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Lord Rix: At the end of my brief speech about advocacy, I expressed the hope that the Minister would take this opportunity to assure the Committee that all claimants will have a statutory entitlement to advocacy support, which will be made available without cost to the claimant if the absence of such support makes a work-focused interview untenable. I am afraid that we are at opposite ends of the argument.
In his second or third intervention, the noble Lord asked me to assure the Committee, first, about guidance and, secondly, about advocacy. He asked me to confirm that there will be a statutory entitlement--that is, a right--to advocacy. The answer to the noble Lord's questions is: yes and yes. I could now sit down--which would speed up the proceedings--but it may be appropriate to enlarge upon this point.
I believe that I must emphasise, as my noble friends have done, the fact that we recognise that people who are severely disabled and who want or need representation must and will be treated with particular sensitivity. However, we must treat people as individuals, not as categories. It is relatively arbitrary whether people receive DLA, SDA or IB. We do not want to suggest that people are treated according to the category in which they are placed. We believe that under the "one" service and face-to-face contact, we will have the opportunity to identify the areas where extra support is needed.
People may say that that is a waste of time. I was told only a few days ago of a case involving a man living off his redundancy payment who brought into the office his wife, who is severely incapacitated by virtue of a stroke and who is receiving DLA. He was told about--and will now take up--invalid care allowance, his wife will receive SDA and they may be entitled to HB, which may mean a worthwhile increase in their income of £100 per week. That man need not have come into the office. People will be able to seek help under the "one" service in future and we will ensure that a full range of support and assistance is made available in difficult situations.
It is appropriate to consider whether the interview should take place at the time of claiming or be deferred to a later date. As I have said, personal advisers will have the discretion to waive the interview altogether if that is what the individual circumstances dictate. Guidance will be made available to personal advisers, in association with professional voluntary organisations, to ensure that they are aware of the circumstances in
I repeat: it is not a question of harassing vulnerable people, as the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, suggested. It is a question of ensuring that people are aware of the support that is available. I wish to make a wider point, on which I hope the noble Lord, Lord Addington, will support me. We should not make an easy reading across from the severity of disability to the capacity for work. It is too easy to assume that the most severely disabled are the least likely to work and that those with the least disability are the most likely to work. All of our research and evidence compiled over the past few years confounds that myth. I know of people who are paralysed from the neck down and who, none the less, run businesses. We know of people who have been blind from birth, who have been recruited by major companies because of their affinity with technology and who are holding down senior jobs. We know of people in your Lordships' House and in the Government who have severe disabilities and who, by any definition, would qualify as severely disabled. Yet they are participating fully in your Lordships' debates and one is a serving Cabinet Minister in Her Majesty's Government.
I know of someone in receipt of SDA who has ME. She keeps in touch with the labour market in the hope that her ME will burn out or be corrected and she will be able to re-enter the job market. She wants to ensure that she keeps her options open. On good days, she wants to be able to read appropriate material, come into the office, talk to people, make contacts and so on. Let us not assume that somehow a severe disability equals incapacity for work. We know from experience that mild to moderate degrees of mental illness and mental health problems may be more incapacitating than some extremely severe physical health problems.
Therefore, I hope that your Lordships will not attach too much weight to the words "severely disabled". Some of the most severely disabled people I know are most urgent in their desire to return to work. Quadriplegics, the blind and the deaf seek to work, and are working. Yet those people are automatically put onto incapacity benefit without needing to do the all-work test. Such people are holding down jobs, and many like them wish to return to the labour market. That is why we must ensure that we do not write off people, irrespective of their potential, by virtue of some label.
We must also ensure that people receive the help they need in a positive way. That is why I have a great deal of sympathy with the aim of Amendment No. 114, which seeks to ensure that people who attend work-focused interviews may be accompanied by an advocate when they believe that is appropriate. I am happy to assure noble Lords that a person may be accompanied by a third party. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, suggested, we do not think that it is necessary to put such a requirement on the face of the Bill. If your Lordships believe that there is a serious issue as to whether people know about their right to
We want to ensure that people know about their right to advocacy. We are considering whether we should examine the cost of fares and so on when an advocate is necessary for someone who has learning difficulties, for example. There is a similar question when an interpreter is needed and staff cannot provide the necessary translation service. In those circumstances, we will arrange for those services to be provided .
To return to where I began: I think that I can give the noble Lord, Lord Rix, the assurances that he seeks. Yes, there will be guidance to staff and, yes, there will be a right to advocacy. We will reflect on how best we can ensure that those rights are made known. Behind that lies our insistence that we are seeking to ensure that everyone receives the help and support that they need. For some, that support may be work focused and for others it may be benefit focused or more general support, such as putting people in contact with relevant organisations. Please let us not write off people according to the nature or the degree of severity of their disability. The experience of your Lordships--many of whom have a long history of working with disabled people--is that that is not the right and appropriate way forward. Given those assurances, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Rix, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Baroness Buscombe: Before the Minister sits down, I stress that there is no question of us on these Benches suggesting that we write off anyone. I agree entirely that many people with severe disabilities want to work.
Does the Minister agree that the terminology "work focused" is one of the reasons why many of us are being inundated with letters from numerous organisations and individuals expressing considerable fear and anxiety about this clause? Perhaps I may suggest the use of the term "personal development interviews" or similar wording. It may seem to be a small, insignificant point, but it would be enormously valuable and beneficial to many thousands of people. We must get the wording right so that people do not feel that they must attend an interview and somehow show that they are capable of working when many of them, sadly, are not.
The vast majority of people coming through will be those on jobseeker's allowance, lone parents, or other groups who have been on income support who may be able to work. It is not unreasonable, therefore, that the focus should be on work. Where we are dealing with issues of disability, it may be more appropriate to focus on benefits and the like.
From my experience, the problem arises on the other side. People want help; they want face-to-face interviews; they want to go back into work. The complaints I received in the past as a Minister with some responsibility for disability issues were that we have so far not met a need and are beginning to do so. The problem is not pushing people into work who do not want it; it is helping those who want to work to get into work where they can, and giving people the information, opportunities and knowledge that they currently do not have where work is not the appropriate option for them. Disabled people asked us to provide that service and that is what we will be doing.
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