It is a great pleasure to join you for the start of this important session to discuss accessibility issues.
I’ve been doing this job for just over a year now and one of the very best parts of my role is to get out of my office and talk to young people about their hopes for the future.
We, as a Government, have made a real commitment to achieve equality for disabled people.
We often talk about it in very dry terms.
But when I meet young disabled people I am reminded what it means in practice - to be able to enjoy time with your friends, to be spontaneous, to quite simply take part in the community.
When I meet young disabled people they are of course as ambitious as young non-disabled people.
Their hopes for the future are no different to any teenager - university, travel, careers in the arts, theatre, business, maybe even politics.
The limits of those ambitions should only ever be as far as our imaginations can take them - every young person needs to be actively supported to achieve their potential.
But the sad reality is that today we don’t.
Young disabled people and those with learning difficulties are twice as likely to be NEET - not in employment, education or training - than non-disabled people and those without learning difficulties.
Less than half of people who are hearing or sight-impaired are in work.
So, what happens to all of that untapped potential?
My own view is that some of the barriers you have been looking at over the last two days have a really cumulative effect so issues with physical accessibility, combined with negative attitudes around disabled people’s abilities leads to a loss of confidence and I think people can just become dis-engaged.
Accessibility, as I know you have been exploring over the last two days, is about more than wheelchair ramps and hearing loops, although those practicalities are absolutely vital.
Accessibility is also about attitudes and confidence.
We have to support young disabled people to achieve their potential.
And we have to raise the expectations of disabled people themselves but also employers, teachers, support staff.
We have to demand more.
I think we in Government can go further to ensure the progress of disabled young people through our education system and importantly in to employment.
A couple of weeks ago Liz Sayce from Radar published an independent review of employment support for disabled people.
One of her recommendations was to establish an inter-ministerial group where Ministers from lots of different departments come together to talk about these issues.
We have already had our first informal meeting last week.
I met with my colleagues from BIS, Education and Health, to discuss how we can work better, together, to support disabled people into employment.
One of the things I am particularly interested in is developing a really clear route for disabled people through the education system and into work.
I want to make sure at every stage disabled people are encouraged and supported to make the most of the opportunities that are available to them.
Government obviously has an important role to play to drive the sorts of change that you have been talking about.
But it would be entirely wrong for Ministers alone to be at the forefront of change - disabled people have to be an integral part of that.
The work Shape has been doing over the past couple of days is a great example of developing solutions from the bottom up - and I want to see more of this innovation and motivation for change.
In Government we are having to think smarter about how we spend money in difficult economic times.
But Liz Sayce’s report found that existing budgets could help up to 100,000 people when currently only 65,000 are helped.
If you think about it another way, that’s 35,000 people missing out because money hasn’t been spent effectively as it could be.
There are a number of things Government is doing well but there are also a number of things we could be doing better.
In education - we know that the experience of disabled young people at school and beyond has an enormous impact on their ability to fulfil their potential.
In the right environment, aspirations are encouraged and young disabled people will flourish.
I want to ensure we create more of the “right kind of environments”.
The Department for Education is currently consulting on how to support young disabled people at school and beyond to achieve their ambitions.
The Special Educational Needs Green Paper sets out far reaching changes to improve that support that young disabled people get from birth to adulthood.
Proposals include a single assessment process and combined education, health and care plan for under 25s with more severe or complex support needs.
For the first time people with special educational needs _will have one plan that follows them through from birth to adulthood. This is a really radical idea that many people have been talking about for a long time. _
Our aim is for education, health and care services to work together with a real emphasis on helping disabled young people progress from education and into work.
For example, one of the options we are consulting on is supported internships for some disabled young people.
My colleague at education, Sarah Teather, Minister for Children and Families, and her team are really keen to ensure the views of young disabled people have been fully represented in this really important consultation.
I know they have already had a large number of responses from parents and young people.
If you want to contribute and have not done so already you’ll need to be quick as the consultation closes tomorrow.
However, I know there will be ongoing work with young people and disability groups beyond the end of the formal consultation process, so if you haven’t had a chance to take part hopefully you can take part then.
This comprehensive approach to support should develop a much stronger pathway through education and into employment.
We are also reconsidering employment support for disabled people.
One of the key findings of Liz Sayce’s report was that employment support should be built around the individual not institutions. Some of you may think that makes common sense.
We are considering Liz’s findings very carefully.
We are already moving towards much greater personalisation and localisation of services for disabled people in many other areas. The challenge is why not employment support?
There are a couple of things Government is doing in terms of tailoring employment support for disabled people.
Access to Work is one of the best kinds of this personalised provision. The latest figures show that nearly 33,000 people were supported between April and December of last year. It’s a really important way to help people achieve the independence they want.
The Sayce Review suggested that for every £1 spent through Access to Work the Treasury - that’ s the people who have all the money - recoups more than £1 in tax and National Insurance contributions, so it makes real economic sense.
The crucial thing about Access to Work is that the support it provides is built around the needs of the individual person, and individuals in their workplace.
Access to Work is also available for young disabled people who have an apprenticeship place.
The Government is increasing funding for apprenticeships to over £1.4 billion this year, enough to train 360,000 apprentices.
In 2009/10 almost one in ten apprenticeships were taken up by people who declared a disability, I want to see that number increase.
The Education Bill will redefine the apprenticeships available, making training a real priority for Government funding for all 16 to 18 year olds, and disabled youngsters up to 24 years old, when they have secured an apprenticeship.
And just last month the Prime Minister announced a new Access to Apprenticeships route for young people who needed an extra boost to secure a job as an apprentice with an employer.
This will begin from August of this year and is aimed at young people aged 16-24 who have been NEET for some time or who have additional learning or social needs.
For unemployed disabled people help to get them back into a job is also being personalised. This is absolutely vital support for this important group of people, personalisation is really important so we are bringing in specialist providers to deliver it.
The new Work Programme draws upon the expertise of specialist providers to help people into work. It pays by results and does not dictate how someone should be supported. So there’s a real incentive to get people into a job rather than just push people through training schemes.
We know some disabled people may need more support so we will pay Work Programme providers more to help a disabled person into work, more than £13,000 so there is money there to get disabled people into real jobs.
We want disabled people to be able to access this personalised employment support as a matter of course.
So, we have identified further funding so they can join the Work Programme at an earlier point in their benefit claim than other groups of people, so they get that support sooner.
People who may have more complex disability related needs will be supported by Work Choice, a programme which is based on personalisation and is much more flexible than its predecessor programmes and provides more intensive support for disabled people.
And budgets for employment support for disabled people have been protected, it is important to emphasise, at a time when virtually all other budgets are being squeezed.
I understand lots of what you have been doing over the last couple of days has been around entertainment.
The arts are a great leveller.
It’s not just the experience of being there and taking part that’s so important.
It is great to see organisations like Stagetext and Vocal Eyes working hard to improve captioning and audio description in theatres so more people can enjoy amazing performances.
But also, as I am sure you have seen over the past couple of days, the arts can challenge our expectations and change the way we see things.
Whether it be showcase events like the DaDa Fest, the ongoing theatre work of Graeae - who will be involved in the Paralympic opening ceremonies - or Marc Quinn’s statue of Alison Lapper Pregnant in Trafalgar Square, the arts can have a really positive impact on public perceptions of disabled people.
They can strengthen the disabled voice in the public sphere.
And having that voice - that freedom to be creative - is incredibly important for all of our self-esteem and for feeling part of society.
Going forward we want disabled people to have a voice in the development of the policies that affect them.
This is why we are investing £3 million in User Led Organisations - groups that are run by disabled people and for disabled people.
These organisations have a unique insight and are a powerful voice for the disabled people in our communities they represent both locally and nationally.
We want to secure the continued involvement of these organisations by developing their skills and building on their experience.
I don’t know if you realise just how powerful your opinions are.
This event, bringing together disabled and non-disabled young people to consider accessibility, and it is truly inspiring.
The issues you have explored over the last couple of days, the barriers you have faced and the solutions you have found are real.
Hundreds of thousands of young disabled people will face the same challenges every single day.
This event has brought us a bit closer to overcoming them in the future.