I’d really like to take this opportunity to thank absolutely everybody in this room for the work that they do to support disabled people throughout Surrey.
It’s absolutely excellent to see this organisation thriving.
It is the Government’s priority to make sure we support disabled people throughout the country to make their own choices and have control over their own lives so that they can reach their full potential.
The sort of control that, I think in Surrey, you clearly have, through the support you get from the Surrey Coalition
We aim to do this by working with disabled people to co-produce policy and make sure that we work together to design the programmes that we hope will support disabled people to reach that potential.
I know the Surrey Coalition has been involved in this work, as well as providing important on-the-ground support to disabled people.
Your work makes a huge difference to disabled people’s lives every single day.
And that should be celebrated and I hope part of your AGM is about celebrating that.
Because user led organisations, like the Surrey Coalition are a key part of the co-production of policy.
The UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People stipulates specifically that Government must consider how new policies affect disabled people.
The best way to do that, I think, is to ensure disabled people are involved at the start of the process.
Now Government is getting a bit better at doing this but I’m sure we could do a lot better.
We need to really take our lead from organisations like you by making sure disabled people are involved in developing policies and services right from the start.
User led organisations like you are really important in that process.
I want to make sure that up and down the country disabled people have the same opportunities as the disabled people in Surrey do.
And have access to strong and robust user led organisations like you clearly have here, in this part of the world.
That’s why we have decided that, although we’ve got lots of pressures on our money at the moment, we will take £3 million and invest in developing user led organisations.
Richard Watts from the Essex Coalition, which you may know, has been selected to join us as joint National Lead to get this project off the ground.
And he will work in partnership with the Office for Disability Issues, which many of you might know is part of the Government’s support for disabled people.
In addition we have appointed 12 ambassadors broadly representing every bit of England to support him in this work - including three in the South East.
We have already agreed some really clear actions as a result of this.
We have a pot of money which we are using to help user led organisations to get up to speed and to be really active.
We have already agreed payments from a facilitation fund that is part of the project.
This includes money for an interactive smart board for a group called Voice for All in Chorley. So this group, which is made up of people with learning disabilities, can take greater control over their communications and be less reliant on other people.
The facilitation fund has also agreed to provide funding for mentor support for young people with learning disabilities who run a radio show for people with learning disabilities in Oxfordshire.
It’s really important for organisations to get this support but also for established organisations, like you, to be able to share your knowledge and expertise so we can have a really strong national network of user led organisations, for everyone to benefit from.
I know here in Surrey you already work very closely with the local authority. That’s something I’d like to see more of in other parts of the country. It is good practice and I think that’s the sort of thing that this project will help to spread.
I would also like to commend the Surrey Coalition for your involvement in the South East Network of Disabled People’s Organisations. I know you were a founding member and you are really at the forefront of so much of this work.
And whilst we are offering congratulations I would also like to congratulate Nick Danagher on his new role as Policy and Development Officer for the South East Network.
It is strong networks like yours that will enable user led organisations to both support disabled people and help everybody better influence policy.
For our part, what we have to do as a Government is be very clear about the direction we are going in.
I have to say to you I think we have got a very clear direction - it’s about making sure that we have support for individual need.
So individual disabled people get the support they need, to be able to do the best that they can and to be able to participate in the way they want to participate.
To provide support that enables disabled people to exercise choice and control over their own lives.
To provide support that delivers true independence.
Our Government reforms will ensure appropriate support is available for all disabled people - whether in work or out of work.
In fact, in many cases, disabled people facing the most difficult barriers will actually be better off under the new systems we are putting forward.
For those who are able to work, we are going to provide a lot of support to help them access mainstream employment.
Disabled people who need intensive or indeed ongoing support will be helped into work through Work Choice, which many of you will already be aware of.
This provides consistent, quality support based on an individual’s needs. We estimate this approach could help an average of 9,000 disabled people into work each year.
The vast majority of people will be helped by the Work Programme. I know that is one of the things that you will be talking about a bit later on today.
I know there are some specific questions and I hope that I can just take a minute now to answer some of those but if I don’t answer all of them then you can ask me questions at the end too.
In their proposals for the Work Programme, the organisations which put the bids in to deliver it were encouraged to work with local partners to make sure that they reflected the specific needs of the areas they planned to work in, and to take into account things going on already, including local strategies, existing services.
And when we looked at the Work Programme bids, we looked at how the providers had planned to work with disabled people and also disabled people’s organisations.
So, the evaluation of the bids, also took into account how far the people who were putting forward these bids, the providers, had reflected what was going on in the local community by working with local partners, but importantly also third sector organisations.
Here in Surrey, the Work Programme includes the Disability Works Consortium which represents eight of the largest, most experienced disability support organisations in the area.
This is in addition to a range of organisations like Action for Blind People, the Richmond Fellowship, and Mencap.
Now it is still early days, the Work Programme has only been going for about three months. It is headed up by another local Surrey MP, Chris Grayling, who knows this area very well indeed.
What I know he is doing is making sure we work hard with the providers of the Work Programme to ensure that we have a flow of harder to help claimants coming through to make sure we really reflect the needs of the community.
He has also put in place something called the Merlin Standard, which will really keep a close eye on making sure that there’s fair treatment of those sub-contractors, many of whom will be third sector organisations, to make sure that we have a healthy development of good supply chains, including charitable organisations.
But we can’t tell providers who they should contract with, and that’s an important point.
The Work Programme is all about those main providers getting support right and we think they are best placed to do that.
But we will keep a close eye on what is happening on the ground.
If organisations want to be part of this contracting process then it’s really important to get to know the prime providers, and show that they can offer really specialist, effective support.
I think the sort of investment I was talking about with regards to the user led organisations will help in that process.
I encourage all of you to be trying to sell your services so people know how great the work is that you already do in your community.
The contracting arrangements for the Work Programme are very flexible.
I think there will be opportunities for more organisations to get involved in the Work Programme as it beds in and as requirements develop.
But you really need to show that your services are great for disabled people in this area and the best ones that the Work Programme providers can offer.
The Work Programme incentivises providers to help people who face the biggest challenges to getting into work by paying more to work with people who need more help to get into work - up to £14,000 in some cases.
The payment is spread out so providers can only earn the maximum fee if an individual stays in work for up to two years.
This means that for providers it is the hardest to help who can actually be the most attractive to help and that very much includes those disabled people, who perhaps have the biggest challenges to getting into work.
In addition, the payment structure means the focus is on sustainable employment, long term work, it isn’t just about getting people into work, it’s about keeping them there.
One of my colleagues, who is also a South East MP, recently said to me that he felt the Work Programme was “the best chance we have of breaking the cycle of long term unemployment for disabled people” - and I think he is right.
And I’m pleased you will be hearing from your local Work Programme providers today.
I think a major strength of the Work Programme is its flexibility. And the fact it can really tailor support around an individual’s needs.
I want to make sure we deliver the same tailored support for disabled people across the whole of the welfare spectrum.
It is one of the reasons why we are reforming Disability Living Allowance [DLA] and replacing it with Personal Independence Payments [PIP].
We know from the DLA consultation that at the moment DLA actually doesn’t always get through to the people who need it the most.
Too many people are not getting the support they need because the assessment for DLA is very rigid.
Many of you will know and perhaps even campaigned to get DLA to support people who are blind.
It took a change in the law to get DLA to support blind people with the higher rate mobility component.
That complication and rigidity is something we need to change.
The current DLA system has been in place for almost 20 years and has not kept pace with the way our views of disability have changed over that time.
We are working very closely with disability groups to make sure the assessment for Personal Independence Payments delivers a more accurate picture of the additional costs someone faces as a result of their impairment.
And we are building in regular reassessments, in an appropriate way, so we can pick up any changes in someone’s conditions.
At the moment I am concerned that people’s conditions can get better or indeed deteriorate and we have no way of knowing.
We estimate there are around £600 million going out in overpayments but actually even more importantly we think around £190 million is not getting through to people whose conditions have deteriorated.
I know that a lot of people in this room will be concerned about changes to DLA and the new PIP assessments. I know that and it’s one of the reasons I am here today to listen to any concerns you have.
We have had an extensive consultation and that is continuing and I hope that Surrey Coalition can continue to give us the benefit of your experience as we press on with this reform.
I know you also have some concerns around the Work Capability Assessment for Employment and Support Allowance.
We have been working on trying to improve the Work Capability Assessment, again something Chris Grayling has been working on, alongside Professor Harrington.
ESA is a very different benefit to PIP, which is not related to work, paid for very different reasons and the assessments will not be the same.
But I am keeping a very close eye on it, especially the work of Professor Harrington, as I think I can learn a lot from the work that he is doing to ensure the PIP will deliver a fairer, simpler non-means tested, non-taxable benefit that will really help disabled people both in and out of work.
I understand there is a huge amount of change taking place at the moment.
And I am absolutely determined to make sure disabled people continue to be fully involved in the changes we are making.
We will shortly be publishing an update on the progress this country is making towards achieving the goals set out in the UN Convention on the rights of disabled people.
I am going to use this work as the platform for the next major piece of work which I hope everyone in this room will be able to be involved in and that’s the development of a new disability strategy.
If we take the UN Convention as a starting point I think we can, working together, formulate a clear strategy for disabled people.
With that in mind we are going to be publishing a discussion paper in December to start that process.
I want to hear from as many disabled people as possible about how they think the strategy should be framed with a view to developing a strategy by spring 2012.
What you won’t get from me is something which is a final document; you won’t get from me something that has already been prescribed.
What we are going to do is co-produce it from the start.
Disabled people will absolutely be in the driving seat. The strategy will be shaped by your aspirations, your ambitions and your experience.
But we are going to try to give a framework for discussion around three themes: individual control, realising aspirations and importantly, I think, changing attitudes.
These are the three things that I’ve had raised with me time and time again.
It doesn’t matter which disability group I meet, it doesn’t matter who I talk to, people’s concerns really fall under these three headings.
We want to provide a strategy which is going to help everybody throughout Government to provide better services for disabled people and we need your help to do so.
We want to provide the sort of tailored benefits and services so those who need help get the right level of support.
We want to create a benefits system that encourages disabled people to fully participate in society, rather than locking them out of it, which is all too often the case at the moment.
We want to support disabled people to make their own choices, have full control over their own lives and above all reach their full potential in life.