Peter Aldous speaks in debate on the Disability Confident scheme

10th January 2018

Peter Aldous praises the Disability Confident scheme as a good start but calls on the Government to provide a national framework so that local people can be champions of the scheme and local communities can set about delivering the scheme on the ground.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) on securing the debate. It is important that it should take place now, following the publication of “Improving Lives” on 30 November. The Christmas period gave us an opportunity to read it and to consider its findings and recommendations.

The disability employment gap has been with us a long time. It is a bit like the “Mind the gap” announcement on the underground, where in some stations the same message has been broadcast for more than 40 years. We need to change the record. A good start has been made, and 530,000 more disabled people are in work than four years ago, but the gap has been stuck at around 30% for over a decade. The challenge that we now face is to remove the barriers that prevent disabled people from getting into work, realising their full potential and having the fulfilling lives that are so important to them and their families.

The barriers, which have been well discussed today, include inaccessible recruitment processes, securing reasonable adjustments in the workplace and overcoming employer uncertainty about taking on disabled people, first for work experience and then for full-time employment. I welcome the Government’s plans to test out ways of improving people’s experiences of the work capability assessment and then to deliver long-term reforms. I am grateful to the Minister for a personal assurance that she will do that.

I sense that for Disability Confident to be a success, the Government should provide a national framework, within which local people and organisations would be the champions, and understand the needs, of their local communities, and could set about delivering the scheme on the ground. The measures and support that the previous Secretary of State announced on 30 November help to provide that framework. There is a need for regular reporting and evaluation of how the campaign is going. “Improving Lives” must be a living document, not something that gathers dust on the shelf. If it is, a good databank of good practice will be built up, and can then be cascaded down to local communities. With Government in the background providing the framework and support and acting as a critical friend, delivery must ultimately be down to local people.

A possible criticism of “Improving Lives” is that it does not provide guidance on how local initiatives can be nurtured and go on to flourish. The feedback from the roundtable discussion that took place in Lowestoft as part of the consultation, and from the Disability Confident event that was put on by Jobcentre Plus, Mencap, local charities and employers in October 2016 at Lowestoft Sixth Form College, is that it is local people who want, and are best placed, to drive forward the campaign. That is an approach that we will build on locally at a chamber of commerce event in March.

The Government have made a good start in promoting Disability Confident, but more work is required to put flesh on the bones. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire will put in for a debate on this matter each year, so that annually there will be report-back sittings at which the Minister can make a statement and Back-Bench MPs can provide feedback from the communities that we represent. It is important that Disability Confident should succeed. If it does, Britain will be a much better place. Not only will disabled people and their families acquire a real sense of fulfilment and wellbeing, but so will their work colleagues.

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Peter holds regular surgeries at various locations in the constituency. Please call 01502 586568 to make an appointment.

Next Surgeries - 2018: 
Lowestoft, Wednesday 8th August



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