Debates between Lord Ravensdale and Baroness Thomas of Winchester

There have been 1 exchanges between Lord Ravensdale and Baroness Thomas of Winchester

1 Thu 13th June 2019 Inequalities 2 interactions (1,365 words)


Debate between Lord Ravensdale and Baroness Thomas of Winchester
Thursday 13th June 2019

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Baroness Thomas of Winchester Portrait Baroness Thomas of Winchester (LD)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has helpfully defined what particular inequalities he is focusing on: income, wealth and living standards. It is well known that families with a disabled person are among the poorest in the UK. I am glad that the Government have now accepted the Social Metrics Commission’s definition, with its figure of 6.9 million people who are in families where a person has a disability. That person is more likely to be unemployed or in insecure employment and to have been hardest hit by austerity measures. The Equality and Human Rights Commission published a report last year which criticised how the benefits system operates for disabled people, particularly vulnerable claimants who have experienced difficulties with UC, PIP assessments and the benefits sanctions regime, which, it says, have had no tangible positive effect on moving disabled people closer to paid work.

As we have heard, the Government have dismissed the highly critical report of the UN special rapporteur by saying, roughly, “How dare he?” Yet disabled people told him repeatedly about benefit assessments that were,

“superficial, dismissive, and contradicted the advice of their doctor”.

The report goes on to say, tellingly:

“Those with disabilities are also highly vulnerable to cuts in local government services, particularly within social care, which has left them shouldering more of the costs of their care. This has driven many families with a person with a disability to breaking point”.

The Deaton report must surely look at problems faced by disabled people and their families, because the figures are stark. The charity Scope says that disabled people face extra costs of between £583 and £1,000 a month. A particularly large amount goes on energy costs.

In the limited time available, I want to turn to what the Government could do to help disabled people in the benefits system, which is an absolute lifeline for them. First, the implementation of universal credit is sadly and unnecessarily turning into a nightmare for many people. There are reports from all over the country of how it is not helping vulnerable claimants. Even in relatively prosperous places such as Winchester, I hear from Citizens Advice about a lack of care and flexibility in how such claimants are dealt with. This apparent heartlessness would not be imposed by the staff unless it was built into the whole system.

MPs’ postbags and CAB caseloads are full most of all with problems with PIP. Here is a typical example. A constituent of my MP colleague has heavy callipers on her legs due to a congenital hip condition and has had a Motability car for some years. However, on reassessment, she was told that, as she is able to drive, she must be able to walk, so she was refused enough points for the car. When the MP intervened, the car was restored, but just for two years,

“in case your legs get better”.

This level of ignorance is unforgivable, but it is not unique.

Citizens Advice in Mole Valley, Surrey, is particularly concerned about mandatory reconsideration, meaning that decision-makers have to examine a claim before a possible appeal. This is still far too much of a rubber-stamping exercise. At the end of January 2019, 81 % of new claims and 76% of reassessment decisions reviewed at MR were overturned on appeal. Clearly, therefore, it is not working. It causes delays, stress to claimants and is confusing and poorly understood. Some 73% of cases are overturned by tribunals. We clearly need an assessment of the cumulative impact of welfare policies on disabled people and a levelling of the playing field.

Lord Ravensdale Portrait Lord Ravensdale (CB) (Maiden Speech)
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My Lords, it is a great honour to address your Lordships’ House for the first time, after some weeks of observing and learning. In one of my first, very hesitant forays into the Chamber, I was told by one of the doorkeepers, “You are a Peer of the realm, my Lord. You should bowl in there like you own the place”. I hope I am now entering somewhat more confidently—if not quite “bowling in” yet—but what hits me still as I enter this amazing place are the echoes of history and the many great things that have been achieved and accomplished within these walls.

I thank noble Lords from across the House and all the officials and staff for the very warm welcome that I have received. In particular, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, and the noble Lord, Lord Vaux of Harrowden, for all the help that they have given me in settling into the House. It has been a rather daunting but incredible experience.

I will tell noble Lords a bit about myself. I am a chartered engineer; I work for an engineering consultancy firm in Derby with a particular focus on nuclear energy. I am a project director and technical lead, leading teams to deliver aspects of the nuclear steam-raising plant for the Royal Navy fleet and deterrent submarines. I am very proud to work on these critical national programmes. I look forward to bringing my experience in engineering, defence and energy to the work of the House.

Turning to the subject before us, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for initiating this vital debate on a matter that I am passionate about. Arguably, there is no more pressing issue in our society today than the inequalities that exist and the means of addressing them. When we look at all the upheavals in western society over the past decade—Brexit, the gilet jaunes, Trump—all of these can be traced back to the tear that is emerging in our societies between the haves and the have-nots. In the spirit of maiden speeches remaining relatively uncontroversial, I will keep my remarks much more general and measured than they might otherwise have been and avoid, I hope, provoking too much outrage.

Today, I will focus specifically on the effects that globalisation has had on inequality in the UK and the regions. In this, we must not lose sight of one central fact: when viewed at a global level, income inequality has continually reduced over the past three decades, principally brought about by the lifting of millions—if not billions—out of poverty in India and China. More than anything else, this shows the immense power of capitalism and globalisation to transform lives for the better and transform the world for the better.

There are, however, dark sides to this. One is the effect that globalisation has had on many workers in the West, including in many sectors of the UK. Too often, globalisation is presented by politicians and economists as an unalloyed good, when in fact it has caused huge disruption, many job losses and wage reductions in many sectors of western economies, including that of the UK. It is those at the lower end of the income scale who have suffered most from this. What, therefore, should be done? We should not abandon free trade, raise tariff barriers or protect failing national industries. What we really need is a globalisation that works for all in the economy. I will raise several points here.

First, public discussion must be much more open, as there are costs as well as benefits to globalisation. Secondly, training and reskilling the workforce is going to become ever more important as changing global markets continue to affect old industries. Thirdly, there needs to be much more of a focus on areas outside the metropolis. The Deaton report makes it clear that London has experienced much higher growth than other regions—as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace—such as the Midlands, where I am from, and the north. This is partly due to the hollowing out of old industries. Much more must be done to encourage clusters of new industries to be set up outside the capital and to renew the infrastructure in those places. That is why initiatives such as the northern powerhouse and the Midlands engine are so important. They must get the focus they deserve.

I finish with a question for the Minister: can she assure us that renewed focus will be given to revitalising areas outside the capital and, importantly, that the Midlands will not be excluded from these initiatives? With interest rates at record lows, the Government should seize the opportunity.