My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Leigh of Hurley for securing this debate. Our welfare state works only because of the wealth generated to pay for it, much of it by business. No wealth generation equals no welfare state. It is as simple as that. Wealth generation sustains the welfare state.
My career in the charity sector gave me the privilege of working with parliamentarians of all parties and none. While it taught me respect for political difference, I cannot respect John McDonnell’s muddled Marxist mathematics, which would dig us deeper into debt and jeopardise our welfare state. Yet there is no escaping the apparent attraction for some of this Pied Piper’s tune. Who can blame some of the UK’s 11 million or so disabled people, understandably impatient with the extent of inclusion 22 years after the Disability Discrimination Act, for wanting to believe John McDonnell’s empty and patronising promises of non-existent money?
The impression given that progress can be made without nurturing enterprise and wealth generation needs urgently to be exposed for the delusional, disingenuous and dangerous narrative that it is. Business needs to help make the arguments by working in partnership with government and disabled people on accelerating progress towards inclusion over the next three years. Why three? It is because the Conservatives’ Disability Discrimination Act turns 25 in 2020. We need to give disabled people a reason to celebrate that birthday.
How can we make progress? I suggest that there are three principal ways. First, business should upgrade, rather than downgrade, disability. That means not falling for the current fad of believing that by making disability the responsibility of everyone the need for a sharp focus on disability and a nominated senior champion to drive change can be dispensed with. Experience shows that, unless you want disability to be the responsibility of no one, you need to use both approaches to make real progress.
At this point, I want to put on record how deeply touched I have been by the support I have received from across the House for my continued call for the Equality and Human Rights Commission to reverse its regressive decision to abolish the role of disability commissioner, for which I successfully applied, and instead to ensure that the disability commissioner continues to chair the commission’s disability advisory committee. Public bodies should be accountable to Parliament. Parliament needs to know why, how and when this decision was taken, given that the minutes for March, which are on the internet, clearly show that the role’s abolition was not even discussed at the commission’s last board meeting before I was appointed on
To return to the main point of the debate, another way we can make progress is to honour as soon as possible the welcome manifesto pledge to,
“review disabled people’s access and amend regulations if necessary to improve disabled access to licensed premises, parking and housing”.
Too often, some businesses bemoan red tape as if it flowed in only one direction. As the ad hoc Select Committee’s excellent report on the Equality Act 2010 and disability showed, that is not the case. As a disabled person, sometimes I feel that I can barely move for red tape. To take a simple example, I have lost count of the number of times I have been prevented from going into a shop because of a step. It would be so easy and inexpensive to rectify in so many cases, yet too many businesses continue to cut off their nose to spite their face by treating me as if my money were disabled. Well, it is not disabled. In fact, what is known as the purple pound is worth £249 billion. To put it in context, that is more than eight times the estimated £30 billion shortfall in John McDonnell’s manifesto sums. So it is a lot of money.
My third suggestion is that together we build on existing success such as the John Lewis Partnership. Improving life chances is actually one of the benefits it uses to measure its success. It believes that this strong social purpose is good for business. I agree with my noble friend Lady McGregor-Smith that we need more of this in business.
In conclusion, my noble friend Lord Leigh of Hurley is right: resetting the narrative is crucial. My message to business is that, if you want to defend free enterprise, prosperity and your own business, you need to do more to counter by word and deed John McDonnell’s recklessly irresponsible narrative. The next three years provide a wonderful opportunity to build both a tangible, positive narrative and a record of change and inclusion. Let us be ambitious and show that together we have the will and the vision to demonstrate that businesses play a pivotal role in generating wealth and improving both the life chances and the inclusion of disabled people.