Speaking in a parliamentary debate, called by Labour this week to raise concerns about the treatment of the disabled by this Government in the wake of comments by Lord Freud about paying disabled people less than the minimum wage, Nia Griffith MP said,
“I rise to speak in this debate because I feel very strongly that every disabled individual deserves to have the utmost respect and to be valued for their skills. We should be doing all we can to break down the very real barriers that prevent disabled people from taking a full part both in the workplace and in social activities.
First I want to pay tribute to the Llanelli Disabled Access Group. Sadly, it has had to wind up its activities this month, but over the past few years it has done a really good job advising people on how to adapt both public and private buildings, inspecting those buildings and giving out awards for good practice. The group’s work has been excellent and it will be sorely missed.
I am extremely worried about the way this government is handling PIPs, as I am encountering cases of great concern, because people are in real financial difficulties. I have cases of people waiting a whole year to get their PIP sorted, I know that many of my constituents are very worried about what will happen when they are forced to move across to the new system during the transition from DLA to PIP. Then there is the disgrace of people being sent repeatedly for ATOS assessments even when they have very distressing degenerative conditions.
I am very concerned about the Government ‘s Work programme which has a very poor rate of success. In Wales, with only one in 20 disabled people being found a position. That ” success” rate of 5% is disgraceful.Oxfam Cymru has described some appalling practices:
“People who were seen as furthest away from the labour market were de-prioritised and only got any support at all after having very strong local advocacy.”
Even the former Work and Pensions Minister Mark Hoban has admitted that
“Work providers…need to improve their employer engagement effort. They need to increase the supply of jobs that are available to people who have been out of work for some time.”
The Work and Pensions Committee called for a national action plan, before the end of 2013, to engage employers in the Work programme, so will the Minister tell us what progress has been made in getting better engagement from employers, and give us categorical assurances that no such approaches to employers involve employing anybody on less than the minimum wage? I am very concerned about the comments of Lord Freud because they are deeply offensive to disabled people and I feel that they may betray a hidden Government agenda. They also feed into the frenzy of denigrating and devaluing disabled people.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mrs McGuire) explained so well, there has been a concerted attack on disabled people by this government and talk of swingeing cuts to the incomes of those who are already among the poorest in society but who are portrayed as scroungers. Sadly, there has been a rise in the number of incidents of hate crime. There is a real responsibility on everybody in government to do their utmost to combat negative images and ensure that we give disabled people the respect they deserve. We should do all we can to enable them to fulfil their potential, whether in the workplace or in other spheres of their lives.”