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Owing to the pressure on time it might be convenient if I spoke now to Amendment No. 15. By now I should imagine that the Committee will be well aware of some of the strange anomalies and injustices of our much-vaunted Welfare State, especially as regards the disabled. I entirely agree with the hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Leger) that it should be our aim to help the disabled to live as normally as their disability permits.
This means encouraging them, wherever possible, to overcome their physical handicaps and the psychological and social difficulties which these so often bring, by becoming self-supporting and self-respecting members of the community. As the Bill stands, while the normal scale of benefit is avaliable to unemployed persons of working age provided that they are registered for work, they cannot get the 9s. a week addition, although they may be unemployed for two years or more. The purpose of Amendment No. 15 is to except all persons on the Disabled Persons Employment Register so as to enable them to get the extra 9s. a week, if they are unemployed for two years or more.
This Amendment would ensure that disabled people who have had their names added to the Disabled Persons Employment Register would still be eligible for the 9s. a week after two years, and it is deliberately designed to encourage the disabled to register for employment. The Amendment recognises the fact that there are a number of people who, by virtue of their disability have been unable to obtain employment for at least two years and that in equity and justice, they should be treated as generously as other categories of persons who qualify for the special addition of 9s. after two years.
One disablement resettlement officer told me recently that many of the people with whom he has to deal suffer pain and discomort from their disability, so that they are somewhat on a par with those who are actually sick. One has to recognise that the physically handicapped are not just disabled, but in many cases are enduring discomfort in the same way as people who are drawing sick benefit. Their advancing age, the very nature of their handicap, and the limitations this imposes on the kind of employment which they can undertake are all too frequent causes for their not obtaining some kind of light job. There is often a lack of opportunity to demonstrate what they can do. The disablement resettlement officer told me that his office does everything possible to exert its persuasive powers on employers, bearing in mind the quota obligations, but not always successfully.
I should like to give the Committee an example from within my own knowledge. I am not culling the examples I give from thin air; they are all constituency cases. Let me take the case of a strong and healthy man in his late thirties, a young and vigorous man, who was suddenly struck down by a disease of the nervous system which paralysed him from the waist down. His wife does part-time work in order to help. He pathetically desires to work and has regularly signed on at the employment exchange. He is pushed there by his wife in a wheelchair.
After two and a half years, due to the devoted work of the D.R.O. and a sympathetic employer, a job was found within his capacity. I am advised by those well qualified to know that, unless the Amendment is accepted, this man would never qualify for the 9s. addition should he ever become unemployed.
I think that we are all agreed that the legislative framework of our arrangements, not the arrangements themselves, but the legislative framework, for rehabilitating and guiding disabled workers into suitable employment is satisfactory. That was the conclusion of the Piercy Committee nearly a decade after the passing of the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act, 1944. Our Act of 1958 made no substantial changes.
As the Committee knows, the Acts define a disabled person as one who
on account of injury, disease, or congenital deformity, is substantally handicapped in obtaining or keeping employment"—
the Committee will note that we are talking about someone who is substantially disabled—
or in undertaking work on his own account, of a kind which apart from that injury, disease or deformity would be suited to his age, experience and qualifications …
"Suitable employment" means both employment in open conditions and, in cases of severe disability, in sheltered conditions.
In February of this year, there were 659,000 persons registered on the Disabled Persons Employment Register. Of those, 47,000 were unemployed. About 40,000 of those were considered as being suitable for ordinary open work, the rest for work in sheltered conditions. These figures mean that unemployment among registered disabled workers is five times as great as the national average, and this at a time of acute labour shortage. Indeed, the situation may well become worse when the ill-considered Selective Employment Tax begins to bite on the service industries.
Why do not more disabled persons register and why is there this high rate of unemployment? The truth of the matter is that nobody knows. I do not think that the Minister knows and certainly the Ministry of Labour does not know. That is one reason why my hon. Friends and I would have liked to have seen more positive and searching duties put on the officers of the Commission. But I have no doubt that one reason is that the present rehabilitation and training facilities are inadequate. I have known of disabled men completely disheartened by having to wait considerable periods for a training course.
It is also possible that some registered disabled workers are graded for open employment when in fact they are suitable only for work in sheltered workshops but there are no such facilities in the area. There is every reason to believe that a great many disabled persons are not registered. Bearing in mind the difficulties of those who are registered, they see no advantage in registering themselves.
I suspect too that there may be many persons who have left employment because of a worsening disability and who are not registered. By virtue of the disability they are limited in the sort of work they can do, or the length of journey they can undertake to get to work.
One experienced disabled resettlement officer told me last year, when I was making inquiries about this, "We do, of course, often deal with disabled persons who prefer not to be registered. There is no compulsion about it and some even regard it as a deterrent to obtaining a job".
The number of those on the register has fallen from 936,000 in 1950 to 659,000 today. This is partly because large numbers of men who were registered in the early 'fifties were the survivors of the First World War and were then still under retirement age. But that is not the whole story. If at one end of the scale disabled persons are not registering because they think that to do so prevents them from getting a job, then at the other end they are not bothering to register because the present National Assistance regulations positively deter them from returning to work.
It is relevant here to draw attention to a challenging and thought-provoking
article by Lady Hamilton in a recent number of New Society. She said this:
No work can be done without reducing allowances. No wonder some feel disinclined to exchange National Assistance Board allowances for the strain of mastering work despite handicap. Those who have some private means receive scant help in their efforts to find employment. By making an outright attempt to get out and earn a living, a disabled person inevitably becomes involved in higher living costs. Difficulties of accessibility, accommodation and transport assail him at every turn. No income tax relief is allowed to meet these extra commitments. Present conditions encourage the handicapped to settle for the meagre safety net provided by the welfare state.
If the Amendment is accepted I suggest that there would be some real advantage to the disabled to register for employment, knowing that by so doing they will be kept in touch with the labour market without prejudicing their right to receive the 9s. addition to the supplementary allowance after two years. I hope that the right hon. Lady will see the force of the argument and the justice of the case.