Yesterday marked twenty-five years since the introduction of the landmark Disability Discrimination Act. The Disability Discrimination Act (and the subsequent Equality Act) has stood the test of time and provides a strong and straightforward legal framework that protects disabled people from unfair treatment. This vital protection supports disabled people in all aspects of their daily lives, whether they’re at school, work or accessing services and has had a life-changing impact for many. This has focused minds and crucially has helped us support record numbers of disabled people into work, with growing confidence in businesses of all sizes to make what are often just small changes to unlock the potential of a diverse workforce.
I am therefore updating the House on how this Government is continuing to make progress in supporting and engaging disabled people. Through my role as the Minister for Disabled People, Health & Work – the Prime Minister has asked me to lead on the National Strategy for Disabled People. I am making sure disability policy is prioritised in all departments. This is vital work.
The National Strategy for Disabled People takes a cross government approach, focusing on the issues that disabled people say affect them the most in all aspects and phases of life, including housing, education and transport. This will be the most ambitious piece of disability policy in a generation. All departments are supporting cross-Government work to remove barriers and make this country more inclusive for disabled people, with a nominated Ministerial lead to identify policies and priorities. I chaired the first inter-ministerial taskforce of these Ministers recently and I am encouraged by the shared commitment for joint working with each Minister wanting to play their part.
As a Government, we continually strive to make improvements to the service we provide. For example we have extended Video Replay Service (VRS) for British Sign Language across 61 benefit-related helplines and have supported 8,029 VRS calls over a six-month period. But we recognise there is much more we can do improve. The DWP Health and Disability Green Paper will explore how the welfare system can better meet the needs of disabled people and those with health conditions.
Both the National Strategy and the Green Paper will be extensively consulted on in the coming months and shaped by disabled people, disability forums and disability stakeholders, ensuring that real lived experience at the very heart of our plans. We are engaging with disabled people's organisations including through the Regional Stakeholder Network and the recently established Disabled People's Organisations Forum. To inform the content of the Green Paper, we have hosted a series of workshops across the country where local disability organisations and disabled people have shared their experiences of DWP services and priorities for future changes. Despite Covid preventing us from doing physical face-to-face consultations, which has also caused us to decide to now publish in 2021, we have continued engagement with a series of virtual events with charities and disabled people. To date, the Department and I have heard from disabled people and those with health conditions, and their representatives at 17 events.
I am hugely excited by this work which represents a real opportunity to deliver a more inclusive society. Both the Health and Disability Green Paper and the National Strategy will deliver ambitious policy reforms to improve the lives of disabled people.
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords