HC Deb 11 January 1977 vol 923 cc1245-7
15. Mr. Rifkind

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what further proposals he has to introduce additional benefits for the disabled.

Mr. Ennals

The phased introduction of mobility allowance will continue, and claims can now be made on behalf of handicapped children in the age group 5 to 10 for payment from April of this year. Furthermore, the new non-contributory invalidity pension for married women is to be introduced in November of this year. Payments of earnings-related invalidity pension will begin in 1979.

Mr. Rifkind

Those improvements are certainly welcome, but does the Minister not agree that the increasing number of conflicting and overlapping grants, benefits and allowances available to different classes of the disabled causes the maximum of confusion to the public and the minimum of help to the disabled? Does he accept that we should be urgently moving towards a single disablement benefit, eligibility for which could be determined solely on medical criteria?

Mr. Ennals

I find the hon. Member's proposal very strange. We can introduce new benefits only gradually, partly for administrative reasons. The difficulties are mostly in terms of Civil Service time and staff, and public expenditure. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman said that he was pleased that we were making progress, and I believe that it is rather impressive that we are continuing to expand the facilities available to disabled people on a substantial basis in spite of the economic pressures on the economy. The hon. Gentleman is saying that we should do it all at once. I wish that we could. The mobility allowance is being phased in so that it requires the minimum of staff, including medical staff, and also so that we can meet the requirements of our economic ability to pay.

Mr. Carter-Jones

Does my right hon. Friend not agree that it seems a long time ago that this House accepted without a Division that benefits should be paid on the NCIP basis for disabled housewives? These people are in the greatest need, and it is sad that administrative reasons are being advanced for the delay and that these people are suffering all the time.

Mr. Ennals

I agree with my hon. Friend. I am certain that my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle)—who was responsible for introducing the benefit—would like me, have liked it to be introduced earlier this year. It will be introduced some months later than we had originally hoped. The reasons are not only to do with administration; public expenditure comes into it as well. However, we must express some satisfaction that this long-awaited benefit, which will affect 40,000 severely handicapped women, will be introduced in 1977 in spite of our economic difficulties.

Mr. Luce

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the one thing that matters to disabled youngsters when they reach the age of 16 is to be able to be independent in relation to their own families? If this can be achieved by means of an invalid trike that is fine, but the £5 mobility allowance is insufficient to cover that requirement.

Mr. Ennals

I think that the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the announcement that I made some time ago that the £5 invalidity pension will also be uprated during the course of this year. I hope that it will be possible, in spite of our economic difficulties, to uprate the mobility allowance more than the amount needed simply to cover the change of value since the announcement was first made. I agree that young people need some support in mobility, but under the Conservative Party young people who will be benefiting from mobility allowance would be getting no assistance.