My Lords, last week was Learning Disability Week, the focus of which was breaking down the barriers to employment and apprenticeships. Fewer than 6% of people with a learning disability are in fact in work. For people with a learning disability, as for most people, work is more than a pay packet; it is also about self-esteem, independence and inclusion within society. However, there are benefits for business too. Mencap points out that people with a learning disability stay in their jobs three and a half times longer than their non-disabled co-workers, leading to savings on recruitment and training. Businesses that employ people with a learning disability report better staff morale and better customer satisfaction.
In their manifesto, the Government committed to support 1 million more disabled people into work over the next 10 years. Since the election, however, there has been scant reference to this target. I hope that the Government will recommit to it. I hope too that the Government will push ahead with the recommendations in the Maynard review on improving accessibility of apprenticeships for people with learning disabilities. Addressing transition from school and college must be a priority if we are to improve their employment opportunities. However, to do this we also need to improve things within social care so that people get the right support to get a job and keep it.
In the lead-up to the general election, there was much talk about the pressures facing the funding of care for older people, despite the fact that one in three social care users are working-age disabled people, of whom nearly 150,000 have a learning disability. With no mention in the Queen’s Speech, or the accompanying documentation, of the pressures facing disabled people, there is concern that the forthcoming Green Paper in the autumn will focus entirely on older people and neglect working-age disabled people.
The Queen’s Speech announced a long-overdue review of mental health legislation and a continuing commitment to parity of esteem for mental health. Reviewing the Mental Health Act and getting widespread agreement to reform will not, however, be easy. I strongly urge the Government to reconsider the criteria for detention for persons with a learning disability and/or autism. The current criteria allow such persons to be detained simply because they have learning disability or autism, in the absence of any associated mental illness. The current Act thus perpetuates the stigma and discrimination faced by people with these conditions. It compromises their ability to make decisions for themselves about their life. It provides a get-out clause for local authorities in that rather than providing adequate resources to support individuals in the community, especially those with complex needs, they can medicalise the individual’s presentation and pass responsibility on to mental health services. Many people with learning disability and/or autism are detained in psychiatric hospitals, often far from home, for extensive periods, unable to challenge their detention successfully because they meet the criteria for detention by virtue only of their learning disability or autism, and will continue to do so. For people with learning disabilities or autism who have an associated mental illness, the criteria for detention could be applied in the same way as for those without those conditions.
I turn to transport. Currently, the cost of travel and the difficulties many people with learning disabilities have in using ticket machines in stations without ticket offices, and in purchasing the right or most economical fare, prevent many people getting around and doing the things that we all take for granted. The Government could extend free bus passes for people with a learning disability to other forms of public transport, and to peak times so that people can travel to work-experience placements. A free travel pass might also prompt staff awareness of a person’s need for reasonable adjustments, as required by the Equality Act. This could be extremely useful in busy terminals and transport hubs, and we could learn something from our American colleagues here.
I was pleased to see that there is now a Minister for Financial Inclusion, and I hope attention will be paid to the financial exclusion faced by many people with learning disabilities and to how banking might be made more accessible. In particular, I am thinking about the effect of local branch closures and the expectation, even by the Post Office, that everyone will be able to manage chip and pin, a significant problem for many people with learning disabilities, including the risk of financial exploitation and the possibility that they might not have the cash available to them to be able to use the ticket machines at stations.
There are cross-government opportunities to improve the lives and inclusion of the 1.4 million people in the United Kingdom with a learning disability. I look forward to working with Ministers and colleagues across the House on these important issues.