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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 2:10 pm ar 16 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Viscount Younger of Leckie Viscount Younger of Leckie The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 2:10, 16 Mai 2024

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their very valuable contributions to this important and wide-ranging debate. As it has highlighted, disabled people share the same hopes, aspirations and ambitions as non-disabled people to fulfil their potential and play a full part in society. However, I acknowledge that they often experience barriers that can prevent them realising this.

I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, who provided a good overview of the many issues that are challenges for disabled people. Although she would not expect me to agree with many of her conclusions, she raised a number of questions which I will attempt to cover. As the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, acknowledged, it may not be possible to cover all the many themes encompassing disability that were raised today. Having said all that, the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, in her usual style, won the verbal marathon to canter through most of the issues.

Over the last 25 years, this country has made important progress in tackling the barriers, through the work of campaigners and across different Governments, from the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, which was alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Addington—he was here in the House for that, which is interesting—to the Equality Act 2010 and, more recently, the British Sign Language Act and Down Syndrome Act. Today, in Mental Health Awareness Week and on Global Accessibility Awareness Day—I have a badge to match—I reflect that these are reminders of how far we have come in talking about, and having awareness of, disability and accessibility issues. They also highlight what still needs to be done.

I have listened carefully to all the issues raised. Let me say clearly that there is more to be done. My noble friend Lord Holmes is right that I should be aware— I reassure him and others that I am—of the lived experience of those who are disabled. I will take back to the relevant channels his points about floating bus stops, black taxi cabs and the bank issue; I very much noted that.

Having said all that, I am proud that this Government have continued to tackle the barriers faced by disabled people. As a bit of a pushback, let me say that there are now 2 million more disabled people in work when compared to 2010. We have 20 Ministers across government committed to championing accessibility and opportunity for disabled people within their departments. Our Disability Action Plan, which we published in February, sets out the actions that we are taking this year across these and other areas, and lays the foundations for longer-term change. I will talk more about this later.

To ensure that this country is the most accessible place in the world for them to live, work and thrive, we are going further through the support delivered through the benefits system, helping disabled people to start, stay and succeed in a more flexible and accessible labour market. We are also ensuring that disabled children—also mentioned today—get the best start in life, creating more accessible homes, which I will allude to later, and improving health and care outcomes.

This Government are delivering for disabled people. The noble Baronesses, Lady Hughes and Lady Sherlock, asked when disabled people can expect an update on the national disability strategy and the disability action plan. The actions set out in the disability action plan are planned to be delivered over 12 months, to lay the foundations for longer-term change. To track our progress, we will publish updates on the progress of actions from the disability action plan after six months and 12 months. The six-month update will also include an update on the delivery of the national disability strategy.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Sherlock and Lady Hughes, raised the differences between the documents. The disability action plan will be taken forward in parallel with the national disability strategy and is designed to complement the long-term vision set out in the strategy. In a Written Ministerial Statement of 18 September 2023, we announced how work on the strategy would be taken forward. Other significant work being taken forward by individual government departments in areas that disabled people have told us are a priority include reforms to employment and welfare via the DWP’s Transforming Support: The Health and Disability White Paper and strategies to address health and social care via the DHSC’s People at the Heart of Care White Paper, which the House will be aware of.

I turn to the support provided through our benefits system. I am proud that we have a strong and generous safety net for those who need it. We expect to provide £88 billion worth of support for disabled people through the benefits system this year. Last month, we increased the extra cost disability benefits by a further 6.7%. I have listened carefully to comments today on access to the benefits system. We know that, in some cases, people may not be able to engage effectively with the claim process due to various vulnerabilities. That is why the DWP has a range of different support measures at every stage of the benefit claim. This includes a “move to universal credit” helpline, a “help to claim” service delivered independently by Citizens Advice and face-to-face support in local jobcentres, where the staff will have been specifically trained and prepared for this work. Where a claimant cannot manage their claim due to a lack of capacity, they can appoint a third party to manage the claim on their behalf.

Our wider reforms look more fundamentally at different options to reshape the current welfare system. As the House will know, we have published a Green Paper, which was much spoken about today. It considers options to provide better-targeted support to those who need it most, ensuring that it is fit for the future. This subject was raised by my noble friend Lady Browning and the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock. I was particularly pleased to hear the remarks from the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas—it is good to hear from her again.

My noble friend Lady Browning asked how PIP provides support to claimants with mental illness. PIP was designed to help disabled people and people with long-term health conditions by making a cash contribution towards their extra costs. As part of this consultation, we want to understand whether there are other forms of support that may be more suitable for people with mental health conditions. We know that being in suitable work is good for people’s physical and mental health, well-being and financial security. As we set out in 2023 in Transforming Support: The Health and Disability White Paper, the Government aim to support more people to start, stay and succeed in work.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, asked about the reason for the rise in PIP, suggesting that it was not due to the increased prevalence of disability and health conditions but was perhaps linked to NHS waiting times. I reassure her and the House that cutting waiting lists is one of the Prime Minister’s top priorities. We are making good progress in tackling the longest waiting lists, to ensure that patients get the care that they need when they need it. This is incredibly important. Thanks to the incredible work of NHS staff, we have virtually eliminated waits of 18 months. NHSE management information from March 2024 suggests that these waits have been reduced by over 95% since September 2021, but there is clearly more to do.

Alongside the support available through the welfare system, the Government also recognise the valuable work and the needs of those who care for disabled people while holding down a job. My noble friend Lady Browning and the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, asked whether the PIP consultation was simply a money-saving exercise. It is not a money-saving exercise; this is about the Government’s long-standing approach to supporting disabled people and people with long-term health conditions. We want the system to provide the right support to those who really need it. It is right that we should look at this after 10 years or so—as I said, we introduced it in 2013.

As the House will know, the Carer’s Leave Act came into force in April, giving a new unpaid leave entitlement that is available from day one of employment for employed unpaid carers. I will briefly touch on the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews. I am very aware of the issues surrounding overpayments for carers; the Government are taking this extremely seriously. It is the responsibility of individuals who receive the carer’s allowance to let us know if their earnings exceed £151 per week. We are looking very seriously at it, particularly to see how we can improve the communications exercise. Everyone will receive a letter every year to remind them, but I believe there is more that we can do. As was said the other day in the media, we are already ringing as many people as we can, from the information that we have received, to remind them of what happens if their earnings go over the threshold, so that they understand what to do.