HC Deb 06 March 1989 vol 148 cc585-6
1. Mr. John Evans

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he has any plans to increase disability benefits.

The Minister for Social Security (Mr. Nicholas Scott)

We are spending over £7 billion this year on benefits for the long-term sick and disabled. This is an increase of over 90 per cent. in real terms since 1978–79. The results of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys' reports on disability will help us judge how well the substantial current expenditure is targeted and whether there are better ways of helping those in greatest need.

Mr. Evans

One improvement that the Minister could make in support for the disabled would be to scrap the six-month qualifying period for the terminally ill, many of whom, I am sad to say, die before they qualify. Does the Minister accept that such a step would be widely welcomed by those who have built up, supported and maintained the hospice movement and by those who support and nurse the terminally ill in their last months?

Mr. Scott

I have noted that. The point has been brought to my attention and we shall certainly consider it. There are somewhat complicated questions about medical ethics and about whether or not information could properly and compassionately be given to people who are terminally ill. I am giving the matter considerable thought.

Mr. Dunn

Does my hon. Friend accept that the figures that he has given for increases in mobility allowance expenditure since 1979 are more than welcome? What is the increase in the number of mobility allowance claimants since 1979?

Mr. Scott

Expenditure on mobility allowance has increased by 550 per cent. in real terms since we came to office. It is a significant increase in terms of expenditure and the number of those who are receiving the benefit.

Mr. Fearn

Will the Minister confirm that all those who reached the age of 60 before December 1984, who care for a relative and are eligible for the invalid allowance, will get their back pay, in accordance with the European Court's latest ruling? When will that back pay be paid?

Mr. Scott

If the hon. Gentleman is referring to the case which is before the Appeal Court, we would want to await its finding before coming to any conclusions.

Mr. Tom Clarke

Does the Minister accept that there is great support for the point which my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) made regarding the terminally ill? Does he accept also that if the Government conceded his point, that would be entirely consistent with some of the major recommendations in Sir Roy Griffiths' report on community care?

Mr. Scott

I take that point seriously, and I am giving it thought. We will probably look at it in the context of the OPCS surveys.