Down Syndrome Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:36 pm on 4 February 2022.

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Photo of Stuart Anderson Stuart Anderson Conservative, Wolverhampton South West 1:36, 4 February 2022

My hon. Friend raises a valid point. It is about understanding those needs. I am delighted that investment has been rolled out across the country in many areas that vitally need it. That is welcome. He mentions local authorities. I have a question of this Bill. I have worked closely with others on the armed forces covenant, being an armed forces champion prior to coming to the House and having sat on the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill. The covenant has due regard, as does the Bill, to health, housing and education. It would be good for the Minister to expand on how the Bill will link with those areas.

Alongside the Bill, I welcome the steps taken by the Government to consider ways to improve outcomes for children and young people through the SEND review. I am delighted that the Government have confirmed an extra £1 billion to help local authorities, schools and other providers to deliver better support for learners with complex needs. At this stage, it would be remiss of me not to mention the hard work that all education providers across the country have delivered, but particularly the SEND schools. My constituency has Penn Hall, Tettenhall Wood, Penn Fields special school, Broadmeadow and Wightwick Hall. I visited all but one during the lockdown and covid period, when we could, to work with them in what was the most complex and challenging time for anyone. They did outstandingly, and how they delivered that is a credit to the children, the parents, the teachers and the cultures in those schools. Funding for these schools has increased by 13% on last year, meaning high-needs funding stands at £9.1 billion in 2022-23. This will benefit learners from early ages up to the age of 25, as well as those in alternative provision due to exclusion, illness or other reasons.

Another issue that needs to be looked at is guidance on potential barriers to work. Fewer than two in 10 people with learning disabilities are in employment. My constituency has the highest youth unemployment in the country. I recently held a jobs fair in the constituency with more than 50 different providers and several hundred people looking for work. Every single one of those providers had a job vacancy, and we were putting people together. Wolverhampton has the lowest youth employment, and with two in 10 people with learning disabilities currently out of employment, that will significantly impact communities in Wolverhampton. We need to look at that.

Despite falling in most areas across the west midlands, the disability employment gap remains too high. We have to work on this across the country, because levelling up is for all areas. Everyone should have an equal opportunity to work, so I am pleased that the Government are committed to seeing 1 million more disabled people in work by 2027. That is exceptional, but I think we should do more to push it. They have made good progress already, but as I said, we can always do more. I welcome the Government’s commitment to double down on that work, particularly the £339 million of funding in each of the next three years, which will continue to establish disability employment schemes such as the work and health programme and access to work scheme, through which many disabled people can benefit from grants worth just over £62,000. That goes to covering the costs of specialist equipment to help them to do their job. There are many complex needs that we have to factor in and work with.

To return to Wolverhampton, I am delighted that a pilot scheme is running at the University of Wolverhampton, which is at the heart of our community and is spread across our city centre and many surrounding areas. It offers a passport to students who already receive extra support to capture information about the adjustments that they benefit from to avoid repetition and disclosures when they start work. Thousands more could benefit if the scheme was rolled out across the country.

As the work gets under way, I ask the Minister to ensure that disabled people, including those with Down syndrome, are front and centre of levelling up. This week, we heard the levelling up announcement, and Wolverhampton certainly did well through the towns fund, the future high streets fund and the levelling up priorities. We also have the National Brownfield Institute. If it is not working in communities, however, it is not working. We have to ensure that levelling up truly works for everyone, and the Bill is a great way to achieve that.