Sunday, January 11, 2009

Mark Harper MP on action to help disabled people

As the recession bites, it is more, not less, important that we make sure that disabled people are able to compete for the opportunities which will be available. Of course, it would have been much easier to do this in the good years but that opportunity has been squandered by the present Government.

Being prepared and ready to take office from day one is vitally important, and is a lesson we have learnt from the failings of this Labour Government. In 1997, Labour came to power 'policy light' and had given little consideration to how their rhetoric was going to be converted into solid policies which would benefit disabled people. A future Conservative Government will not repeat this mistake.

Welfare reform
Having inherited a sound economy, and benefiting from a decade of economic 'good luck' according to Tony Blair, it is disappointing that more progress hasn't been made in helping disabled people get off benefits and into work, reducing poverty.

There is a broad consensus that work is the best way out of poverty, but still only half of disabled people are in employment compared to four out of five of non-disabled people in the population as a whole. There are 2.6 million people currently claiming Incapacity Benefit, a number which has broadly stayed the same over the last 11 years in spite of a benign economic environment, and indeed the number of working age claimants has risen since 1997.

The message is clear: if we are to reduce poverty among disabled people, we must improve their opportunities to work, as well as give them the right help and support to get into work.

We will unlock many more opportunites for disabled people to move into work by placing caps on the numbers of economic migrants moving into the UK, and incentivise and encourage businesses to take on disabled people. It is also important that the Government leads by example which is why I want the Department for Work and Pensions to become an exemplar employer of disabled people for the rest of Government and the wider business world.

It is also crucial that we make the changes to our welfare system so that disabled people get the proper help and support to find and stay in work. We will use the expertise of the private and voluntary sector, and pay by results, in order to help disabled people realise their potential.

Removing Benefit Barriers / Independent Living
We will also break down the barriers that prevent disabled people from moving into work and living independently. The benefit system is hugely complicated, overly bureaucratic and confusing for disabled people who use it, and discourages people from moving into work. We want to simplify the system and make sure that it helps people move into work, not stay on benefits.

A future Conservative Government will move faster than the present Government in removing some of the obstacles which prevent disabled people from living independently. One of the central problems that disabled people face is in finding the right care services which best serve their needs. Often they have to fit their lives around those supporting them, rather than being in control themselves. We want to speed up the national roll out of Individual Budgets so that disabled people don't have to wait to take control of their own lives.

The Conservative Party is determined and ready to take up the reins of Government and make a positive difference to the lives of millions of disabled people.

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