HC Deb 09 February 1988 vol 127 cc170-2
2. Dr. Moonie

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Services what consultation he has had with Mencap in regard to severely disabled claimants who will have a reduced entitlement in April.

7. Mr. Corbyn

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Services what consultation his Department has had with the Disablement Income Group concerning the effect on severely disabled people of reducing the entitlements of those applying for benefit after April.

Mr. Scott

I have had a number of informal, confidential talks with a variety of organisations. As a result of these talks we intend setting up a special fund in co-operation with the Disablement Income Group and DIG (Scotland). This fund will make payments to those very severely disabled people who need extensive help to enable them to live independently.

Dr. Moonie

In view of the growing concern over the difficulties that mentally handicapped people experience in transferring from hospital care to the community, of which the Minister will be aware, what steps does he propose to take to ensure that the provisions, that are to come into force in April will not jeopardise such transfers?

Mr. Scott

People leaving institutions to come into the community after April will be entitled, through income support, to community care grants under the social fund as well as to the allowances and premiums to which they would be entitled under the new pattern of income support.

Mr. Hannam

I congratulate my hon. Friend on accepting the need to provide resources for the small but important group of severely disabled people who will be affected after April when the new scheme is brought in, but how many severely disabled people does he expect to be looked after by that fund, and why was it decided not to use the DHSS social fund to provide those resources?

Mr. Scott

We are looking at the criteria that we should apply to establish the size of the group. We are talking of hundreds, rather than thousands, of disabled people, and we shall be seeking to meet their needs in as flexible a way as possible.

The only alternative open to us was to reintroduce a complicated set of regulations. The secret of the arrangement, within which, I hope, lies its success, is its flexibility and its need to use the expertise of the Disablement Income Group, which knows a great deal more about this than anybody in a local social security office.

Mr. Ashley

Is the Minister aware that I am disappointed with his response to our representations, because severely disabled people, like other disabled people, are entitled to statutory benefits administered and monitored by the Government? Will he think again? How can he guarantee equality of payments to those people?

Mr. Scott

I think that the right hon. Gentleman understands the background. When we have Sir Roy Griffiths' report into community care and the results of the survey of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, we shall be able to take a coherent look at the needs of disabled people right across the board. Obviously the needs of this group can be considered within that review and survey, but, in the meantime, we were faced with this particular problem, and this is a sensible, flexible and overwhelmingly fair way of meeting the need.

Mr. Thurnham

The Government are to be congratulated on setting up this new flexible special fund in co-operation with the voluntary sector, and they have a good record of spending on the long-term sick and disabled, but will my hon. Friend confirm that what he is giving away with the one hand he will not take away with the other with a reduction in targeted benefits?

Mr. Scott

These matters have to be considered in due time, but this money is over and above the £60 million to which we are already committed for the long-term sick and disabled in the income support system. This will be extra money to meet this special need while we look at the overall needs of disabled people.

Mr. Wigley

Is not this interim step the privatisation of a facility that was previously available under social security legislation? Did Mencap or the Spastics Society support the proposal? How much money is being made available, and is it cash-limited?

Mr. Scott

I cannot say at the moment what the amount will be, because it will depend upon our assessment of the group, but I am confident that sufficient funds will be available to meet the needs of this particular group. Officials and I had confidential discussions with a number of organisations, which I do not think the House would expect me to reveal. This is a comparatively small group of people with needs which must be met flexibly over a comparatively short period of time, and the expertise of the Disablement Income Group in managing the scheme for us will be of inestimable value.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

Does my hon. Friend accept that one of the most interesting features of the fund that he has announced is its flexibility? It will allow the most effective help to be given to this small group of handicapped people.

Mr. Scott

That is right. It will be handled by the Disablement Income Group, which will bring its expertise to bear on the matter, and there will be flexibility and uniformity across the country. That would have been difficult to secure if decisions about that small group of people had been made in individual social security offices.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Should not the Minister say how much money will be available, and what will happen when the money runs out? Is he aware that DIG estimates that we are talking about thousands, not hundreds of severely disabled people? If the scheme cannot be in operation by 1 April, what steps will be taken to ensure that no severely disabled person is forced into an institution before it is introduced? Again, will the scheme merely replace the domestic assistance allowance, loss of which will cost severely disabled people up to £50 per week in April? If payments are to be removed from the social security system, will not the removal of disabled people's basic statutory rights be seen as an abdication of the Government's responsibilities?

Mr. Scott

I do not agree, for the reasons that I have already outlined. We are talking about a small group of people whose needs must be considered flexibly over a comparatively short period of time. There is no long-term intention to remove the allowance from statutory provision.

I shall make every effort to ensure that the fund is in operation by 11 April. If it is not, as I said to the House on another occasion, I shall do my best to ensure that back-dating is possible to 11 April. If it is not 11 April, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that it will be very shortly afterwards.

We are talking about severely disabled people who need extra help to maintain an independent life. I am confident that we are talking about hundreds, rather than thousands, of people, as are most of those who have studied the problem.