Employment of the Disabled

– in the House of Lords at 7:41 pm on 16 October 2001.

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Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Conservative 7:41, 16 October 2001

rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what measures they are taking to encourage people with disabilities to consider working in the hospitality and tourism industry.

My Lords, I thank in advance those noble Lords who are speaking tonight for their participation in the debate. I very much look forward to learning from their speeches. As ever I remind your Lordships of my interests in these matters, all of which are unpaid. I am patron of the Tourism for All Consortium and of the Restaurant Association of Great Britain. I have been a member of the funding council of the Disability Partnership.

It is obvious to all that there is a crisis in tourism at present due to the cumulative effects of foot and mouth disease since March and the terrorist attacks last month in the United States. The English Tourism Council has estimated that at least 150,000 jobs are at risk. Therefore, it might seem a strange time for me to ask for this short debate to discuss the need to encourage people with disabilities to look to the tourism and hospitality industry as their career of first choice. However, I still think that it is the right time for this debate. Hospitality and tourism is a vital industry to the UK economy. It employs more than 1.75 million people, accounting for one in six of all new jobs created over the past 10 years.

Those who run hospitality businesses still need to plan for the better years which must lie ahead. Schoolchildren and students always need to plan ahead and so, of course, do the Government. It is vital that the Government have a clear strategy. I invite the Minister tonight to give the House an insight into that strategy.

This is a special week for planning ahead; it is Springboard Careers Festival Week. Springboard is an independent not for profit organisation set up to promote and encourage career opportunities in hospitality and tourism. As the Springboard website declares, this week,

"provides a powerful opportunity to address the biggest industry issue--attracting enough of the right people into jobs and careers across hospitality, leisure, travel and tourism".

My argument tonight is quite simply that people with disabilities can be the right people and that it is important to bring that point home to potential employees, employers, teachers and customers such as we all are.

Today is Bus Tours of Discovery Day when potential recruits, careers advisers and teachers get on a bus to make a voyage of discovery around the tourism industry learning what goes on behind the scenes. Let us hope that they still want to enter the industry after that.

It is important to attract people with disabilities to employment in tourism for three reasons. First, it is quite simply and self-evidently the right thing to do. Secondly, it has the statutory backing of the Disability Discrimination Act passed by the previous Conservative government in 1995. That makes it unlawful to discriminate against disabled people in terms of employment and disability. Its provisions will be fully implemented by 1st October 2004. Organisations such as the Restaurant Association have taken care to publish guidance notes for their members outlining their obligations with regard to the Disability Discrimination Act and highlighting practical points which are, of course, in essence good practice.

The Act may be the stick but the carrot is quite simple; it makes good business sense to employ people with disabilities in the tourism industry. The industry has a notoriously high turnover of staff. It often seems that no sooner are people trained than they are off. The vast range of employment and career opportunities in large and small businesses, the rapidly changing development of technology in the workplace, the coverage of the industry across the United Kingdom and the flexibility of much of the work all offer a unique opportunity to promote careers in tourism to a comparatively new market, that of disabled people, and in turn help to deal with the chronic skills shortages in the UK.

It has been shown that by employing people with disabilities one can gain a competitive edge in providing services for disabled customers and give staff the confidence to serve disabled customers to a high standard. It is surely likely that a greater percentage of people with disabilities would want to travel on holiday or business if more services and facilities were made accessible and they were made welcome with those facilities.

Disabled people tend to remain employed with the same business for longer and they have a strong commitment to the job with good punctuality records and low absenteeism rates. It has also been shown that by employing disabled people we can improve an employee's view of the company and increase general staff retention.

I believe the direct questions which should be tackled tonight are: what progress has been made by both the Government and the industry and what are the plans for the future? First, I turn to the Government. Employers who want to employ staff with disabilities who have the skills they need face one insuperable problem in finding them. How do they get hold of them from the databank of unemployed people who are registered as disabled? What steps will the Government take to ensure that the information collected at jobcentres spells out what disabled people can do in the hospitality and tourism sector? Will they ensure that the information is kept in such a way that it can be accessed locally, regionally and nationally?

The Government's strategy, Tomorrow's Tourism, published in early 1999 stated that they were committed to improving access to employment in tourism. They said they would take three steps. First, they would encourage trade associations to work with disability groups to develop training and information programmes which raise awareness of the potential of those groups, identify their specific needs as employees and seek to overcome prejudice. Secondly, they would encourage tourism employers to adopt equal opportunities policies and practices to recruit from the widest possible range of employees, including disabled people. Thirdly, they would encourage larger companies in particular to provide transport for employees when they are located in areas which are inaccessible to public transport. Can the Minister give examples of progress the Government have made so far, their plans for the future and within what timescale?

The industry itself has already taken some positive action to ensure that the skills of disabled people are used for the benefit of the tourism and hospitality industry. However, it recognises that it has a long way to go yet. I commend two examples of good practice tonight. The Disability Partnership brought together a group of senior hoteliers and industry specialists to form what they called an hoteliers' forum. They have worked through the IndividuALL project to show their commitment to disability equality, accessible premises and fair employment practices. The practical side of all this is simple. They have developed a distance learning package for hoteliers. It provides the necessary information to help staff learn about the implications of the Disability Discrimination Act. It enables hoteliers to capitalise on the business opportunities presented by disabled customers and ensure that staff possess sufficient knowledge to feel confident when serving disabled guests. The good news is that in November that project will be opened up to the whole hospitality sector, providing a one-stop shop on disability needs for the industry, using a business solution approach.

I also draw your Lordships' attention to Access 21--a three-year project funded by the English Tourism Council at the encouragement of the Government to improve the provision of visitors' facilities for disabled people. The lead regional tourist board is the Heart of England, which will focus on employment and training issues for the next year and a half to two years.

What is the Government's view of those initiatives and the progress that they have made so far? What assistance or encouragement do the Government believe that they can usefully provide?

To conclude on a personal note, I believe that it is important to unlock the potential of people with disabilities and bring their skills to the tourism industry, because we would all benefit from them.

Photo of Lord Harrison Lord Harrison Labour 7:51, 16 October 2001

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, for promoting tourism jobs for all in this debate. I wish her and her colleagues well for the Springboard festival this week, promoting awareness of the problems and opportunities for increasing the number of disabled people in the tourism and hospitality industries.

I asked friends in Chester at the weekend to furnish me with examples of disabled employees in such industries. They told me of the disabled cleaners and helpers working successfully at a holiday caravan park in nearby North Wales. A second example was a trout farm at Bodelwyddan, where the employers had gone out of their way to adapt for and adopt disabled workers. They had been repaid a thousandfold in the loyalty, zeal and commitment shown by their disabled recruits. In addition, I was told of the joy on the faces of the recruits' parents as a result of their disabled sons and daughters being in productive employment. That in turn melted the hard-headed souls running the business. It is truly a win-win situation all round because someone had bothered to take a chance.

Another example of good practice was told to me by a theatre chief executive, who pointed to Jackson's Lane theatre in Highgate, which has had its electrics deliberately and conveniently positioned in a fashion that leaves them accessible to repair by wheelchair-bound electricians. Theatres are an important component of the tourism industry, but not all of them have seen the light. Too often too little has been done behind the scenes to make the environment friendly for the wheelchair-bound, many of whom want to work, whether as actors or electricians, in the stimulating and rewarding industry of tourism and hospitality, where personal skills are held at such a premium.

The moral of the story is that the needs of Britain's 320,000 wheelchair-bound should be scheduled into any new buildings to ensure that they are wheelchair-compatible. We are hoping to do that in Chester when the Gateway theatre moves into a new building to become the Performing Arts Centre.

I shall highlight the three Es on which we need action and on which the Government can help--educators, employers and employees. Accessing Merseyside is an organisation that promotes distance learning packages for targeted disabled workers in tourism. In addition, it brings local college staff together with local disability groups, the better to understand each other and hence dispel the prejudices that sometimes divide those potential partners. I also ask the Minister to look at the excellent work being done by the Cheshire tourism for all forum, especially in respect of its Cheshire tourism skills initiative.

I ask the Minister to rescue the ETC's promising partnership with the Hoteliers' Forum, already alluded to by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. Its ambition to open the minds of employers to see disabled workers as providing added value for their industry is currently thwarted from being brought to fruition by a lack of resources.

Separately, colleagues from the North-West Tourist Board tell me that employers have been slow to respond to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Many employers seem to be unaware that 50 per cent of adaptations to help accommodate a disabled worker cost less than £50 a throw. Far too many employers still lack the imagination to grasp that adapting the working environment for the disabled is usually of benefit for all. After all, we are all to a greater or lesser degree able bodied or disabled. It does not require a Darwin to appreciate that environmental change for one may be beneficial for all.

Disabled people must be encouraged--and must encourage themselves--to believe that they can do jobs in hospitality and tourism. I was struck by the absence of any article or report in this month's edition of the excellent Disability Times on disabled workers in general or those in the tourism and hospitality industries in particular. There must be good news stories aplenty of the courage of disabled workers facing new work challenges that could inspire the disabled community as a whole. Perhaps a reciprocal column could appear in that equally excellent publication, GBI Travel, which might depict the contribution of disabled workers to the wellbeing of those important industries.

My own disability for keeping to my allotted time prevents me from saying more. Once again, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for raising this hugely important issue.

Photo of Lord Ashley of Stoke Lord Ashley of Stoke Labour 7:57, 16 October 2001

My Lords, I warmly congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, on securing a debate on this important subject--important for disabled people and for the hospitality and tourism industry. She made a very good and thoughtful speech. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to respond to the many legitimate questions that were put to her.

The relationship between disabled people and those industries is very important. It is a twofold relationship--disabled people can be customers or employees. The Disability Discrimination Act will affect both relationships. Because the industry will have to cater for disabled customers, it could have a special potential for employing a disabled worker. For example, a ramp required for a customer could also be available to a worker. There is a duality all the time, each aspect intermingling with the other.

These industries play an important role in Britain. They are growth industries that are expected to provide 300,000 more jobs by 2009. In the short term, their prosperity will obviously be affected, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said, by the tragedy in the United States as well as by foot and mouth. It follows that the opportunities for disabled people will be more restricted than they might have been, but we hope that international tension will ease, foot and mouth will become history and the industries will go back to normal.

It is essential that the industries step up their efforts to create facilities for the employment of disabled people. Some 90 per cent of the 290,000 establishments have 10 or fewer workers. But the 15-employee threshold of the DDA will be removed at the latest by, and hopefully much earlier than, 2004. The industries will need to be able to meet their legal obligations, so they had better get on with it.

I hope that all employers will be aware of the importance of good staff training in disability awareness. Despite the advances in understanding which are propelled by the DDA and the Disability Rights Commission, there still lingers a sense that employing disabled people is a problem. However, that is far from the case. Many employers have spoken of the skills, ability and application of disabled workers. I was pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, referred to that very important point. Often, only very small adjustments are required and, in return, the employer gets a dedicated, conscientious worker.

I know that industries want to develop training in general but funding is scarce, as we all know only too well. That hits disabled people very hard. Invariably they are at the end of the queue, in part perhaps because their education tends to have been less effective than they would have hoped due to their disability. They need some special consideration if they are to have near equal opportunities.

I believe that more attention should be paid to the fact that disabled people want not only jobs but a choice of jobs. That is absolutely crucial. If disabled people are required to do only menial tasks, that will maintain the old-style segregation and deprive them of full participation, which society now wishes to see. Image matters. Disabled people need to see those industries as providing opportunities and not as being a last resort ghetto.

I was pleased to hear my noble friend Lord Harrison speak as he did. He made a good speech. He referred to the wheelchair-bound, by which he meant people who use wheelchairs. We all want to help wheelchair users and I have spent 30 years trying to do just that. But I do not believe that we should be obsessed with them because only a small minority of disabled people are wheelchair users. I believe that they number some 5 per cent, but I do not have the figures in front of me.

There is a vast range of disabilities. These industries, as well as others, must take account of mentally handicapped people and those with cerebral palsy, deafness and blindness. A vast range of people--not only wheelchair users--have disabilities. I believe that these industries need to be seen as good employers for all disabled people and as a source of an interesting and secure career.

However--this is a very important point--I understand that no one body is responsible for disseminating relevant information and informing potentially interested disabled people. That is ridiculous. Why cannot one body or organisation be responsible for ensuring that industries are willing to take on disabled workers? Why cannot we inform them in an organised way rather than have the ridiculous situation whereby no one is responsible?

The increasingly close co-operation between these industries and the disability organisations is welcome and important. I congratulate the industries on their initiatives. They form an essential part of breaking down the barriers. In particular, the Tourism for All Consortium's one-day Springboard Conference will focus on the opportunities for people with disabilities who wish to work in the hospitality and tourism industry. It is an important event, deserving support and great success.

I conclude by saying that disability organisations are working vigorously in this area. Other bodies are responding, but, if I may say so to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and her friends in these industries, we have yet to be sure that their commitment is genuine and that they are not merely paying lip service. I hope that they will all be able to display to Members of this House, to disabled people and to the public that they mean what they say about attracting disabled people and providing proper opportunities for them.

The Government's initiatives--the New Deal for Disabled People and the Access to Work programme--are most welcome. I hope that the Government will do what they can to facilitate such activities. They will benefit not only the industries but disabled people as well.

Photo of Lord Swinfen Lord Swinfen Conservative 8:05, 16 October 2001

My Lords, I welcome this short debate. We should not forget that disabled people have worked in the hospitality and tourism industries for a very long time--certainly since the founding of the Corps of Commissionaires shortly after the First World War specifically to provide employment for those disabled in the service of their country. However, over recent years the number of disabled employees in the industry appears to have reduced. But I suspect that, with increasing enlightenment among employers, that number may rise again.

The Disability Discrimination Act requires employers to make reasonable adjustment to help disabled employees. However, so far there has been little in the way of case law on this matter. I wonder whether the Minister is satisfied that employers are receiving satisfactory guidance on this matter.

The DDA does not apply to employers with fewer than 15 staff. As the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, has already said, that excludes a very large number of organisations in this industry. He mentioned a figure of 90 per cent. My figure is 87 per cent, but the numbers are so large that something needs to be done about it. I hope that the small employers threshold will soon be reduced from 15 to two. I may be mistaken but, if I remember correctly, when the Disability Discrimination Act went through this House under a previous administration, I believe that the noble Baroness was greatly in favour of the number being a good deal lower than 15. I do not remember whether the figure mentioned was as low as two, but I hope that she can give an indication of when we shall reach that more reasonable figure. A reduction in the number will, of course, increase openings for employees with disabilities.

What are the Government doing to promote employment initiatives in the tourism and hospitality industry for disabled people through the Access to Work programme and the New Deal for Disabled People?

Turning to another matter, public transport is slowly being made accessible, but that needs to be speeded up. At the same time, public transport in rural areas needs to be both increased in volume and improved in quality. I suspect that in rural areas it will be a long time before accessible buses are available. Those areas normally use second-hand buses because their routes are less profitable. However, very often they are areas that rely heavily on tourism, particularly following the problems caused by both BSE and foot and mouth disease.

The New Deal for Disabled People helps disabled people who have been unemployed for some time to return to work. The scheme provides personal advisers with some additional awareness training. But what is being done to improve their general training? In particular, are they being properly trained in areas such as the effects of illness and impairment, benefit advice to disabled people and working with disabled people of different ethnic, religious or cultural backgrounds?

There are 3.3 million deaf or hard-of-hearing people of working age. As I have experienced myself, having worn a hearing aid for well over 25 years, very many of the training opportunities, and therefore opportunities for eventual promotion, are closed to people with a hearing loss. Provision is simply not made for them on courses or demonstrations or at seminars.

What are the Government doing to improve that? Of those surveyed by the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, some 61 per cent--many more than half--reported that they were unable to communicate with staff at jobcentres or in the Careers Service. That is a disgrace. What are the Government doing to improve the situation?

As my noble friend Lady Anelay has already mentioned, there is a large market among disabled people for the industry to tap. Making it easier for disabled people to work in the hospitality and tourism industry will show that industry how to cater for its disabled customers. There are, I understand, some 8.6 million disabled people in the UK and many more visit from overseas. It must make sense to tap into that valuable market.

Photo of Baroness Wilkins Baroness Wilkins Labour 8:11, 16 October 2001

My Lords, I, too, would like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, for introducing this important debate, which has particular resonance for me at the moment.

In the time that is available I want to concentrate on just one issue; that is, the importance of involving disabled people at the centre with regard to advising the hospitality and tourism industry about how to fulfil its obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act. That involves the personal inspection of venues, not simply paper guidance, however excellent that may be. If the Government could do all in their power to persuade the industry properly to consult with users in advance it would save an enormous amount of money--and good will--in the long run and it would create an accessible environment that would truly meet our needs.

As disabled people know to our cost, through uncomfortable, spoiled or even cancelled holidays, making access provision that meets the needs of the wide range of impairment--that includes people who are blind or deaf, wheelchair users and those with walking or learning difficulties--is a subtle and complicated business. Unless users are involved at the centre of such a decision-making process, it can go badly wrong.

I have been prompted to concentrate on this issue by an excellent initiative that was undertaken by Centrica during the launch of the AA's "Accessible Hotel of the Year" award. I declare an interest, having been involved as the "mystery shopper" over the past few weeks to help decide the final winner. The first award will be presented this November. It is planned as an ongoing initiative to encourage the 8,000 hotel and bed-and-breakfast proprietors who use the AA's ratings system to hasten their compliance with Part III of the DDA.

I applaud that initiative because, like every other wheelchair user, I have learnt to have extreme scepticism about any hotel's claim to be accessible. My most recent holiday abroad--to Seville--was nearly ruined by the assurance of a well-known holiday chain that the hotel was accessible and that its representative had checked it in person. We arrived at 8 p.m. to find that the accessible room indeed had a large bathroom but that the loo was discreetly tucked away deep behind a solid and impenetrable concrete wall. The grim prospect was to spend the night at the airport (where there was a loo) and to get the next flight home. Finally, discovering that there was no other accessible room in the city, the hotel manager realised that the situation was serious and drove 20 miles to borrow a friend's portable camping loo. That was all right but it hardly represented a restful, luxurious holiday--especially for my companion!

There are exceptions. For instance, the Travelodge chain has earned the trust of wheelchair users with regard to its accessible provision. Otherwise, it is only word of mouth and the tried and tested experience of other disabled people that allows one to go on holiday with any confidence that one will have a pleasant experience.

That has led to a mini-industry among disabled people, who convert and let out self-catering accommodation that meets our needs. However, Accessible UK is a much more ambitious commercial venture, which is just being launched and which could potentially provide employment for many disabled people. Its founders, Richard Thompson and Paul Derbyshire, are both spinally injured. During the past five years their two travel companies--TravelAbility and the Accessible Travel and Leisure Company--have offered a wider range of accessible holidays than any other company in the UK. Their policy is to verify personally every venue. With their new project, Accessible UK, they are developing a network of websites covering all of the United Kingdom, county by county, which will provide an expanding encyclopaedia of information on verified accessible facilities and services. The project will give employment to well over 100 disabled people as self-employed licensees who take responsibility for each county or large conurbation. The licensees will verify the establishments within their territory, sell advertising space on the website and provide photographs promoting the accessibility. The project has huge potential. Would the Minister consider encouraging national tourist boards to ensure that each county website contained links to Accessible UK?

Apart from through such ventures, where will the travel and hospitality industry find disabled users with the knowledge and experience to advise it? Moreover, training is essential to give proper advice. Although disabled people are the experts on their own needs, few of us properly understand the needs of people with other impairments unless we have been well trained.

A framework of access groups exists throughout the country but it is fragmented and very poorly resourced. The Government could do much to improve the current situation in that area. According to Peter Lainson, chair of RADAR's access advisory committee, there are now about 200 access groups in England. Some of them run on pure enthusiasm--they have no funding at all--and it is rare for a group to receive more than £200 a year. As he said, "If you get involved in this, you have to see it as a hobby that will swallow money". Over the past two or three years many groups have found it difficult to maintain their enthusiasm.

The new Built Environment Working Group, which, following a recommendation from the Disability Rights Task Force, was set up by the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee at the Government's request, recognises the potential of access groups as an underdeveloped resource. Its chair, Peter Barker, says that the issue of funding must be addressed. It is to that end that I ask the Minister whether she would consider: first, giving sufficient funding to the national network so that it can provide good support to those 200 struggling groups; and, secondly, setting up a project to examine the costs and benefits of providing proper funding to access groups. That would provide potential employment opportunities for disabled people and the framework for ensuring that the vast amount of work that needs to be done to make the hospitality and tourism industries accessible to disabled people is done to good effect and ensure that it truly fulfils the spirit and not just the letter of the Disability Discrimination Act. I look forward to the Minister's response.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat 8:18, 16 October 2001

My Lords, this is one of those debates that it is rather difficult to sum up. One might be restricted to saying that one agrees with proposals X, Y and Z, which were said previously. I could go through the entire debate doing that.

We have come to one conclusion; that is, that in this context there is a real problem and real opportunities. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, put her finger on something very important when she said that although things may be going badly in the industry at the moment the way in which our economy is switched and geared means that the service and hospitality industry is an important and growing sector.

There is a danger when we make speeches that we think that the present is permanent. We all make that mistake from time to time but governments tend to make it more often than most. We assume that everything will carry on as it currently does. This sector of the economy is bound to grow.

Virtually every noble Lord who has spoken referred to the fact that it will probably be easier to deal with those people who are one's potential marketplace--I refer to those with disabilities--if one employs those who are disabled. An excellent briefing that I received from the English Tourism Council pointed that out and said that the disabled are not an homogenous group.

A number of different types of disability have been mentioned. That suggests that we must look everywhere. The problems of a wheelchair user are not the same as those of a person with hearing loss or sight deficiency. We must remember that some people use wheelchairs because they become tired and their legs are weak; others are totally dependent upon wheelchairs. The same principle is true of other types of disability. We have a difficult exercise to perform in lateral and cross-thinking.

The Government's role is thus doubly difficult. I have every sympathy with them, but I shall keep pushing for them to take action. I am trying to think of debates in this Chamber in which aspects of disability have not been mentioned. Apart from Treasury debates, I cannot think of one. However, I believe that that has more to do with constitutional arrangements. Every aspect of government policy contains a disability issue. That has become clearer over time. We may sort out the "great dragons" and have our great achievements, but it is only when we look at the fine detail that matters become apparent.

I shall try to drag myself away from the wider sphere back to the matter before us. We must encourage the industry to take on board and employ disabled people. If not, we shall take away the most natural way into the workforce for many such people. For better or worse, there is a degree of low status attached to comparatively easy-access jobs. That may be due to our cultural attitude towards service jobs. Indeed, English waiters have ruined more meals for me than I care to mention.

However, it is the case that we do not take these issues properly on board. All noble Lords who have been to party conferences will be familiar with the small, quaintly-organised hotels in which we have stayed. Such hotels often have umpteen stairs and incredibly small rooms. That leads us to believe that the tourism and hospitality industry has major problems at the smaller end of the scale. That must be addressed. The Government must give information to businesses on how to deal with such problems. We always knew that the structure and nature of the Government approach, taken way back in connection with DDA and case law, would be difficult. This will all take time.

The long run-in period has led to complacency in certain areas. However, I shall defer my remarks until next year. I would bet that there are people who will say, "Our budgets are tight. We shall put off making decisions about finance". The Government have to be seen to move forward.

I shall ask the noble Baroness what the Government will do. The noble Baroness will then be perfectly justified in listing a series of initiatives, often from her department or perhaps from other departments. I should like the noble Baroness to give me an idea of the Government's overall philosophy on this issue, because that is ultimately more important. Initiatives come and go; some work and some do not. All are stepping stones towards something else. If the noble Baroness is able to give us an idea of the overall philosophy, we shall have taken another step forward. That is not an easy task. I hope that the noble Baroness will not curse me too harshly as I sit down. Unless we get right the philosophy, the issues surrounding disability will not be properly addressed. We have to get our lateral vision working strongly on this matter.

Photo of Baroness Hollis of Heigham Baroness Hollis of Heigham Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions) 8:24, 16 October 2001

My Lords, perhaps I may open by taking issue with a comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, in the last part of his speech. He said that what he really wanted from us was a philosophy. Listening to the speeches tonight, I do not believe that there is a philosophical divide between any of us. We all seem to share a common concern to ensure that disabled people are recognised as a fruitful area of customers and clients for the tourism and hospitality industry as well as being valued employees of that industry. Far from me talking about philosophy, which we have done in many general debates on disability issues, it seems to me to be important to talk about the practical steps and aspects of funding which have been raised tonight. Some of the questions raised, which are new to me, will be followed up in correspondence.

However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord, Addington, that we must continue to help to challenge the stereotypical thinking about disabled people. As my noble friend Lord Ashley stated, we should not assume that they are marked by white sticks and wheelchairs. Learning disability, mental health disability, depression and some orthopaedic and angina problems are not easily visible or recognised. Very often in helping one group we may add to the problems faced by another. We may, for example, seek to lower cambers on roads for wheelchair users, thus making it difficult for people using white sticks always to be able to manage the inclines. The problems are not always straightforward, as was recognised by my noble friend Lord Ashley.

My noble friend Lady Wilkins made the point that we shall be successful only if we act in partnership with interested groups ranging from the Disability Rights Commission to disabled people, their representative organisations and the business sector. Employers have to consider making changes to working practices or premises which place disabled people at a substantial disadvantage. As your Lordships have said, and as we know, though it bears repeating, that can be something as simple as being flexible about working hours or holding a meeting in an accessible room. Many disabled people need no adjustments to be made at work. Many adjustments, when necessary, are made at little or no extra cost.

The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, pressed me on the reduction of the small employers' threshold. He is right; we did fight shoulder to shoulder on this issue in your Lordships' House. I am delighted to reinforce the comments of my noble friend Lord Ashley. The small business exemption is due to end in October 2004. It will not be reduced to two people but will simply be abolished. As a result, 7 million additional jobs and around 600,000 disabled employees will come within its scope. As your Lordships recognise, the hospitality and tourism industry is very much one of small companies and small firms.

I turn to what we are doing to help disabled people to enter the tourism and hospitality industry so that they come equipped with real skills. There are around 600 specialist disability employment advisers based in jobcentres who should understand the needs of disabled people. They know their local labour markets and are able to work with employers to find appropriate jobs.

My noble friend Lord Harrison produced fascinating examples, with which I was much taken. Perhaps I may also give an example. In Cumbria, disability employment advisers arranged for a man with a visual impairment to attend a tourism job fair, at which he met a local employer with vacancies. The adviser was able to follow up the initial contact and arrange a package of support for that individual. At the beginning of October this year, that person started work as a hotel administrator.

Some disabled people with more complex needs may not be immediately ready for independent work and will require sustained support. That is why for many years we have had a programme of supported employment. That programme has been modernised and became Workstep from April this year. Workstep is a £161 million programme to which in June was added a further £37 million over three years to pay for an additional 2,000 places.

Equally, I am sure noble Lords will be familiar with the name Remploy, which is the largest employer of disabled people in the UK and the largest single provider within the Workstep programme. Remploy operates as a commercial company and receives an annual grant of £94 million from Government to provide jobs and training for disabled people. Remploy trains and employs between 80 and 100 people in the Manchester area in its managed services division working at some of the top hotel chains; namely, Quality Hotels, Marriott, Renaissance, Copthorne and Titsa, mainly in behind-the-scenes jobs as cleaners and chambermaids, and so forth. It is worth adding that Remploy, I am pleased to say, pays well above the minimum wage.

The Government also fund residential training provision for disabled adults. A number of places are specifically aimed at training for the tourism and leisure industry. Not all the places on offer are currently filled. Therefore, there is a real opportunity for unemployed disabled to move into training and work. If those places remain unfilled, either through a lack of adequate publicity or possibly inappropriate training packages, I should be very grateful to hear from your Lordships who may have first-hand experience of it, so that we can tailor them more effectively.

The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, asked what provision is made in jobcentres for hard of hearing potential employees. It is again worth emphasising that disability employment advisers can arrange for British sign language interpreters or communicators to attend adviser appointments with hard of hearing clients; and it would help to know in advance whether that service would need to be used.

I was asked whether employers were receiving good advice on reasonable adjustment. There is a code of practice in existence, and many information leaflets are available. The DRC has a helpline that provides advice to employers and others, and Bert Massey emphasised how well it is used by employers. Employers increasingly understand that adjustments are not expensive and are a matter of common sense. As the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, said, if adjustments draw on the skills of disabled people for access to physical space, for example, they in turn make adjustments that are used not only by disabled people but by parents with small children in tow and in buggies, older people struggling with shopping bags, and the like.

Twenty years ago I was involved in drawing up brochures for my city of Norwich, which has a wealth of heritage buildings, to create access to 18th century nonconformist octagon chapels and 19th century listed bank buildings in ways that provided enhanced access to, but did not distract from, the importance and quality of those buildings. A large swathe of the city's people was then able to enjoy those buildings.

It is clear that, with the right sort of support and encouragement, disabled people can work as effectively as non-disabled people in the tourism industry. We look to employers to recognise that if someone has a physical, mental or sensory impairment, it does not prevent them from making a real contribution to work. The tourism industry, which is a major employer--there are 1.8 million people working in hotels, restaurants, caravan parks, tourist attractions, resort towns and heritage sites, and at arts events and festivals--has regularly suffered severe skill shortages. That, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, rightly said, is partly due to its reputation for low skills and low pay.

The tourist industry, as it goes upmarket, will need to invest in people with the skills that it requires. That investment combined with the flexible hours that the tourism and hospitality industry can offer may well make such jobs particularly attractive to disabled people, who in turn repay in spades in terms of loyalty and commitment. These can be high quality jobs in terms of the skills required--management and supervisory posts, or telephony--as well as more modest jobs ranging from catering to ground maintenance, which can be valuable for people who have been away from work for a long time and who, as my noble friend Lord Ashley said, may have had an interrupted educational background on their way to adulthood.

I echo what the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, said about widening access to tourism, which was the theme of an earlier debate tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, in February 1999, in which many of your Lordships participated, in talking about Tomorrow's Tourism and access for all.

My noble friend Lady Wilkins asked whether Ministers would encourage regional tourist boards to make links to accessible UK websites. The ETC has an excellent accessible website, and we will consider adding to that website if it proves to meet the required standard for accessible accommodation. I shall take away and follow up the noble Baroness's other point about access groups.

Increasing access is an important aspect of the English Tourism Council, recognising that disabled people who are customers as well as employees are a valuable resource. The council has reviewed, in partnership with IndividuALL, which is the renamed Hoteliers Forum, the ways in which people with disabilities can obtain work and how to improve their findings and how to make the industry more accessible to disabled people. The noble Baroness also mentioned that the Heart of England Tourist Board has been running the Access 21 three-year project with five local pilots, leading to a national guidance document at the end of the project term.

More needs to be done. That is why we are establishing Jobcentre Plus and why we are helping disabled people to return to work through the New Deal for Disabled People, as well as providing all the support services of the new deal and the disabled persons' working tax credit. All that can only be of benefit to the tourism industry, disabled people and the country as a whole. Disabled people not only have rights but also a huge practical gain to offer us all both as employees and as users of the tourism industry.

I am confident that in 2003, the European year of disabled people, we shall have a story to celebrate. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for introducing this debate today.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Government Whip, Lord in Waiting (Whip)

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.40 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.37 to 8.40 p.m.]