HC Deb 12 April 1988 vol 131 cc4-6
4. Mr. Allen McKay

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Services when he expects the special fund set up to help the severely disabled to be in operation; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Scott

Applications to the fund can be made now by writing to the Department. As an interim measure, my officials, guided by professional advice, will carry out assessments so that when the trust is formally established decisions can be taken swiftly. Moreover, we shall look sympathetically at individual cases and, where appropriate, make interim payments in advance of the fund itself coming into operation.

Mr. McKay

The Minister's answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie) and the answer that he has just given me are not very satisfactory. Can he give a definite date on which people will receive payment from the fund? What publicity is being undertaken so that people will know when to make applications to the fund, and what arrangements are being made for the fund to be built up, taking into consideration that money in the fund will be running short? Will it help the Godden family, and has today's report in the Daily Mirror been brought to the Minister's attention? Will the fund help that family, and when?

Mr. Scott

Mrs. Godden has been contacted and advised to make an application to the fund. Obviously I cannot prejudge the outcome of any application that she might make, but it has been suggested to her that she can make an application. The hon. Gentleman asked about publicity. In due course we shall be running a campaign involving suitably placed posters and leaflets and so on. I am confident that the organisations concerned with the disabled, which publish regular magazines and news sheets, will carry details of the fund so that it may be widely known among those who might benefit from it. The hon. Gentleman should understand that existing beneficiaries will have transitional protection at the point of change. We are talking here about new people coming into the system. In those circumstances, I do not believe that a short delay should be unsettling or upsetting to those involved.

Mr. Favell

Will my hon. Friend take the opportunity this afternoon to condemn those who have been scaremongering among the disabled about the arrangements that are being made under the new social security provisions? Will he remind the House that this Administration, in contrast to previous Administrations, has been first-class in helping the disabled to take their place in the community?

Mr. Scott

I have considerable sympathy with my hon. Friend's point. It comes hard from Opposition Members to criticise us for the provision that we have made for the disabled, when we have increased provision for them by 80 per cent. in real terms during our period in government. Under these reforms, we are putting in another £60 million, and we have also established this fund. If anyone should criticise us, it should not be Opposition Members.

Mr. Ashley

Is the Minister aware that six charities, which do not go in for scaremongering, have described this fund as an abdication of the Government's responsibility? That is not scaremongering. Will he tell the House what advice he will give to severely disabled people when the money runs out?

Mr. Scott

We have allocated £5 million for the coming financial year and allocations for future years will be settled on the basis of our experience. As existing claimants will have transitional protection, I expect that the numbers will build up comparatively slowly in the coming year. I believe that the £5 million will be adequate to meet the needs, so there will be no question of the money running out.

I think that it is worth repeating to the right hon. Gentleman and to those who have criticised us that the overwhelming part of the provision for severely disabled people will continue to be through income support and the different premiums to which they are entitled. This is a small fund to meet the needs of a small group of people, for a comparatively short time, in a flexible and compassionate manner.

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