people with disabilities in hospitals. So have many of your Lordships over the years. When will this end? Can I ask the Minister for a timetable for this outrageous act to be discontinued?

The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, referred to school transport and the problems caused by the severe cuts to councils. Also because of severe cuts to social service budgets and the increase in specialist care fees, a number of councils are now telling families that their disabled loved ones can no longer be supported at home and must go into residential care permanently. This is unacceptable and truly shocking.

I am glad so many noble Lords included transport in this debate, for without it many disabled people cannot get to work or have a social life. I point out the getting to work bit because the Government say not enough disabled people want to work. Getting there would be a good start. Outside London, without the wonderful black Hackney cabs, getting a taxi is a complete and utter lottery. Blind and visually impaired people with guide dogs are still refused rides with some Uber drivers. Doug Paulley’s victory in the Supreme Court eight years ago about ensuring wheelchair space in a bus is a legal priority for—guess who?—wheelchair users. This week I have twice had to argue with bus drivers who have refused to move buggies. I had to intervene yesterday to negotiate for an empty buggy to be folded and ask somebody with a pram to pull it back, let me into the space and then put the pram back in front of me. The driver sat there silently.

The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, referred to lifts. At Watford Junction, my local station, a few years ago they decided to completely replace two lifts at the same time, disabling access from four platforms and therefore journeys for six months. Lifts are as important as ramps. There is no point having ramps on a train if you cannot get to the platform. And I echo the points from the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, about bus lanes and bizarre decisions like Bank and the problems of shared space.

Housing has not been much mentioned so far. Habinteg Housing research shows that only 7% of our housing stock meets basic accessibility standards such as a level entrance. And a government report says that, on average, a three-bedroomed semi-detached house would cost an extra £521 to build to the category 1 lifetime homes standard, with a further space cost of just under £1,000. This would mean thousands of elderly and disabled people could remain in their homes. Think how much money the state would save if that happened. We are still waiting for this standard to be implemented.

On supported housing, there is a real problem, because we are being told that, alongside financial pressures on existing schemes, there are now significant barriers to new development. A recent National Housing Federation survey showed that, because of a cash crisis, there is a significantly reduced appetite to develop any new schemes at all—which is ridiculous given the demography in the country at the moment.

The noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, rightly brought up the work of the OU, which was rightly awarded gold for its provision. Disabled students are not just welcomed there but encouraged, and live in the mainstream of its provision. My noble friend Lord Palmer set out the delays with the changes to EHCPs. The scheme was originally proposed in the Children and Families Act 2014, but, despite review, it is still failing the children it needs to serve.

Many people have spoken about benefits, and I will say only a couple of points. I will pick up what my noble friend Lady Thomas and the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, said in setting out very helpfully the problems of claiming and the complexity of forms and processes when claiming PIP. The noble Baroness, Lady Browning, said that seven in 10 people who appeal a PIP decision get a judgment, but there is an extra clause that goes with that statistic—“on the same evidence that DWP already held”. This is not new evidence.

The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, rightly highlighted the problem of people with mental health difficulties. This Government seem to have forgotten that the coalition Government agreed that mental health services were woefully underfunded, and agreed parity of esteem and funding. It took one year after the coalition ended for this Government to renege on that funding. People with serious mental health problems now face years before they can access treatment, which is a bigger scandal than people with severe depression and other psychiatric conditions wanting to access PIP, because they too face extra costs.

I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, for his expertise on disabled people’s access to work. One of the main problems, though, is what happens when people get into work. I am passionate about training, whether it is training for what is happening inside work or for the front line. My stepmother has been in hospital for most of the past month—three different hospitals and a care home. None of the front-line staff understood how to look after her at all. At one point, a pharmacist held up a very small pot of tablets and asked her what was in it. She said, “I can’t see”, and the pharmacist brought it closer to her eyes.

We have heard today from everybody that there is a real issue. Our lives as disabled people—and we are 16 million people in this country—are affected in our fundamental rights and access to services. We are also victims of attacks and hate crimes. This Government really need to understand how they have further disabled us through their policies and language. We need to make sure that that changes. It needs to change rapidly, otherwise the next report from the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will be as unfavourable as its previous three.