HC Deb 08 May 1973 vol 856 cc178-80
2. Mr. Costain

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what steps he is taking towards the development of a disability income.

9. Dr. Trafford

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what steps he is taking towards the development of a disability income.

The Secretary of State for Social Services (Sir Keith Joseph)

As I told the Disablement Income Group at its annual general meeting last Saturday, the results of research, DIG's own publications and the experience of other countries are all being fed into a thorough review in which administrators, economists, statisticians and doctors are engaged, and in which my Department is co-operating with other Departments. This should provide a firm basis for the development of future policy.

Mr. Costain

I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement. Is he satisfied, however, that he will deal with those disabled who need the greatest sympathy, namely, disabled housewives? Will the review study what special consideration can be given to them?

Sir K. Joseph

Yes. Again as I told DIG on Saturday, the Government regard the disabled housewife as deserving special priority, and the study will have her very much in mind.

Mr. Ewing

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that reviews are notorious for the length of time they take? There may be some small comfort to the disabled arising from the review that the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned, but will he say whether he accepts the need for a disability income and, if so, whether he expects within a reasonable time to introduce measures into this House to provide for a disability income?

Sir K. Joseph

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that an inquiry can put a subject to sleep for some time. But the Government's credentials in introducing attendance allowance in their very first Bill and then extending it before the higher rate was fully in payment establish our right to study fully the alternatives before us. The disability income covers a number of possible approaches on which DIG itself is not in accord. That is why a study is necessary so that we can decide the next sensible steps.

Dr. Trafford

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is some urgency about this? Whether a person is disabled by injury at work for which he is covered or in any other way, or is chronically sick, he is none the less disabled, and the provision of disability income would help him and also simplify the administration of the many other benefits which are available for the disabled.

Sir K. Joseph

Yes, I agree with that, but the Government are trying to put right the virtual neglect of generations. While on both sides of the House we are naturally impatient, it is right to work out sensible priorities.

Mr. Alfred Morris

The right hon. Gentleman will have seen the Press headlines at the weekend arising from his speech which suggested that nelp for disabled housewives was on the way. How soon will this help be available? May we take it that the right hon. Gentleman at least agrees with the principle of a national disability income as proposed by DIG?

Sir K. Joseph

I must inflict on the hon. Gentleman a copy of my 27-page speech from which he can draw his own conclusions. I will send him one.

Miss Quennell

Before he inflicts his 27-page speech on the hon. Gentleman, will my right hon. Friend consider the difficulty of the definition of "disability" in this context?

Sir K. Joseph

Yes. It does not help if we put together into the same group the severely, the very severely and the appreciably disabled, the mentally disabled, the physically disabled and those with particular disabilities such as deafness or arthritis. We have to study the subject, as the Government are doing, on the basis of all the work that has been done, including visits by officials to six countries in Europe, so as to arrive at a sensible set of practical priorities.

Mrs. Castle

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the opportunity of moving towards the immediate payment of a disablement income arises on the Social Security Bill which will be before the House this afternoon? Are we to take it that his decision instead to set up an inquiry merely means that the Government are anxious to buy time and have missed that bus?

Sir K. Joseph

No. The right hon. Lady knows that there are other issues at stake in the Bill which we shall be debating later. The Government have to their credit the paying out of what by the end of next year will be £100 million a year to the civil disabled that was not being paid at all when the Government came to office. We are entitled to study the alternatives before us.