Disability Confident

Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons on 1st July 2019.

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Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Chair, Education Committee

Whether she has discussed with Cabinet colleagues the potential merits of making all public bodies join the Disability Confident scheme.

Photo of Justin Tomlinson Justin Tomlinson The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

Disability Confident is a very effective voluntary scheme, so compulsory options have not been discussed with Cabinet colleagues. Public bodies are already subject to the public sector equality duty. All main Government Departments are level 3 Disability Confident leaders, and 80% of local authorities are Disability Confident.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

I hope I can be forgiven for saying—because I am going to say it anyway—that the House of Commons is a Disability Confident employer. It is absolutely right that we should be, but in case there are Members here who were not aware of that fact, they are now.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Chair, Education Committee

Thank you, Mr Speaker. My Harlow constituent, Lacey-Rose Saamanthy—a deaf lady—had a catering assistant job offer retracted by the Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust on the basis that it could not mitigate against the so-called risks of her employment. This is despicable, so what steps are the Department taking to ensure that all employers, including the NHS, are signed up to the Disability Confident scheme and are aware of the funding available through the Access to Work scheme, as advocated by the National Deaf Children’s Society and others?

Photo of Justin Tomlinson Justin Tomlinson The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

I know my right hon. Friend has championed the case of Miss Saamanthy and I understand that the trust has contacted her to discuss alternative roles in the organisation, including roles that staff with hearing disabilities have successfully been recruited into. I also encourage that particular NHS trust to sign up to the Disability Confident campaign.

Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Opposition Whip (Commons)

I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Speaker’s parliamentary placement scheme, which offers paid internships with training. The graduates graduated just last week. The one that I had the joy of hosting did very well out of that, and that was on the disability strand, hence my question. Will the Minister add his support to the disability strand of the scheme and also look at strengthening the learning from that scheme, so that we can help more employers in the public sector be better employers under Disability Confident?

Photo of Justin Tomlinson Justin Tomlinson The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

Absolutely, and I am really encouraged to hear about that. Through the Disability Confident scheme and the Access to Work scheme, we want to do everything that we can to support these new opportunities being created, because ultimately, the employers benefit when disabled people’s talents are unlocked.

Photo of Martin Docherty Martin Docherty Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Industries of the Future and Blockchain Technologies)

Thanks for the “young”, Mr Speaker.

The Minister seeks, in the Government’s proposal, to promote Disability Confident employers, but does he not recognise that, in April 2019, 85% of all mandatory reconsiderations for personal independence payment modified the original decision? Does he not agree that there seems to be rank hypocrisy in promoting Disability Confident employers while the Government are impoverishing my constituents in West Dunbartonshire and across the United Kingdom?

Photo of Justin Tomlinson Justin Tomlinson The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

We have over 2 million claimants on PIP, and only 5% of the applications have been taken to appeal. I recognise that those who go through the independent appeal process will, more often than not, have a decision overturned, which is why we have been working extremely hard, through a series of pilots within PIP, on the mandatory reconsideration stage and the independent appeals stage, so that we can get hold of the additional oral and written evidence earlier, which is what is often used to get the decision changed. This is an absolute priority for the Secretary of State and we are making sure that we are doing everything we can, as quickly as we can.