Office for Disability Issues

– in the House of Lords at 2:47 pm on 6th February 2006.

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Photo of Lord Ashley of Stoke Lord Ashley of Stoke Labour 2:47 pm, 6th February 2006

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What objectives they have set for the new Office for Disability Issues.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, the Office for Disability Issues was launched on 1 December last year. Its objective is to lead the delivery of the Government's commitment to real equality for disabled people by 2025. It will do that by agreeing and driving forward a cross-government strategy and by bringing the voices of disabled people into the heart of government.

Photo of Lord Ashley of Stoke Lord Ashley of Stoke Labour

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that response. Does he agree that the Government are totally committed to achieving the targets for equality and social inclusion set out in the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit report? Does he further agree that an important objective for the Office for Disability Issues is to monitor the progress, or lack of it, of each government department in implementing those targets?

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right: we are very much committed to achieving what he set out. The Office for Disability Issues is a cross-government department initiative that will enable us to keep a close eye on the performance of government as a whole and on individual departments. As he said, we will keep a close eye on progress.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Spokesperson in the Lords (Sport), Culture, Media & Sport, Spokesperson in the Lords (Disability), Work & Pensions, Deputy Chief Whip, People With Disabilities, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the reports will be brought before Parliament as quickly as possible and that, whenever it is felt needed, we will have time to discuss them? Unless Parliament continues to apply pressure, we may well lose one of the major levers to achieve the objective.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, the noble Lord will know that reports from the office will go to the Prime Minister. I am sure that the ministerial group that will oversee the work of the office will welcome parliamentary debate. Of course, that is in the hands of the House authorities, but I am sure that Ministers from my department will be very willing to take part in such scrutiny.

Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench

My Lords, does the Minister agree that one objective of the office may be to work towards reducing the 10 per cent earnings gap between the disabled and other employees?

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, I have no doubt that a considerable number of matters will be drawn to the attention of the office. The additional cost of living for disabled people has been well aired in your Lordships' House. The office will continue to keep that under review, as will my department. One of the reasons why disabled people will sometimes have less income than other sectors in society is the employment rate for disabled people. That is why the welfare reform Green Paper, which my department produced a couple of weeks ago, is so important in encouraging people who either are or will be receiving incapacity benefit to look at the opportunities to go back into work.

Photo of Lord Morris of Manchester Lord Morris of Manchester Labour

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend Lord Hunt and to my noble friend Lord Ashley. Given its high importance to independent living for severely disabled people, how quickly can we expect action on the unmet need for adjustments to the common parts of let residential premises to which the review group drew attention?

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, my noble friend is right to refer to common parts. A review group has been set up to review the legal position on the adaptation of common parts of residential premises. The report was submitted to Ministers and is being considered. I cannot give my noble friend a date yet, but we will respond to the proposals as soon as possible.

Photo of Baroness Wilkins Baroness Wilkins Labour

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the independent living network should be a prime objective of the ODI, given that the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit report said that there should be a centre for independent living in every locality by 2010?

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, I very much agree with my noble friend about the importance of centres for independent living. My understanding is that there are 22 fully constituted centres with another 15 local disability organisations either providing a similar role or working towards becoming a centre for independent living. My noble friend is right. The more that the centres can be developed, the more support and help can be given to disabled people and the more we can make advances towards independent living, which is the intention of this policy. On the development of further centres, the Department of Health is in discussion with stakeholders. The Office for Disability Issues will keep a close eye on that as well.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative

My Lords, will the "at home" issue of disability be dealt with by this office or by this House? Is the Minister aware that since his predecessor's time, I have spoken of how unsatisfactory Portcullis House is for the disabled? There are no mirrors in the toilets for disabled people, although they like to be able to see how they look. We have also been told that the very heavy doors have been made easier to open, but disabled people still have great difficulty with them and the round handles in Portcullis House. Will that come under this House or the new office?

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, the Office for Disability Issues is in my department and will provide a facility throughout Whitehall. I hesitate to suggest that it should start pronouncing on matters whose supervision is probably the responsibility of the authorities in this House and another place. In view of the noble Baroness's comments, I will draw this to the attention of the House authorities.

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Women & Older People, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities

My Lords, one has to welcome the new initiative, but does the Minister agree that although there has been a similar initiative with respect to women in government, it has not had the effect that one might have hoped for in reducing, for example, salary or earnings differentials between women and men, except in the public service? What progress can such bodies make in those aspects of inequality?

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, I do not share the noble Baroness's disappointment. The Government have an excellent record on women's issues in general, as they do in supporting disabled people. I am confident that the whole of government accepted the thrust of the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit report. It has the support of all government departments. A ministerial group, a task force and an advisory group have been established, and they are all mechanisms to ensure that we deliver on the policy.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Shadow Minister, Wales

My Lords, why is there a target of 20 to 25 years? Is 20 years not rather a long time to take to achieve these objectives?

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, it is best to be as accurate as we can about the time that it will take to produce the full equality that we want. It is an ambitious programme, and it is surely better to set out a realisable target than an overoptimistic one that then disappoints. It will lead to a fundamental change in the lives of disabled people. We are already making progress by developing the concepts of independent budgets and independent living and with the use of the DDA legislation. All of those play a part, but it is a considerable challenge to ensure that the whole of the programme is implemented. I am confident that we can make progress at an early stage, but we should not underestimate the real challenge that is there.

Photo of Baroness Trumpington Baroness Trumpington Conservative

My Lords, would the Minister kindly ask the new office to promote something on which his predecessor and I were as one: the fact that St John's, Smith Square, has no facilities for disabled people? I believe that that is illegal.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, I am shocked to hear that information, and I will be happy to bring that to the attention of the appropriate authorities.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Conservative

My Lords, what is the budget for the office?

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, it is starting with a set-up cost of £5 million. Then we are thinking about an annual running cost of £8 million, but that will be kept under review.