HC Deb 23 October 1989 vol 158 cc459-60
1. Mr. Worthington

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what progress has been made in assessing the financial implications of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys' surveys on disability.

The Minister for Social Security (Mr. Nicholas Scott)

We are using the extensive information provided by the surveys to help us consider how best to develop policies which serve the needs of disabled people even more effectively.

Mr. Worthington

Time is running out. Earlier this year the Minister of State promised that there would be a timetable for action after July, but there has still been no action on this issue. Is the Minister aware of the survey conducted by Strathclyde regional council social work department which showed that 80 per cent. of the disabled were worse off after the social security reforms of last year, by an average £9 a week, and that those who were most handicapped suffered most financially? We need action by the Minister and by the Secretary of State to put that right and to end the link in this country between disability and poverty. We cannot accept the Government's slothfulness on this.

Mr. Scott

The findings of the Strathclyde survey stretch my credulity and do not accord with much of the other evidence that is coming in. But that illustrates the point that although we are anxious to make rapid progress on disability benefits, we must carefully examine all the evidence and the representations that we are receiving before making up our minds on the way forward.

Mr. Hannam

Is my right hon. Friend aware that one of the major problems with the disability benefit system is that two people with the same disability can receive widely differing levels of benefit—depending for example, whether the disability was from birth, from an accident or from an industrial injury? Will my right hon. Friend take that into account in his review of disability benefits and in his present negotiations with the Treasury?

Mr. Scott

It is manifest that the cause of an injury can affect the level of benefit to which people are entitled. That is due to the fact that the pattern of disability benefits has grown up rather incoherently. We shall look into that aspect to see whether it is possible to arrive at a more coherent pattern.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Is it not deplorable that, instead of responding to the challenge of these reports, the Government pile handicap upon handicap by inflicting on disabled people the poll tax, the NHS White Paper proposals and social security changes which their organisations say produced 1 million disabled losers? Where is the urgent and comprehensive review that they were promised? Was that a leak yesterday in the Sunday Telegraph about a change in the treatment of disabled people of working age?

Finally, will it be a nil-cost review of benefits? If so, how can that possibly be justified when the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys has shown that there are vastly more disabled people than the Government ever thought?

Mr. Scott

It is precisely because we have to balance the need for urgency against the need for a comprehensive look at all this that I cannot yet say exactly what timetable we shall follow. Since the Government came to office, expenditure on benefits for the disabled has risen by £390 million per year in real terms, compared with a figure of £220 million under the Labour Government, so we need no lessons from the Opposition about benefits for the disabled.

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