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Mike champions employment rights for disabled people

Mike Kane (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas) on securing this important debate, and I pay tribute to him for the powerful personal testimony he gave about his constituent, who will feel very well represented tonight. I thank all Members who have contributed, including the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), who also gave powerful personal testimony—I would not want to pass by his contribution.

I grew up in a household in Wythenshawe where I saw a parent with progressive multiple sclerosis move from being in hard-working employment all her life to being on benefit. That was what really inspired me into public life. My recruiting sergeant was a certain Lord Alf Morris, who was my constituency Member of Parliament at the time. He introduced the absolutely groundbreaking Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, which revolutionised the way we looked at disabled people. It was about their rights, rather than what we gave them, and about how they could aspire to a better life. He also became the world’s first Minister for the disabled. I still get calls to my office asking if Alf is the Minister for disabled people in the Government today. I follow in the footsteps of giants, but I am prepared to do my best.

I also want to mention my predecessor, Paul Goggins. I worked with him when I was a local councillor in 2007 and the first threat to the Remploy factory in Wythenshawe came up. We lobbied the then Member for Neath, who was the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Paul did amazing things. He got on board with JCB and with the Authentic Food Company in my constituency. We brought together a whole host of businesses. He really turned things around—it went from having a £200,000 turnover to having a £600,000 turnover. It did not help in the end, and unfortunately the factory was shut in 2012.

I do not want to make a particularly party political point, even though 20 people lost their jobs. The hardest thing for my predecessor and for me at the time was not just those people losing their jobs—following on from what my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) said, a lot of them have not gone on to find new work—but the fact that during the time we ran the campaign, 500 people got into employment through the work that we did. It was a solid way for disabled people to build skills and confidence and get into the workplace. It was measurable, attainable, smart and specific. It was a really good campaign.

I want to press the Minister by comparing and contrasting what Remploy did with what the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys said about Disability Confident. Because of my personal passion, I am a supporter of any scheme that helps disabled people get into employment. I was therefore pleased to be asked by the DWP to get involved with a Disability Confident event in south Manchester. I worked with my next-door neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), who is just as passionate about the subject and who held the post of shadow Minister for disabled people in the last Parliament.

We attracted 80 employers to the event, representing nearly 100,000 people around south Manchester. It included Manchester airport, Wythenshawe hospital and British Gas, which is in my neighbour’s constituency, and we had an extraordinarily good event. It was hosted by Vodafone—I asked it to host—which also sponsored the event, and I want to place on record my thanks to it for doing so. We had Cherylee Houston from “Coronation Street”—the disabled actress—who provided extraordinarily powerful testimony about her life and how she struggled to get into employment and into the acting industry. People from ITV talked about the company as an employer and about the changes and adaptations that it had made to make sure that she could play an important role in that TV series. I pay tribute to her and to ITV for providing role models of disabled people on our TV sets day in, day out.

I want to press the Minister on Disability Confident and how I think it should be improved. The event relied extraordinarily heavily on the contacts of the local MPs. That is an important point. Really it was the MPs, with their business contacts, who brought businesses to the event. That is a good thing, but the administration had to be done in the MPs’ offices, along with all the other things. It placed an inordinate strain on my extraordinarily hard-working staff and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston, but we did it. The DWP lacked co-ordination and leadership. It wanted us to lead as MPs, but things were extraordinarily difficult on the ground. I do not want to criticise DWP officials—far from it. They were well intentioned and worked hard, but there was a lack of a joined-up approach between various parts of the DWP and the agencies that it brought in to help. That needs to be looked at.

We know from our feedback surveys that the companies found the event extraordinarily informative. Many of them went away and implemented the good practices that we had showcased there. That involved companies, chief executive officers, human resources directors and the disabled people working in those companies—we had a number of disabled people there. However, as a politician and policy maker, I like to see numbers and outcomes. It was the lack of follow-up that was so difficult to understand—I am talking about getting all those companies in and understanding how they implemented the good practice. How many disabled people did we put in touch with them for pre-employment and employment opportunities? I just do not know those figures, and I find that quite frustrating as a Member of Parliament.

There is a strong narrative about getting disabled people into work, and we are trying to show leadership as local Members, but we need some resources from the DWP so that we can accurately measure the outcomes of such events—what we have achieved—and then plan further ahead by looking at the areas and expertise that we need to develop in order to go forward. I would like to run a similar event in the next year or two, but until I get substantive data about what we were able to achieve with the first events, that will be quite difficult.

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