HC Deb 10 July 1984 vol 63 cc868-70
8. Mr. Wareing

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many applications for mobility allowance have been accepted during the past 12 months; how many were rejected; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mr. Tony Newton)

Decisions on initial and renewal claims in the 12 months ended 22 June resulted in 92,100 awards and 59,300 disallowances.

Mr. Wareing

Does the Minister agree that a disproportionate number of the non-allowances result from the fact that many people claim after reaching the age of 65 because they are ignorant of the existence of mobility allowance? Was it not the intention of the Labour Government in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) served—he introduced the mobility allowance—that it should be phased in? Is it not time that the Government began to phase in mobility allowance for the over-65s who, because of ignorance or because they live in parts of the country were the council is not Labour-controlled—so there is no take-up campaign—do not benefit from it?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman is under some misapprehension about what was said by the Labour Government to whom he referred. The allowance was phased in, but it was envisaged as being phased in only for people up to the age of 65. That phasing in was slightly accelerated by the incoming Conservative Government, to the benefit of about 30,000 people. In a manifesto which, at the previous general election, made almost every conceivable social security pledge, the one that was missing was a pledge to extend mobility allowance to people aged over 65.

Sir David Price

Is my hon. Friend's Department trying to reduce delays in the processing of applications for mobility allowance between local DHSS offices and the central unit at Blackpool? Such delays in my part of the world seem to be getting longer rather than shorter.

Mr. Newton

I shall look into what my hon. Friend said about his part of the world. We have implemented 11 recommendations of the so-called Oglesby report on speeding up procedures. The result is that clearance time for claims has fallen from 19 weeks in 1982 to only 11 weeks now. There has been a considerable improvement.

Mr. Meadowcroft

In the light of the continuing streams of representation which right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House receive on this matter, is it not time to consider amending the rules to allow certain groups of people collectively to obtain mobility allowance when they are at present excluded?

Mr. Newton

I am not quite sure what the hon. Gentleman has in mind. He might be thinking of a variety of points. If he is asking whether we should categorise certain disabilities such as blindness for automatic qualification, I think that my answer is no. It would be impossible to start sorting out the disabilities that would automatically qualify, leaving others which have to be judged. I am sure that such a system would produce far worse anomalies.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Will the Minister state his intentions with regard to elderly disabled people who, under existing arrangements, will lose mobility allowance as they reach the age of 75? Is it intended that the allowance will continue in those cases? Will the Minister say something about the Oglesby recommendations?

Mr. Newton

We must examine the right hon. Gentleman's first point. There is no question of mobility allowance being received by those aged 75 for some years. I have just said that we have implemented 11 of the "quick" Oglesby recommendations. We are considering the other more fundamental ones and will make a statement as soon as possible.

Mr. Tim Smith

How much is currently spent on mobility allowance and how does it compare with five years ago?

Mr. Newton

I happen to have the figures before me. Mobility allowance now costs about £300 million a year as compared with rather less than £50 million when we came into office. It is not a bad story.