It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Ms Buck.
I am sure most of us know many people who are affected to some degree by hearing loss, and we know the impact it has on their lives. In my own case, both my parents were affected. My dad, who died a couple of years ago, had industrial deafness caused by his work in a factory. The effects of that lasted a long time. I welcome the comments from Sir Mike Penning, recognising the industrial injuries aspect. My mum resisted hearing aids for many years, but the difference they made to her life when she finally gave in was, and continues to be, immense. It is immense to us as well, of course.
That is why I was so concerned to hear from Action on Hearing Loss, which I met recently, that some clinical commissioning groups are proposing restrictions on the prescription of hearing aids to people with mild and moderate hearing loss. Indeed, some have already done so, including North Staffordshire CCG, which was referred to earlier. Not only do hearing aids make a real difference to people with mild and moderate hearing loss, but research shows that they reduce social isolation and depression. New evidence also suggests they can reduce the risk of developing dementia; a study in The Lancet recognised hearing loss as potentially the largest modifiable risk factor for dementia. We can do something about it. I hope the Minister will make clear that hearing aids must be provided where they are needed.
As my hon. Friend Jim Fitzpatrick has clearly set out, the cash limit on the Access to Work scheme has also had a significant impact on many people with hearing loss, limiting their ability to do their job properly, or in some cases meaning that they might not be offered jobs because of the shortfall in financial support. I ask the Government to look again at removing or raising the cap. I also echo my hon. Friend’s call for further work on implementation of the action plan on hearing loss. As he described, some good work has been done already, but I ask the Minister to ensure that the Government step up their work on implementing the plan.
In the summer, I met Erin, a young woman campaigning with the National Deaf Children’s Society to have British Sign Language recognised as a GCSE and made available to all students. I join Erin, and Peter Aldous, in calling for BSL to be a GCSE subject.