Voluntary Organisations (Disabled People)

Oral Answers to Questions — Duchy of Lancaster – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 12th November 2008.

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Photo of Julie Morgan Julie Morgan Labour, Cardiff North 11:30 am, 12th November 2008

What recent discussions he has had with voluntary organisations on working with severely disabled people.

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Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office) (Third Sector)

I meet with representatives of a wide range of voluntary organisations in my capacity as Minister for the Third Sector, including those from many excellent organisations who work with and on behalf of disabled people with a range of impairments. For example, just last week I met John Knight of Leonard Cheshire Disability to discuss issues related to disabled people.

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Photo of Julie Morgan Julie Morgan Labour, Cardiff North

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware of the pioneering work of the Touch Trust, of which I am a patron, which was started by my constituent, Dilys Price? The trust works with people with profound disabilities—many of them cannot walk or speak, and also have profoundly challenging behaviour. Does he agree that voluntary bodies are often the best at starting off charities, as my constituent did, and that Government agencies should give them as much support as possible?

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Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office) (Third Sector)

I commend my hon. Friend for her patronage of that charity and, in fairness, all hon. Members who support charities in their local areas. I know of the work of the Touch Trust, not least because my hon. Friend is also my constituency neighbour in Cardiff. I am familiar with both the work of the trust and the work that she does with it. Such organisations often bring a special, personal and local perspective to issues such as working with disabled people.

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Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Opposition Whip (Commons)

The Minister will be aware of the valuable work done by Voluntary Service Overseas with able-bodied and disabled people, but what steps can his Department take to stop what is in effect a fraud? Private companies attract money from individuals to send them on trips abroad. Those individuals think that they will be doing valuable work, but it turns out that they are on some sort of glorified holiday. It is not the intention of those people to go on glorified holidays; they want to do valuable work. In effect, they are defrauded of their money. Meanwhile, disabled people who could be getting help are not getting it.

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Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office) (Third Sector)

I would not wish to belittle voluntary work overseas, and I assume that the hon. Gentleman is not referring to taking the shadow Front-Bench team to Rwanda, which I understand is part of its plans. Many people want to make a positive contribution, and we should welcome that. If the hon. Gentleman has any particular evidence of the fraud and mis-selling that he described, I would be grateful to see it and take the matter up with my colleagues.

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Photo of Betty Williams Betty Williams Labour, Conwy

As my hon. Friend represents a Welsh constituency, I am sure he will be aware of the excellent work done by Mencap Wales. Does he agree that there is still a lack of understanding among some Government agencies of what learning disability means? There is a long way to go before those agencies and the public at large understand about the type of work that Mencap Wales carries out, and about learning disabilities.

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Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office) (Third Sector)

I commend my hon. Friend for the work that she does with Mencap Wales, and I commend Mencap's work more broadly across the UK. As part of our public service agreement with the social exclusion taskforce, we have been trying to help socially excluded adults. We have ensured that people with learning difficulties are one of our target groups, for the very reasons that my hon. Friend gave. I hope that, in driving that message across government, we will overcome some of the problems of the past that she outlined.

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Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Opposition Whip (Commons), Deputy Chair, Conservative Party

One of the observations made in last year's report by the Commission on the Future of Volunteering was that volunteers—for example, people who deal with the disabled—often found that those in statutory agencies had poor training in how to work with them. That was a source of great concern and annoyance to them. Have the Government made any progress on dealing with that problem, and on creating greater training opportunities for those in statutory agencies to work more effectively with volunteers?

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Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office) (Third Sector)

Yes, and we are investing in training not just for the volunteers themselves, but, exactly as the hon. Gentleman suggests, for those who train the volunteers. I would be happy to have further conversations with him about the details, but, following the commission that he mentioned, this is certainly a priority matter for us.

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