HC Deb 21 November 1990 vol 181 cc311-53

Order for Second Reading read.

4.46 pm
The Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Tony Newton)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill concerns disabled people and their needs—not only their need for help from the benefit system but, no less important, their wish for greater independence and for greater control over their own lives. The two new benefits that the Bill introduces are further building blocks in a strategy that began with the commissioning from the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys of a number of wide-ranging surveys of people with disabilities. In response to those surveys, we have already made many significant improvements in the help available to disabled people. This Bill will extend help to over 300,000 people, at a gross additional cost by 1993–94 of some £325 million.

In doing so, it breaks new ground in shifting the benefit system away from focusing exclusively on incapacity—on what disabled people cannot do—towards doing more to encourage people with disabilities to make the best of the capacity that they have—the things that they can and wish to do. In assessing entitlement, it seeks to give to disabled people a greater role, rather than relying almost exclusively on the assessments of professionals.

It is right to put the Bill's proposals in the context of other developments in social security policy for disabled people. When I introduced to the House in January of this year the Command Paper entitled "The Way Ahead: Benefits for Disabled People", I said that the Government saw three main strategic needs for benefits for disabled people. The first was to improve the balance of benefits available to people who are unable to work, and in particular to do more for those who are disabled from birth or early in life. The second was to improve, for those of working age and below, the coverage of help with the extra costs associated with disability. The third was to help those disabled people who can and wish to work by making it easier for them to take up and to keep jobs.

On the first objective, the intervening months have seen a wide range of important improvements. In April, we increased the disability premiums and income-related benefits by more than double the rate of inflation, giving an increase of £1.70 for a single person and £2.60 for a couple, to improve the help given to some 400,000 people. We also increased the disabled child's premium from £6.50 to £15–40 a week, thus giving substantial extra help to 20,000 families. At the same time, we scrapped the rule that prevented the payment of attendance allowance to children under the age of two. That directed a further £37.55 a week to 3,000 families with severely disabled babies. Also last April, we extended the mobility allowance, at £26.25 a week, as of right to people who are both deaf and blind.

Last month, we introduced a carers' premium of £10 into income support, housing benefit and community charge benefit, helping 30,000 people. Attendance allowance was made available to the terminally ill without the normal six-month waiting period. We expect 58,000 people to be helped by this measure.

Next month, we are introducing age-related addition to severe disablement allowance, which will give up to £10 a week extra at current rates to some 100,000 severely disabled people who do not qualify for the national insurance invalidity benefit and who are not receiving income-related benefits. Another 150,000 people will receive this amount as of right instead of a comparable amount of income-related benefit.

The House will recall that in my uprating statement last month I was able to announce five small but useful improvements in our provisions: an increase in the funding of the independent living fund to £62 million next year, making a twelvefold increase in less than four years; an additional grant of £1 million to Motability which has been widely and warmly welcomed; the extension of mobility allowance so that it can be paid to all double amputees from next April; a further increase in the invalid care allowance earnings limit from £20 to £30; and, not least in practical terms, to cope with some of the problems of stress arising from bereavement, that the carers' premium in income support will be paid for an extra eight weeks after caring ceases—for example, after the death of the person being cared for.

Against that background, the Bill introduces major measures to address the second and third of our objectives. The disability living allowance will restructure and significantly extend the help with the extra costs of disability.

The disability working allowance, which we renamed from "disability employment credit" following considerable consultation with people who work in the sector and disability organisations, will, for the first time, enable people with disabilities to work without suffering a drop in their income. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People and, without drawing attention to their location, to officials who have worked so hard on these proposals. I thank them for the work that they have done in taking us from the outline that we published in January to the Bill that is before the House today.

Clauses 1 to 5 introduce the disability living allowance. An important finding of the OPCS surveys was that the two existing extra costs benefits—attendance allowance and mobility allowance—were well targeted on the most commonly occurring of the disabilities that entail extra costs. That is why we have retained the existing qualifying conditions in the new DLA. Since evidence for the survey was collected, there has been a further huge growth of more than 50 per cent. in the number of people receiving those benefits.

Attendance allowance, which is currently worth £47.55 a week, is claimed at both rates by 795,000 people. Mobility allowance is claimed by more than 600,000 people. Allowing for the overlap in the case loads, about 1.3 million people are receiving extra costs benefits, and by 1992–93 we expect the figure to rise to 1.9 million. To put those figures in context—this is an important point, given some of the discussions that have taken place—the House should note that the OPCS found a total of fewer than 1.5 million people in its top four severity categories.

The OPCS identified the problem, which many hon. Members had identified in common-sense terms from their general experience of disability benefits, that the current benefit system is based on too sharp a distinction between people whose disabilities are severe enough to qualify them for attendance allowance and mobility allowance, and those who just fail to qualify and get nothing. To tackle this problem, we are introducing two new lower rates of disability living allowance to cover care and mobility needs. Instead of the present cliff edge, there will be something more like a series of steps, thus giving greater recognition to the fact that disability is a matter of degree.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

Will the care component include visually impaired people, which is a matter of some concern?

Mr. Newton

I shall mention visually impaired people, particularly blind people, in relation to the mobility component. The hon. Gentleman will realise that, because of the way in which the criteria have been drawn, it is difficult to be specific. They have not been drawn in relation to specific types of disability. Much, therefore, will depend on the working of the detailed arrangements. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People will have heard the hon. Gentleman's question and may comment further when he replies to the debate.

On the care component, people will be able to qualify for the new lower rate if they require attention for a significant portion of the day—in one or more aggregated periods—or if they are so mentally or physically disabled that they are unable to prepare a main meal for themselves. In the main meal test—I am aware that there has been some comment about this, so I shall say a word or two about it—we are seeking to adopt a new and more practical approach to bring into benefit an important group who do not have care needs related to their bodily functions but whose disabilities cause them difficulty in performing what to many of us are routine but important daily tasks.

The main daily meal criterion will provide a relatively simple test that is amenable to self-assessment and rapid adjudication. I should emphasise—I feel quite strongly about this, for a reason that I shall reveal in a moment—that we are talking about an assessment of whether a person could undertake such a task if he wished to do so, not about making him try to see whether he could do it. As the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People who abolished the old household duties test, which was associated with the benefit that was known as HNCIP to those of us who are familiar with the acronyms in this sector, I do not intend to reintroduce something like it in the context of these benefits.

For mobility, the new lower rate will be payable to people who are physically able to walk but who are so severely physically or mentally disabled that, when walking outdoors, they require the guidance or supervision of another person for most of the time. This will extend the mobility component—to some extent, this answers the question asked by the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley)—to people who are mentally handicapped or blind and to those who have a very limited physical capacity to walk.

The Bill provides for the new common qualifying period of three months, and for a test of whether the disability is likely to continue, for both components. The special rules for the terminally ill, waiving the need to satisfy the qualifying period, are extended to the mobility component so that, if the claimant qualifies, both components can be paid immediately.

New section 37ZD—I apologise for this, but at an early stage we hope to consolidate these matters, otherwise it will be increasingly difficult for anyone to follow disability benefits legislation—provides for the age limits in the benefit. As the House is aware, the aim is to target resources on younger disabled people, and DLA is aimed at people who become disabled before 65. However, people receiving DLA at 65 will continue to receive it and the Bill abolishes the upper age limit for mobility allowance. We shall also extend, across the board, the current provision whereby mobility allowance claims can be accepted up to the 66th birthday for disabilities commencing before 65.

Clause 5 gives wide powers to deal with transitional matters. Those are needed so that the Department can undertake the sizeable task of amalgamating and extending the two existing benefits while making sweeping changes to the adjudication system and bringing almost a further 300,000 people into entitlement to new rates. We shall do that and allow all potential new claimants an opportunity to claim the new lower rates from day one. That is, if I may say gently in the presence of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), a much more ambitious approach than that adopted when mobility allowance was introduced in 1976. The arrangements made by the then Labour Government meant that it was several years before all age bands were permitted to claim, with the result that fewer than 100,000 people were receiving mobility allowance when we took office.

Clause 6 introduces disability working allowance, which represents an important initiative to promote the independence of people with disabilities, giving sizeable numbers a new option of working without risking a drop in their income. Over the years, many of us have seen, as a matter of common sense, that too often people with disabilities who could do some work but could not earn enough on which to live were forced to remain entirely dependent on incapacity benefit. The aim of the disability working allowance is, for the first time, to offer the chance for disabled people to work to the full extent of their capacity and to have their earnings topped up by benefit. Even people who are so disabled that they can work only 16 hours a week will be able to qualify, which means that many part-time workers will be eligible.

The qualifying conditions for the benefit will be as easy as possible for potential claimants and staff to understand, so that claimants can work out whether they should claim and staff can put the benefit in payment quickly. The groups who will qualify for DWA will be identified by a simple qualifying benefit test whether they have been on a long-term incapacity benefit or are receiving an extra costs benefit. After satisfying that test, all the claimant will have to do on his first claim is certify that he has a disability or an illness that puts him at a disadvantage in obtaining employment. For subsequent claims, the claimant will be asked to fill in a simple self-assessment test, to show that he has one of a list of functional disabilities which are likely to make working difficult. Many people—those with the most severe disabilities—will not even have to do that, but will be automatically passported through it. Such an approach will provide a quick and straightforward method of identifying disabled people who are at a disadvantage in the labour market.

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

I am sure that this new allowance will be very much welcomed. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that people who have to risk giving up an existing benefit if they take a job are not likely to suffer if the job does not work out? Will he clarify the extent to which the cost of the new allowance will be offset by any reduction in benefits caused by people going back to work?

Mr. Newton

When I published "The Way Ahead: Benefits for Disabled People" and made a statement on it, I said that in broad terms we thought that the cost would be about neutral and that there would be savings on incapacity benefits offset by the payments of the new DWA—it is difficult to make a precise estimate, because we are talking about behavioural changes.

I hope that I carry my hon. Friend with me when I say that this is very much a benefit for which the case is not made in the simplistic terms in which we sometimes debate matters in the House—for example, that we are spending more money for a purpose. We are creating a more sensible benefit structure, giving disabled people an opportunity that is closed to them under the present system. It is on that basis that I should like primarily to argue the case for the benefit. It is not a great additional spending measure, but it will significantly improve the operation of the social security benefit system for disabled people. I shall comment later on the linking rule.

The income test for disability working allowance will be based on the family credit model, with the addition of an amount equivalent to the single person's disability premium in income support. Because of the addition of the premium, DWA will always be more advantageous than family credit for a disabled person with children. We were particularly anxious to ensure that there was not one of those tiresome "better buy" problems which mean that people have to weigh up which benefit they are better off claiming.

A key feature of DWA is the one raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham), with his usual acute perception of these problems—the linking rule. At present, a person receiving invalidity benefit or severe disablement allowance who decides to try his hand at work has, in effect, only eight weeks in which to decide whether he can cope. After that time, if he finds that he cannot cope and has to give up work because of incapacity, he has to spend 28 weeks requalifying for this old incapacity benefit. That rule can undoubtedly be a significant disincentive for disabled people who are contemplating a return to work.

We therefore propose a much more generous two-year linking rule. This will be a great help in building up the confidence of people who have never worked and in underpinning the confidence of those who are fearful of a return to the labour market after a long spell of incapacity. Such people will be able to try out the world of work, or re-try it, even for as little as 16 hours a week, reasonably secure in the knowledge that they will not have to suffer a drop in income through having to requalify for their old benefit if the attempt does not work out. I should like to make one simple but important point: no one who is on incapacity benefit will be forced to take up DWA—indeed, DWA will be available only to those who have found work and, by definition, wished to do so.

I should like to comment on a particularly important aspect of the procedures for assessment and adjudication where we are also proposing some significant improvements. The various differences—often extremely technical and obscure—between the assessment and adjudication arrangements for the existing mobility allowance and attendance allowance have long been a source of criticism by individuals, carers and disability organisations. That considerable number of current beneficiaries who get both existing benefits at the very least will have undergone two entirely separate medical examinations—often more. Despite the best efforts of the doctors who do that work, to whom I pay tribute, the process is sometimes seen as unnecessarily humiliating or intrusive.

Our emphasis in the Bill is very much on claimants' own perception of the problems that their disabilities cause them. I am convinced, as is my right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People, that it should be possible to determine a sizeable proportion of claims without the need for a special medical examination, let alone two.

For the new benefit, we want to make the whole thing easier for claimants in three main ways: first, by enabling them to make a single claim covering their mobility and their care needs, instead of two separate claims; secondly, by giving them the opportunity to give us a fuller account of the effect that their condition has on their lives; and, thirdly—this particularly important point picks up recommendations that have been urged upon us over a period—giving the opportunity to marshall evidence about their condition from third parties who are involved in their care—their GP, health visitors, district nurses, relatives or other carers.

We believe that this will also give us a better picture of the circumstances than the snapshot of a Department of Social Security medical examination, which is frequently all we have now, so that adjudication officers have a better basis for their decisions. It will, of course, still be open to a claimant to seek a medical examination if he wishes, rather than filling in what will inevitably be, in the light of what I said, a rather longer claim form. I acknowledge that, in a proportion of cases, we shall still need some further evidence which may be obtainable only by a specially conducted medical examination.

I am encouraged, as is my right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People, by the helpful and positive response that our first outline of these new assessment proposals and adjudication procedures received when we sent out a consultative document a few months ago. As we turn this legislation into practical working mechanisms, I want that consultation process to go further, so that people with disabilities and the groups who represent and lobby for them can help to fashion strictly practical elements such as the claims pack and the claiming process, which will be important to the success of the new benefit.

Sir David Price (Eastleigh)

My right hon. Friend promises excellent progress. Will he go one stage further and tie that up with the personal assessment that will be required under care in the community by local social services? There could be one major assessment of the individual concerned, the family and the carers, so that one could get a passport of entitlement through social security benefit and local authority care alike.

Mr. Newton

That is a characteristically interesting idea from my hon. Friend, who takes such a close interest in these matters in his Select Committee role. I shall certainly consider what he has said, although I should point out that, whereas I hope that the new benefits will be introduced in April 1992, the new care in the community arrangements are not now due to be introduced in their full form until April 1993, so there is a slight disjunction. I can give my hon. Friend the general assurance that we are most anxious to reduce the hassle—perhaps a word I over-use in the Chamber—that the assessment and adjudication of help for disabled people so often entail. For that reason, I welcome my hon. Friend's suggestion, even though I cannot "go snap" on it this afternoon.

As a related and further improvement which has been widely welcomed, we will be introducing a right of appeal to an entirely new form of social security appeal tribunal—a disability appeal tribunal—which will be the third tier of adjudication for both benefits, the second being a new form of quick review of initial decisions where they are queried. Again we are determined that, besides the legally qualified chairperson, who it is right to have, and medically qualified member, who it is right to have, there should, wherever possible, be a third person who either has practical experience of the needs of disabled people or is himself disabled. The essence of our approach at all levels is that, in many cases, it is not highly technical or difficult medical judgments that need to be made—it is, above all, judgments about the effect that a condition ha .s on a person's life.

We are, of course, aware that there will sometimes be a need for specialist medical knowledge—in particular about entirely new conditions or syndromes—which goes beyond what we can expect of the Department's medical advisers. Clause 3 provides for a Disability Allowance Advisory Board to provide expert advice on specifically medical matters relating to DLA and residual attendance allowance only. The board will have no adjudicative function, unlike the current attendance allowance board. It will help to write a disability handbook for adjudication officers and provide ad hoc advice to the Department's medical advisers.

In the 11 years since the Government took office, we have already seen a huge improvement in the spread and coverage of social security help for disabled people. The number getting attendance allowance has risen threefold, from 265,000 to 795,000. The number receiving mobility allowance has risen sixfold, from 95,000 to 615,000. The number of carers getting invalid care allowance has risen more than twentyfold, from 5,000 to 130,000. This expansion, with other changes and improvements, has helped to more than double social security spending in this area, after allowing for inflation, from just over £4 billion to well over £8 billion.

This Bill, together with the many other improvements of the past year, builds on that——

Sir Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

I gather that my right hon. Friend is reaching his peroration. Before he does so, may I thank him and acknowledge the immense achievements that he has chronicled? I also ask him to take on board the further point that, in addition to providing disability living and disability working allowances, we should, as far as possible, help the voluntary sector, which also assists disabled people. That is particularly true in respect of disabled sports, and I hope that he will encourage those who are trying to assist disabled people, through voluntary efforts, in sport and recreation—whether in the special olympics or in other activities.

Mr. Newton

I can unhesitatingly give my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) that assurance. When I was Minister with responsibility for disabled people—it is now nearly six years ago—I actively sought to encourage and promote such activities. On one occasion, I went to the games for disabled people at Stoke Mandeville hospital. I know that the present Minister for Social Security and Disabled People puts a lot of his time into the matter. I have no doubt that there will always be requests for increased Government grants to such organisations and we shall not be able to satisfy all those demands, although we shall certainly continue to do everything that we possibly can.

As my hon. Friend rightly divined, I was approaching the end of my speech; indeed, I was in the middle of my last sentence, which I shall now repeat. This Bill, together with the many other improvements of the past year, builds on the achievements that we have already made in a way which I believe the whole House will welcome.

5.14 pm
Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)

I am sorry to disappoint the Secretary of State, but I must tell him that when I had finished studying the Bill I recalled what was said of Napoleon III—that the most impressive thing about him was his name. The same could be said of the Bill. It seems that the less a measure contains, the more grandiloquent is its title.

The first part of the Bill is largely concerned with the amalgamation of two existing benefits. The second part is so significant as to involve no net extra expenditure, however much it may improve the ability of disabled people to get back into the labour market, which was the gloss that the Secretary of State put upon it. Having waited 10 years for the Bill—five years while the Government attended to the economy and another five while they procrastinated with half a dozen Office of Population Censuses and Surveys studies—disabled people expected a great deal more from it. They will be bitterly disappointed that it is so thin and misleading.

The only people who come out of the matter really well are those in the Government's public relations battalions. To think up the title of a new disablement living allowance to describe the existing attendance and mobility allowances is a stroke of evil marketing genius. The aim was presumably to put across to the general public the idea that a sort of disablement benefit or disablement costs allowance is being introduced, even though the Bill clearly does nothing of the kind. In fact, the extension of two existing benefits, paid to more people but at a lower rate, along with the common assessment and adjudication procedure—which the Secretary of State spent some time explaining and which we welcome—could have been achieved without the need to sell the provision as a new benefit. I submit that it is only the PR exercise that required the measures to be dressed up as a new benefit and sold as a package within a Bill.

Although it is a star turn for Government propaganda, the bundling together of two benefits will produce many difficulties. People will be puzzled about which part will be available for them to claim after the age of 65, whether parts will cease to be paid after 65 and why, if one can apply for one part after 65, one cannot apply for the other. Moreover unbundling will still be necessary. Motability, the independent living fund and local authorities will all need to know who is receiving what part of the mobility allowance and the attendance allowance. As the Secretary of State knows, Motability can only finance contracts based on the existing mobility allowance, the independent living fund will only help someone who is on the higher rate attendance allowance and local authorities treat mobility allowance and attendance allowance differently in their means test. That is why the point made by the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price) is worth considering. The bundled benefits will have to be unbundled so that everyone knows what the components are, and it does not appear that that information will be automatically supplied.

Another major flaw in the Bill is its failure to recognise the range of extra costs that disabled people have to meet. That is a fundamental point. The two modest extensions of mobility allowance and attendance allowance acknowledge the existence of care-related and mobility-related extra costs alone, but disabled people have a range of other costs which cause them higher expenditure, and people with other types of extra costs are left wanting by the Bill. There are several other causes of extra higher extra costs besides disabilities of locomotion and personal care. The OPCS referred to a long list of problems including digestion, disfigurement, behaviour, continence, reaching and stretching, and dexterity. As the Secretary of State follows the OPCS so slavishly with regard to costs because that suits his and the Treasury's interests in terms of lower public expenditure, why does he ignore the OPCS's more fundamental point about needs just because it would cost much more to recognise the truth about needs?

The levels of proposed benefit entirely contradict any illusion that the extent of extra costs facing disabled people is recognised by the Government. Many people would argue that existing levels of mobility and attendance allowance are already insufficient to meet the extra costs associated with just those two types of need.

Far from increasing the levels to cater for other forms of extra costs, there is a new lower level for each component at the derisory rate of just £10 per week. That new rate of £10 per week does not cover people who are marginally disabled and require just a small topping up of income. With regard to mobility allowance, it covers people who are able to walk but who, as the Secretary of State said this afternoon, are so severely physically or mentally handicapped that to take advantage of that faculty out of doors they require guidance or supervision from another person most of the time. They will get £10 per week. With regard to attendance allowance, the Government apparently believe that £10 is appropriate for people who require help from another person in connection with bodily functions for a significant portion of the day or who cannot prepare a cooked main meal for themselves if they have the ingredients.

How many Conservative Members who support this Bill believe that they could get by with that degree of disability on only £10 per week?

I recognise that the Government have based the figures on the extra cost data set out in the family expenditure survey and the OPCS report, both of which found that disability-related expenditure was low. The Government initially greeted that with glee, but when we think about it there is a good reason for the conclusion. The family expenditure survey in particular made the stunning discovery that spending on disability is constrained by income. If we put that crudely, it means "If you haven't got it, you can't spend it." I imagine that even the housewife from Grantham would have agreed with that until she was seduced by the Lawsonian credit binge. That is an important point.

Mr. Thurnham

The hon. Gentleman says, "If you haven't got it, you can't spend it," but is that not exactly what the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) said when she described how Labour would fund its proposals? Did she not say that these were desirable aims and something that Labour would hope to do as resources allowed? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will make clear how much money the Labour party would put on the table to fund its proposals.

Mr. Meacher

We are discussing the Government's Bill. I will refer to the Labour party proposals later. I assume from the hon. Gentleman's intervention that he is embarrassed that the Government are being so niggardly in terms of the amount that they are putting on the table. It is the Government's responsibility to lay out their proposals for the disabled. Their proposals are extremely mean and I believe that the hon. Gentleman probably agrees with me.

The OPCS found that disabled adults spent on average only £6.10 extra per week. Other research, however—I will not say independent research as I shall refer to the source in a moment and the Secretary of State is aware of it—has considered the actual extra costs of disabled daily living. In particular, I refer to a pamphlet published by the Disablement Income Group in February entitled, "Short-changed by Disability," which found that the real extra cost was five to seven times that quoted by the OPCS. I am not so naive as to suggest that the Secretary of State will readily accept the DIG figures, but he would be ill advised to dismiss them out of hand. No one who knows anything about disability would accept that the OPCS figures are closer to the reality of the position.

There are several other disturbing aspects to the structuring of the misleadingly entitled disablement living allowance. For instance, the Bill provides that awards of both the mobility and attendance allowance components must be for the same period. I imagine that that will mean that some disabled people will find that the award of an attendance allowance for a shortish period will preclude their getting a Motability car. Another distressing point, which is meant no doubt to keep costs down rather than to meet need when it arises, is that people have to become disabled before the age of 65 in order to benefit. The needs of people who become disabled after that age—the majority—are simply ignored.

It is also dismaying to realise that the Bill offers nothing more for severely disabled people receiving both the mobility and attendance allowances, although it has been widely shown that many of those severely disabled people incur many other extra costs. If the Secretary of State needs proof of that—I do not suppose that he does—payments from the independent living fund show It to be true. Yet the Bill contains nothing more for those people.

The Government's objective for the DLA was, above all, simplicity. In section 4 of "The way Ahead," the Secretary of State wrote: We must be confident that when it is introduced, the Disability Allowance is easy to understand. That has been echoed in ministerial replies to correspondence stating that the Government aimed to provide a more simple and coherent system of financial help. I can only observe that three levels of attendance allowance and two levels of mobility allowance will involve 11 different benefit combinations.

Mr. Newton

indicated assent.

Mr. Meacher

I note that the Secretary of State assents to that. The combinations range from being ineligible for both benefits to being eligible for both at the top range. Even that might be relatively easy to accommodate if there were only one criterion for assessment with 11 different levels or degrees, but there are nine different criteria, several with different degrees. If the Government wanted to scale new peaks of complexity, they have succeeded in this Bill.

Mr. Newton

I know that the Gentleman is seriously interested in the problems that we are discussing today, and I would not wish to pretend otherwise. However, I must make the point that this is an area in which we must draw a balance between an administrable benefit which can be made to work in practice and one which takes into account every conceivable factor. How does the hon. Gentleman square what he is saying now with what: he said 10 minutes ago about how this, that and the other had not been taken into account in the structure of the new benefit? If we were to follow the track that the hon. Gentleman urged on me 10 minutes ago, we would have ended up with a benefit so complicated that it could not be understood or administered.

Mr. Meacher

The right hon. Gentleman misses the point. Ten minutes ago, I said that several other facilities could have been provided by the disablement living allowance but they have clearly not been provided because it would cost considerable extra sums of money. I am talking now about a quite different matter—the way in which the measure has been structured. Although I am sure that the Government wish it to be simple, the right hon. Gentleman must realise that it is far from simple and it is complex. Of course, that may also have someting to do with money. I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman constantly has to struggle to improve the benefit structure and the social security system with virtually no new money from his colleagues in the Treasury and the Government. I see from the right hon. Gentleman's expression that he assents to that and I am sorry about his position.

Mr. Newton

I am not having that, and I am not assenting to it. In the next two or three years, the Bill will involve more than £300 million of new money. In the past decade there has been an increase in expenditure—I touched on this and gave the reasons for it—of about £4 billion per year at today's prices.

Mr. Meacher

I shall refer to money later. Perhaps I should move on. The right hon. Gentleman is talking about three years' time. That is the point at which extra expenditure reaches a peak. In fact, it is just under £300 million. Moreover, the right hon. Gentleman does not go on to say that, thereafter, the net extra amount for the disabled, taking account of cuts through reduced earnings allowance and, in particular, the additional component of the invalidity pension, will produce a remarkable falling off and a negative effect in the next century. It is fair to mention the £300 million extra in three years, but does the right hon. Gentleman accept that it will be down to nothing by the year 2000 and that we are talking about a minus figure of £1 billion per year 10 years into the next century? Those are the facts.

With regard to the disablement working allowance, in the section on the financial effects of the Bill—again, the right hon. Gentleman hinted at this although he did not use these words—the Government say that the gross cost of around £85m by 1993/4 will be offset by a reduction in payments of other benefits. In other words, it is such an important new measure that it requires no new net expenditure. I repeat that to get significant numbers of disabled people back into work—not just a few thousand but a few hundred thousand—requires considerably more than no new net expenditure.

The principal defect of this part of the Bill—I may be wrong, but I will argue it both ways and we shall see which is right—is that it appears to use passporting benefits, that is, attendance allowance, mobility allowance and constant attendance allowance, to identify disabled people. If that is so, many blind or partially sighted people and many deaf people who do not receive any benefit on account of disability will not be entitled to disablement working allowance either, even though their disabilities unquestionably put them at a disadvantage in obtaining work. Other disabled people—and there are many others—will also be left out.

I recognise that that interpretation of the Bill, which I believe is correct, is slightly different from that which appears in the note on disability working allowance that the Government published this month.

Mr. Newton



Perhaps I anticipate what the Secretary of State will say. That suggests that a self-declaration, which the right hon. Gentleman emphasised today, of disadvantage in obtaining work is all that is required for the first six months of an award if a claimant had been receiving invalidity benefit, severe disablement allowance or income support with a disability or severe disability premium. Perhap that is the correct version.

Mr. Newton

indicated assent.

Mr. Meacher

In that case, I shall argue what I believe to be the Government's motive. If that is the case, as I thought that it probably was, it suggests that the Government's agenda is to get as many disabled people as possible off invalidity benefit because, as we know, following the National Audit Office report, the Government are alarmed at the cost and the number of those on invalidity benefit. That is somewhat different from what the Secretary of State said a moment ago about his pleasure at how many extra sums are being spent on the disabled. The Government are very concerned about the rising number of people getting invalidity benefit. Having made it very easy to sign away the right to long-term benefit, the Government then made it much more difficult to sign back on. That is probably a major motive behind the disablement working allowance, and disabled people need to take that point clearly on board.

The other major point that I stress is that the applicable amounts are far too low. You would expect me to say that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I repeat it because I believe it and I know the disabled people whom the measure affects will say it with great feeling. For example, there is just over £37 for single claimants. That is extremely low by any standards. Equally, the proposed threshold levels are extremely low—just over £34 for single claimants and higher, of course, for married couples. Also, the capital disregard with its £8,000 cut-off point takes no account of the extra need for capital that many disabled people have compared with non-disabled people.

It has been carefully worked out to my satisfaction that the illustrative figures for the disablement working allowance show that, for a single person, earnings as low as £87 per week would still result in no disablement working allowance. In effect, the disablement working allowance will give some people who are partially capable the option of exchanging poverty-level benefit for poverty-level wages. That is the net effect of the way in which the measure is construed.

The Bill is not impressive and it must be seen against the background of the major overall cuts in benefit, to which I have already alluded, that the Government are planning in the next decade. I have made the point that, although there will be an immediate increase in the next three years, the total will steadily decline to a net loss of more than £500 million per year by the year 2000, declining further into the next century until, by the year 2025—that is a long way off, but the Government plan that far ahead, just as they did when they tried to abolish the state earnings-related pension scheme—according to the Government's own figures, the net cut in all benefits to the disabled will be £1.5 billion per year. That is the background against which we must judge the Bill—a £1.5 billion per year cut by the time we reach the second and third decades of the next century.

Not only is that a scandal but the scale of the cuts calls into question the Government's motive in announcing the proposals in "The Way Ahead" and introducing the Bill today. The proposals can now be seen as little more than a smokescreen to conceal the most savage cuts in disability benefits on record. The Bill not only fails to provide the comprehensive disability income to which we are pledged, but it does not even begin to match up to its title. It does not offer a disablement living allowance and it does not offer a disablement working allowance—it is merely a limited gesture from a dying Government.

5.38 pm
Sir David Price (Eastleigh)

In supporting the Bill, I draw the attention of the House to the last report which we on the old Select Committee on Social Services presented to the House in our series on community care. Those who follow our work will know that it was our seventh report on community care and that it was entitled "Social Security for the Disabled". It bears directly on the substance of today's Bill. I should like, therefore, to remind the House of some of the things we said.

We welcomed the statement of principles for social security help for disabled people contained in the Government's policy statement entitled "The Way Ahead". We supported the Government in their stated aims. I shall remind the House of the three most important. They were, first, to improve the coverage of help with the extra costs of disability; secondly, to create incentives for disabled people to take paid employment; and, thirdly, to provide income for disabled people who cannot work. It is against those three agreed aims that the House must judge the Bill's relevance and efficacy.

The Select Committee's biggest concern was the extra costs incurred as a direct result of disability and how they are assessed—a matter which was touched on by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). The Office of Population Censuses and Surveys produced figures on the extra costs of disability which all the disabled organisations found, in the words of the Disablement Income Group, to be "surprisingly low". They were all critical of the methodology adopted by the OPCS in attempting to assess those extra costs.

Ian Bruce, the director general of the Royal National Institute for the Blind, summed up the matter well when he said: So many disabled people have low incomes, if you say to them, 'How much more money do you spend on things because you are disabled?', they may never have had the opportunity to spend the money to start with … a lot of blind people do not go out very much because they cannot afford taxis. Now if you ask them how much extra they spend on travel or transport, they might say not very much, but that is because they have never had the money to do it. The same view has been expressed recently by the DIG, which said: It is certainly inappropriate to base proposals on an interpretation of research into the extra costs of disability that judges the need for extra cash by reference to the extent to which the extra cash is spent. Obviously, if you don't have the cash, you can't incur the cost. The same point was made by the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation, which criticised the Bill because it fails to address the costs of disability other than care and mobility cost. It said: Disabled people incur many other costs"— the hon. Member for Oldham, West made the same point— besides care and mobility e.g. diet costs, high laundry costs, higher than normal heating costs, the cost of help with communication, the cost of domestic help and clothing costs. Despite all that, paragraph 4.3 of "The Way Ahead" says that the Government are satisfied with the present levels of attendance allowance and mobility allowance. They say that they are "more than sufficient" to cover the extra costs associated with disability, as identified in the OPCS reports.

In paragraph 4.6—it is not my view—it says: The Government considers, and the OPCS findings confirm, that for the great majority of disabled people the rates of Attendance Allowance and Mobility Allowance make generous allowance for variations around the averages"— of extra spending associated with disability— identified by the OPCS. The Select Committee was clear that the rates of those benefits could be considered a "generous allowance" only if the low estimates of extra costs made by the OPCS are accepted without question. I do not accept them without question. All my experience tells me that they are gross under-estimations, arising largely because of the methodology adopted by the OPCS—that is, trying to identify extra expenditure for people who have not got the cash to spend in the first place. It is a measure of what happens—I accept that—not a measure of need. That is the fundamental difference. I am therefore disappointed that the Government propose to set the rates for the new disability allowance, as for the old allowances, on the basis of the OPCS research.

The Select Committee was convinced that there were sufficient reservations, not least from the OPCS itself, to warrant further research specifically into the extra costs of disability. That is why we made the specific recommendation that the Government should conduct and publish ongoing research on the actual and potential costs of disability, in conjunction with various organisations representing disabled people, to inform future policy decisions about assistance for disabled people. I hope that the House and, above all, the Government will accept our recommendation. We all know how difficult it is to be precise in this matter, so it is not being unduly controversial or aggressive to ask the Government to accept our recommendation.

We could not accept the logic used by the Government in making changes to the severe disablement allowance. As the House knows, SDA is paid at only 60 per cent. of the rate of invalidity benefit. We welcomed the decision to pay age-related additions to people disabled in earlier life, but we fail to see the logic in denying that small bonus to people receiving SDA for other reasons whose needs, through disability, are presumably just as great. We therefore recommended that SDA should be increased to the same level as invalidity benefit.

That would concentrate resources on the most severely disabled people and would create more equal treatment in the social security system for people prevented from working by the same degree of disability whether or not they qualify for invalidity benefit. Our recommendation is in accordance with the Government's strategy, as identified at the beginning of my remarks, to redress the balance of help for disabled people which is at present heavily weighted on the side of those who have worked for a reasonable time.

Therefore, I hope that during the Bill's passage the Government will accept the logic of our recommendations. Such measures would not need primary legislation. They could be simply implemented during the annual uprating of benefits.

Our fifth report was devoted entirely to the role of carers and their problems. We concluded that the proposals in the community care White Paper and their greater emphasis on informal care at home would, among many other things, require the continuing extension of benefits for carers. The evidence that we received and the experience of the independent living fund suggested that there was a large amount of unmet need. Those of us who have been involved in caring will know that from our own experiences. We recommended that as part of their longer-term consideration of benefits for disabled people the Government should consider a number of important proposals for improving the lot of carers as resources permit. Those are outlined in the report

. First, we suggested that invalidity care allowance should be paid at the same rate as invalidity benefit and the retirement pension. It would have to be decided whether that would be available only to carers with contribution records, such as IVB, or to all carers on a noncontributory basis. I recommend the latter. If the latter, logic and fairness would demand that the noncontributory severe disability allowance should also be uprated. I have already outlined the reasons for that.

Secondly, eligibility to invalid care allowance should be extended to all those caring for disabled people for 35 hours a week or more. That is to define the criterion in terms of the characteristics of the carer rather than the pure medical condition of the cared-for. Attendance allowance and the new lower rate of disability allowance should provide automatic evidence that that criterion is fulfilled—again trying to reduce the bureaucracy—but a direct test of caring could also be accepted. That is the direction in which we should move.

Thirdly, we should pay invalid care allowance at the rate of sickness benefit to carers during the six-month qualifying period for attendance allowance—three months under the new disability allowance.

Fourthly, we should extend the time period for invalid care allowance to include the six-month period after caring ceases. We hear some sad stories about people who have devoted many years caring for a relative whose allowance is terminated immediately their relative dies.

There are many other proposals with which I shall not detain the House now. I merely recommend our report to the House. If I may humbly suggest it, it is worth debating in its own right.

I could say a great deal more, but I promised to be brief. In conclusion, I welcome the Bill as far as it goes. I have identified at least three major matters on which the Government should go much further. I shall continue to press the Government, as I have always done since I came to the House, to maintain the momentum of progress. Nevertheless, it would be churlish of me not to recognise the progress that has been made in developing public policy for the disabled in the thirty-five and a half years during which I have had the honour to be a Member of the House. I am reminded of the words of Arthur Clough: For while the tired waves, vainly breaking, Seem here no painful inch to gain, Far back through creek and inlets making Comes silent, flooding in, the main. The incoming tide is in favour of the disabled. The Bill is one wave in that tide, but we need many more.

5.50 pm
Mrs. Sylvia Heal (Mid-Staffordshire)

The debate has a thread in common with other debates in the House. Ministers come to the Dispatch Box and make statements about their concern for the disadvantaged groups in our society—the sick, the elderly or people with disabilities. The Government may have commissioned reports. They may await the results of surveys and reviews. Needs and problems are identified. Solutions and suggestions may well have been offered. Professionals and voluntary groups may or may not have been consulted, sometimes to find that the advice they offer is ignored.

Successive Ministers have spoken of the aim to introduce a coherent system of cash benefits to meet the cost of disability. Yet their actions fall far short of that. The OPCS survey, which has already been referred to, and voluntary groups such as the Spastics Society, Disability Alliance, the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation, the Royal National Institute for the Deaf and the Royal National Institute for the Blind have highlighted the need for a comprehensive disability benefit. Yet the proposals in "The Way Ahead" do not represent a full review of the benefits system for people with disabilities.

I appreciate that the disabled living allowance and the disabled working allowance will help some individuals, but they are not comprehensive enough and, as has already been said, do not meet all the extra costs incurred by people with disabilities. I regret that pensioners over the age of 65 who develop difficulty with walking—as the result of either an accident or the onset of some disease or illness will still not receive any extra financial help. Such people may have to remain housebound. The Bill contains no changes that will help them. They may have a friend or neighbour who is 64 years of age or younger and qualifies for additional help. Is there any fairness in legislation if it treats people in that way?

What of elderly deaf people whose sight becomes impaired after their 65th birthday? That is not unusual. It may happen as a result of the onset of diabetes and glaucoma. They will not be eligible for the additional benefit. They will receive no extra help from this Government. Will people who are deaf and blind still be eligible for the higher rate of attendance and mobility allowance?

The disability working allowance is means-tested—we are becoming used to that under this Government. Do the Government deliberately set out to add to the difficulties and humiliation of people with disabilities? I ask that question because, until the end of last month, people could apply for reduced earnings allowance if they were injured at work or following the onset of a prescribed industrial disease. They could obtain that benefit as of right, whether or not they were working. It was not means-tested.

The proposed benefit—the disability working allowance—is intended to encourage people to return to work. Despite some of the thin assurances that we have had this afternoon, I and many others fear that it could also be used to take people off incapacity benefits such as invalidity benefit or severe disablement allowance and put them into low-paid jobs.

The emphasis will be less on dealing with poverty among disabled wage earners and more on providing an incentive payment for people with disabilities who are not working but who are thought to be partially able to do so. It will reduce some disincentives and financial penalties for some people entering the work force but the numbers will be small. It remains to be seen whether it will help those who wish to work and can find suitable work, or whether it will be a means of putting pressure on people to work regardless of whether it is truly helpful to them.

The way in which the disability working allowance will work may lead to inequitable treatment of poor disabled earners who have not come within the benefits system and those who have received benefit. As it is a means-tested top-up, the allowance contains certain inherent difficulties. The withdrawal rates, especially when combined with other means-tested benefits, will impose a poverty trap if they are too rapidly imposed, so people will gain little from an increase in earnings. Help from the Department of Employment with the extra costs of employment falls far short of the needs of some individuals with disabilities. Such people may include those with cerebral palsy and communication difficulties. Again, that is not an unusual combination. The availability of a communicator alone may not be sufficient. Often, another person is needed to act as a facilitator. In no way are those costs met by the Department of Employment.

The current legislation applies only to people who can work for 16 hours or more. What about those who are capable of working for less than 16 hours per week? Some people with disabilities are capable of working perhaps no more than two hours a day at the beginning, if one allows for the time and discomfort that travelling to and from the place of work may involve. To bar such people from the allowance will provide a total disincentive to work, because people would hardly be able to earn more in, say, 12 or 15 hours a week than they would receive from benefits alone.

What about some of the difficulties and delays in processing claims for the disability allowance? It has been compared to family credit. I am only too well aware that many people are having great difficulty in obtaining family credit. Will people have to provide wage slips, as they do for family credit, for at least five weeks before they can claim?

Many people with disabilities may be reluctant to experiment with working in case they lose future entitlement to the long-term disability benefits. I am thinking in particular of the severe disablement allowance. People are entitled to that allowance if they could not work before the age of 20. Are they also to be barred?

The Bill specifies that previous benefit can be protected for a maximum of two years, and the Minister has reassured us about that. That in itself is no more generous than the eight-week linking period which may still prove to be a disincentive to experiment with work. Perhaps the real problem to be tackled—and it is certainly not tackled by the Bill—is much more fundamental than the problem that we are discussing: it is about improving access to employment opportunities and about obtaining from the Government a guarantee that the existing rehabilitation and training services will be maintained and improved. We need a guarantee about the introduction of anti-discrimination legislation, and the quota system needs to be enforced. We also need a national minimum wage.

6 pm

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

The hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mrs. Heal) speaks from great experience, and to that extent her contribution is welcome. However, she was a little churlish in not recognising many of the changes that the Government have made to help disabled people on low incomes and to remove the barriers to work. She said that the Bill did nothing for pensioners but, of course, there have been measures to provide disability premiums and higher pension premiums for people on low incomes. She could have spoken about that. It is helpful to remove barriers to work, and if it can be done in a way that does not incur a net cost, extra money is available to be spent elsewhere.

I listened carefully to the speech of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene. He did not give his promised answer about how much money the Labour party would put on the table. He adopted a spurious method of jobbing forward and calculating that there was a reduction of £1.5 billion, even though the Government's track record is of increasing expenditure. He said that such a reduction was scandalous. When we job backwards, we see that in real terms the Government are spending £4 billion more than Labour did when it was in office.

The hon. Gentleman said that the Government are being "extremely mean", but we are spending twice as much as Labour did when it was in power, so how would he describe expenditure at half the current level? Instead of spuriously jobbing forward and trying to invent a reduction in spending when the Government's track record is of increasing spending, the hon. Gentleman should look at his own record, try to figure out exactly what he would spend and tell us the amount that a Labour Government would put on the table.

All we have to go on at the moment are the words of his hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett). She said that Labour hoped to implement its policies as resources allowed. She has not specified any sum. The hon. Member for Oldham, West said that he would come to that in his speech, but he never did. I do not know whether he was afraid to come out with it, or whether he has not been able to do the sums. Perhaps his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) has told him not to give any figures because the right hon. and learned Member would be embarrassed when he came to fund the policies. It is spurious nonsense to talk about the Government reducing future expenditure on the disabled when the whole pattern has been of increasing spending.

The Bill is an important step forward. Of course we all want to see more money spent on the disabled. It is probably the greatest unmet need in my constituency, where we have severely mentally handicapped adults with challenging behaviour living at home. We should welcome the Bill as another step on the road to more spending. As my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price) said, it is another wave on the ocean.

Given that we have a record of a continuous increase in spending, I do not understand how the hon. Member for Oldham, West can give such spurious projections and say that there will be a reduction of £1.5 billion. All hon. Members accepted that SERPS was the wrong way to allocate scarce resources. If we are to spend more, surely it is right to ask how we should spend the extra money.

Mr. Meacher


Mr. Thurnham

Does the hon. Gentleman propose to tell us how much he would spend?

Mr. Meacher

The hon. Gentleman keeps repeating the same point. The £1.5 billion per year cut is based on Government figures which are to be provided inHansard and which the hon. Gentleman can consult. When he looks back, as he is perfectly entitled to do, at the increased expenditure on the disabled, he will see that these are not new benefits introduced by the Government but further take-up of benefits that were introduced by the last Labour Government. We are committed to comprehensive disability income. I agree that the cost will be considerable, but we have clearly said that we will introduce it as soon as resources allow. We are responsible about that and intend to do it. The Government do not.

Mr. Thurnham

It is obvious that, under socialism, the money was not there. As Sir John Wilson said recently, Communism has failed because it is incompetent and it is surely important that the enterprise culture should not fail because it is inhumane. The provision society makes for people with disability is surely one of the most sensitive points in that issue. There must be some way of rewarding winners without victimising disabled losers. The hon. Member for Oldham, West was not generous enough to recognise that the Government have introduced many new measures. It is not just a question of all the old measures that a Labour Government tabled but could not afford to implement. There is a thicket of new measures and the Bill lists some strange alphabetical clauses such as 37ZA, 37ZB and 37ZC. If we had not had a change in this week's business, I would have gone further into the Bill before the debate, which was originally scheduled for tomorrow. Perhaps I can leave it to later stages of the Bill to find out more about it.

I turn now to employment issues. The recent survey showed that there are close on 1 million disabled people in work, and that 250,000 are unemployed. I am sure that the new allowance will help to create conditions in which the unemployed can he brought back into work.

I was pleased by the Government's newly introduced logo for employers who adopt good practices. It has a double tick, and that is a double tick for the Government's policy on the disabled: that double tick means double spending. I am pleased that employers will be able to adopt that code, thereby showing that they are willing to employ disabled people to the maximum extent of a company's resources, even though the quota may not be applicable to an employer's particular industry.

I recently discussed several matters with members of the Bolton and Wigan committee for the employment of people with disabilities. I hope that the prospects of people employed by agencies of the Department of Employment, such as disablement resettlement officers and others, will benefit from their work in this important area. They should in no way feel that their career will not develop in that Department as well as it would in any other Department of the Civil Service.

People who get sheltered placement scheme opportunities in the Civil Service should also be able to develop their careers. There should be a progression of people from day centres through sheltered workshops to sheltered placement schemes and then into industry. That is better than staying in, for example, Remploy for years on end. People should be seconded to industry so that they can move into employment as soon as possible. I am sure that the new allowance will help to make that much easier.

It is interesting to consider the position of overseas companies with factories in Britain and the extent to which their employment practices here may develop upon legislation in their home states. It would be worth seeing a study showing the extent to which employers, whose head office is subject to legislation in a foreign country, adopt a different practice here. However, I understand that there is no evidence to suggest that German companies, in whose head offices there is supposed to be a 6 per cent. quota, endeavour to employ 6 per cent. here.

That suggests an area in which we could develop more freely, and the Government's present policy based upon voluntary methods is the best way forward. Other methods used abroad have met with mixed success, but one might expect foreign subsidiary companies in this country to follow the same line. There is no evidence that they do, so I believe that the Government are pursuing the right policy.

I received a brief note from RADAR—the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation—and I should like to comment on the issues it raised. My right hon. Friend was right to introduce the independent living fund, which has grown to a current value of £60 million. It has proved extremely useful and has helped some of my constituents with great unmet needs. There is some doubt about the future of that fund, however, and I should be grateful if my right hon. Friend could tell us what is intended.

RADAR also raised the problem of Motability when mobility awards are given for a short period. I have written to my right hon. Friend about a constituent who is facing that problem. The length of time for which the mobility allowance is awarded is insufficient to fund a car under the Motability scheme. The mobility allowance contains the equivalent of cliff edges, with which people are unable to cope. I hope that my right hon. Friend can say something about that problem.

We must also consider carefully the incentives for people with disabilities to register as disabled when seeking employment. For one reason or another, many people do not do so, as they feel that there is no incentive to register as such. The disability working allowance should address that problem. In addition, those people registered as disabled should benefit from transitional relief on the community charge.

Disregards are also important when attempting to encourage people back to work. The hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire should have paid some attention to disregards and the fact that they have been increased. If people are able to work for a short time only—the hon. Lady mentioned people who can work alone for less than 16 hours a week—disregards represent one of the easiest ways back into work.

RADAR has also questioned the capital rules for people who will benefit from a disabled working allowance. It believes that there should be no capital limit and that the proposed limit of £8,000 is too restrictive on those people who need additional funds to help them to meet the costs of their disability. If they have such capital, it is unreasonable that they should be ruled out from benefiting from the new allowance. People need that capital to meet the cost of their additional needs.

I am grateful for the opportunity to raise such important issues, and I look forward to the successful passage of the Bill.

6.12 pm
Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham), who has a good track record on this subject. The experience that he brings to the House means that our debates on it are all the better.

I shall try to be a little more generous than the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) when deciding whether the Bill is good or bad. Some may say that that would not be too difficult, but I should qualify my generosity by saying that what I welcome most about the Bill is the approach behind it. The Secretary of State underlined that the purpose of the Bill is to try to open up opportunities for people with disabilities so that they can seek greater independence. That is extremely welcome.

In principle there should be no such thing as a disabled person. Governments and political parties spend too much time discussing the difficulties encountered in providing for people with disabilities. We often get caught in the bind of assuming that there are problems associated with all people with disabilities, but many of those people have a great deal to contribute. Society's attitude to disability and the way in which we provide for people with disabilities must be turned round. I hope that the Bill will have a positive impact on that important matter.

The way in which we take decisions on how to provide for people with disabilities should be examined carefully. Such decisions should be taken within the political decision-making process. I am heartened by the contribution of access panels to the public discussion of the local provision that must be made for people with disabilities. Long may that contribution continue.

Although I welcome the general approach of the Bill, the costs involved have not been properly addressed. It is a waste of time, however, to trade insults across the Floor about how much each party would spend in the future. I have no doubt that the Minister's intentions are right and honest and that he does a great deal to promote the interests of people with disabilities within the machinery of government. However, whether the right hon. Gentleman succeeds with his Treasury colleagues is not nearly so certain. I do not believe that the Minister has got as good a deal as the Secretary of State tried to make out. I do not believe that £325 million, to be spent over three years, adds up to an awfully big row of beans. I exonerate the Minister from blame, however, as I know that, in his heart of hearts, he knows that that sum is not enough. I know that there are nods and winks in this game and if the right hon. Gentleman said that he was prepared to go back to the Treasury and to pray in aid hon. Members' belief that the resources are insufficient, I would support his campaign. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will tell us that this Bill is the first block in a building project that has a long way to go before it is complete.

The survey undertaken by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys was an excellent opportunity to review the extent of the problem throughout the country. I do not believe, however, that the Government have satisfied the expectations of the pressure groups that are responsible for promoting the interests of people with disabilities. The work undertaken and the evidence produced have not been properly assessed or taken into account in the Bill.

The hon. Member for Bolton, North-East argued about how much money is necessary and how much will be devoted by the various political parties. I believe that all of us, including the Government, should commit ourselves to the principle of moving towards a comprehensive disability income. I do not care how long it takes—the pressure groups are realistic about it as they do not believe that a Government of any political complexion can deliver what they need immediately. It would be of great assistance to those groups, however, if we could say that, in principle, the long-term goal is a comprehensive disability income, no matter how long it takes or at what cost. That commitment would be a positive contribution to our discussions. I hope that the Minister will say something about that when he replies.

Additional costs for heating, laundry, clothing and domestic care have largely been put to one side in the Bill. The additional costs that will result from the recent privatisation of the water industry in England and 'Wales and the privatisation of the electricity industry will exacerbate the problem. The decision to set the lower rate of attendance mobility components at £10 only from next April will not begin to meet the problem.

The mobility allowance is too restrictive. I know that it would not be cheap, but, as I have argued before, it is wrong to use cost as a reason not to take on board the possibility of extending the allowance to those over the age of 65. That, more than anything else, causes heartache to those who attend my surgeries.

I see the Minister raising his eyes to the ceiling. I am well aware that we are talking about a large amount of money, but there is no justification in principle for the existing position. If we continue to allow such a position, we are in effect saying that disability is synonymous with being old, and that is neither true nor fair. The Government should address the problem, but they do not seem to have done so; even worse, they do not seem to be prepared to do so in future. Never mind the amount of money involved: if the Government could say something constructive about a new approach, I should be happier.

The Bill is unclear about those with severe learning disabilities or challenging behaviour. That is another problem that I find in my constituency: apparently such people might qualify for the lower but not the higher rate of mobility allowance. Perhaps that is a Committee point, but I hope that the Minister can clarify it at some stage.

The Secretary of State earlier referred to the extension of mobility allowance to deaf-blind people. That was warmly welcomed, but there remains the problem of take-up. Far too many people are turned down at the assessment stage. I make no complaint, as it is a difficult judgment to make, but I do not think that adjudication officers are being given the training that they need to cope with the needs of sensory disability. If the problem were addressed, deaf-blind people could probably obtain the benefit and allowance that they are not obtaining at present.

I was disappointed by the Government's decision to extend the qualifying period to three months. Perhaps the Minister could say a word about that. In my experience, medical people are usually definite about the extent of any given disability, and about whether it is chronic or temporary. The Minister may say that that administratively is easier said than done, but in my experience doctors are quite clear about whether a condition will continue.

I am on all fours with the philosophy of the disability working allowance. I believe that the threshold levels and the maximum benefit rates are too low, but I am prepared to give the Government the benefit of the doubt and wait and see what emerges in future public expenditure survey rounds and in Conservative conferences at various seaside resorts—where, no doubt, Ministers meet in the room of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury; more power to their elbow, say I.

The question of most importance to carers is whether eligibility for invalidity care allowance can be linked to both levels of the new disability living allowance, rather than just the higher level. That is causing real concern, and it would be welcome if the Government could say something about it.

The Bill as a whole deserves the support of the House. I intend to study the figures given by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) about the cuts, some of which seem to be fairly sizeable.I shall read what he said in the Official Report very carefully. Certainly, in terms of costs the Government have little to crow about. Some aspects of the Bill can be improved upon in Committee, and the debate will unquestionably continue—although I suspect that the public debate will concern what is not in the Bill rather than what is.

In so far as the Bill will help disabled people in the future, I support it, and I hope that the House will do the same.

6.24 pm
Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

The Bill is a step forward, although it is a much smaller one than many of us hoped. Much of the agenda was well brought out by the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price) and in the excellent Select Committee report, to which I pay tribute. It is sad that the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) is not with us for this debate, as he has played a leading role in the work done for disabled people; he is indisposed at present, but I hope that he will be back shortly—in time for the Committee stage.

I think back to the Conservative manifesto of 1979, which said that a coherent system of cash benefits would be introduced for disabled people as swiftly as the strength of the economy allows. We have been told repeatedly by Ministers—not least by the Prime Minister—that the economy has gone from strength to strength; presumably, therefore, we should now be looking for the fulfilment of that pledge. Using that measuring rod 11 years on, however, I am not sure whether the Bill is as substantial as many of us hoped. To some extent, it merely tinkers with some problems, and does not deal with others at all.

We must see the Bill in the context of the delay in the community care legislation—which has been put off for another two years—and the non-implementation of several parts of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986. Parts I, II and III of that Act are relevant to some of the matters that we are discussing here, and I have no doubt that we will deal with that in Committee.

Before I get too critical, I should like to pay tribute to the fact the Bill contains one provision for which many hon. Members from both sides of the House have pressed for a long time—the extension of mobility allowance components to those, especially mentally handicapped people, who can physically walk, but are unable to do so independently. There was a time when mentally handicapped people were receiving benefit, until several court cases raised doubts about that. It is good to see that that has now been cleared up—although the Bill seems to suggest that it may be provided at the lower rate of £10. If that is the case, I suspect that it will be inadequate in many instances, and that we may need to return to the matter. I also regret the three-month waiting period. I thought that, in the context of attendance allowance, we were getting away from that. The whole thrust last year was to try to do away with waiting periods. Now we are introducing them, and that is unfortunate.

Perhaps the Minister can clarify the position regarding the extension of mobility allowance to people with agoraphobia—people who, because they have problems in going out, need assistance. MIND has lobbied hon. Members about that.

A number of hon. Members referred to the position with regard to mobility allowance beyond the age of 65. I have a number of difficult cases in that category in my constituency. If community care means anything, there must be adequate support for those beyond the age of 65. That is when so much disability occurs and so much help is needed. We should not be pulling out and failing to provide assistance where it is most needed. RADAR made a strong point about that in its representations to us. It said: RADAR totally rejects the restriction of the new levels of allowance to people who become disabled before age 65. The current rules for Mobility allowance are possibly the single issue on which RADAR receives the most complaints. We do not advocate the extension of Mobility allowance to pensioners as a priority, but a properly constructed disablement costs allowance payable to meet costs of disability rather than payable on the basis of age and cause of disability. That is the level at which the argument should be put—there should not be an automatic cut-off at 65, but people should be judged in the context of their disabilities and needs.

In the past, I have had an opportunity to mention in the House my own family circumstances and our awareness of the costs of disability. I know the great benefit that comes from attendance and mobility allowance. We received two attendance allowances and two mobility allowances simultaneously. That was enough to provide one full-time person to cope with our disabled children when they were alive. Our circumstances were better than those of many people facing similar difficulties. I urge the Minister to look in some depth at the level of resources needed to help disabled people. Some 4.5 million disabled adults—two out of every three—live in households in which there are no earners. Those people are dependent solely on benefits. The proposed extension of mobility and attendance allowance to a wider group, albeit at reduced rates, addresses only two of the extra costs of disability—the attendance and mobility costs.

The Office of Population Censuses and Surveys study found that the most common item of additional expenditure on normal items was fuel for extra heating or hot water. More than half—51 per cent.—of those surveyed thought that they spent more on fuel than they would have done had there not been a disability in the household.

Mencap undertook a survey on the needs of children and adults with profound retardation and multiple handicap. It confirmed the need for additional financial support to cover heating costs. Some 79 per cent. of parents of children with such handicaps and 74 per cent. of the parents of adults with such handicaps needed more money for heating costs. Disabled families face additional costs for heating, diet, laundry, communication, clothing and domestic help, which all add to their bills. However, the legislation does not improve the living conditions of such people. Deaf people often face additional costs of aids and adaptations, and we should make more progress to help them.

As well as the revenue costs, many disabled people have to pay out for capital cost items, which can be expensive. There should be flexibility in the system to deal with their requirements. The Social Security Advisory Committee sent a report to the Secretary of State urging him to increase the rates of income support to take account of some of those costs. People now face additional costs such as the poll tax and water rates, which will certainly increase in future years.

It does not say much for the affluent Britain of the 1990s that disabled people are unable to afford the fuel to heat their houses or have hot water. They are not luxuries but basic necessities. The proposed disabled living allowance must make provision for those extra, basic living costs. Hon. Members have received representations from the Spinal Injuries Association underlining that need, and from Deaf Accord. Those organisations say that, for deaf and hard-of-hearing people, the introduction of an element in the allowance to look after such additional costs is essential. All the representations that we received underlined the need for us to make progress.

I fear that the disability working allowance may not be providing enough incentive for those wishing to return to work or go to work. It should be enough to ensure that there is extra income as a result of the allowance to cover the cost of traveling—which in a region such as mine can sometimes be large—eating away from home and working clothes. The allowance should contain elements of pension rights and certainly a margin of motivation to make the exercise worth while.

The hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mrs. Heal) mentioned the 16-hour minimum limit. Many disabled people may wish to start at a much lower level and build up the number of hours. Having a cut-off of 16 hours does not help us to get the maximum out of the allowance.

We in this country have waited 11 years for progress to be made on disability allowances. There is a contrast between our priorities and those shown by some small European countries. In the Netherlands there is a non means-tested benefit that is adequate to live on, payable to all those who have never been able to work or who become unable to do so during full-time education up to the age of 30. In Denmark, the contributory system has been entirely abolished and there is no discrimination between any group of disabled people. For any single person totally incapable of work, the benefit rate in Denmark on 1 January last year was the equivalent of £106 a week purchasing power. If we compare that to the rate of invalidity benefit, let alone the SDA, we see that the United Kingdom is way behind. There is tremendous room for us to improve. If small countries such as Denmark, Holland and Sweden can do so much more for disabled people and meet their real needs, we should do so here. It is a matter of priority and values.

I do not challenge the wishes of the Ministers present today to make progress, but I only wish that the message would get home to Treasury Ministers so that we have the right priorities on expenditure in these islands.

6.36 pm
Mr. John Hannam (Exeter)

I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for my absence at the beginning of the debate. I was attending and speaking at a meeting upstairs on compensation for haemophiliacs, which I am sure the House will agree is an equal priority.

Like the hon. Members for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) and for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), and as secretary of the all-party disablement group, I welcome the opportunity afforded by the Bill to improve the benefits system for disabled people. I particularly welcome the fact that the Government have used the opportunity to change the assessment procedures for the attendance and mobility allowance, away from the much-criticised medical system towards self-assessment. I welcome the attempt to devise a system to give assistance to people partially capable of work. However, the disability allowance needs much more work, consultation and change, which should be coupled with legislative protection for disabled people in employment, if it is to provide the incentive to work that we all wish.

Last October, a 10-point plan of improvements was announced, which was welcomed. I particularly welcomed the extension of mobility allowance to deaf and blind people, about which the all-party disablement group, hon. Members present and I have been concerned for many years. It took about eight years to get the message through.

The Government have published a consultation document containing their illustrative levels of benefit for the disability working allowance. I regret that that was not published in advance of the Bill to enable disabled groups to assess how the benefit would work. I hope that the Secretary of State will give a guarantee that work on that benefit will proceed in full consultation with the relevant disability groups, so that we can come up with a workable system for disabled people at the end of the Bill's passage. If the working allowance is to be of real benefit to disabled people, we must take their circumstances into account.

The two benefits—family credit and disablement working allowance—have fundamentally different aims. Family credit assists families on low incomes, and the disability working allowance should be of benefit to enable disabled people who are unable to work full time because of their disability to work part time. It is vital to ensure that we do not lose this opportunity to make a workable benefit system for partially capacitated people. My right hon. Friend will know of my long campaign for that objective.

I can identify a number of issues on which we should work during the Bill's process. First, as other speakers have mentioned, the current limit on the capital disregard of £8,000 simply replicates family credit, and should be much higher. Disabled people need substantially more capital than able-bodied people because many items of essential equipment—such as powered wheelchairs and communication equipment—are not available on the NHS.

As advancing technology produces improvements, there is also a dramatic increase in the price of equipment. The cost of such equipment uses up capital that many able-bodied people have to spare for other luxuries of life. Disability often precludes many do-it-yourself jobs that able-bodied people can carry out, which means that disabled people have to pay someone else to do them. Capital often has to be consumed to pay for assistance while a spouse is on holiday.

I urge the Secretary of State to use the example of the independent living fund, where any capital earmarked for expenditure occasioned by disability can be disregarded. Disabled people often receive lump sum payments because of their disability—for example, industrial injury, or compensation for personal injury or redundancy. For many of those people, the opportunity to rehabilitate through part-time work should not be denied them because of restrictive capital limits.

My next query concerns recipients. The allowance should not be limited to people in receipt of certain passporting benefits. It should, for example, be available to deaf people and partially sighted people who are not in receipt of any disability benefit. A functional test of capacity will exist for some claimants when they renew their claim after six months. That could easily apply to new claimants who are not in receipt of any passporting benefits.

On threshold levels, the illustrative figures given by the Department for the working allowance will not provide an adequate incentive for disabled people to work. I quote a true example which came through on the very day on which benefit levels for the working allowance were announced.

Sarah is 32 and lives at home with her parents. She has not worked since 1983 because she has multiple sclerosis. She has a science degree and has worked in industry, and her current benefit income is £58.70 in invalidity benefit and community charge benefit. If she goes to work and earns £34.60 a week, she will get £37.20 in disability working allowance—a net gain of £13.10. However, out of that she will have to meet work-related expenses—fares, working clothes and eating away from home. She lives at home now, but if she were to live in rented accommodation she would pay at least £20 a week in rent and would finish up gaining only 7p in housing benefit—so she would actually lose benefit.

We must examine the thresholds carefully and consider higher ones. We need not grumble about them too much at this stage; I always regard the establishment of new benefits as the beginning of a process. We should be able to consider the thresholds in Committee, and I hope that we can raise them to proper levels over the years ahead. On the hours rule, I welcome the fact that the requirement to work a minimum of 24 hours has been abolished in favour of 16 hours. We have long argued that 24 hours excludes and would exclude many people who are partially capable of work, but I still believe that we need to revise the rule further. What will be the position of someone who has had an accident and who needs to build up his hours gradually until he can work 16 hours or even more? Such an example needs to be accommodated in the system. Nicole Davoud, who has campaigned so much on behalf of multiple sclerosis sufferers, has written to me today—other hon. Members may have had the same letter—confirming that the rule needs revision.

As for the disability living allowance, as one who has campaigned for a number of years on behalf of the deaf-blind, I welcome the new system. Proposals to drop the humiliating and much criticised assessment procedure for the combined mobility and attendance allowance have been welcomed by all the organisations working in this area.

However, it is misleading and confusing for the claimants to call this a disability living allowance, because it is not a new allowance; it is a combination of two existing benefits, plus a new lower rate of attendance and of mobility allowance. There is no doubt that the extra money each week will be welcomed by disabled people who now receive nothing, but it is misleading to imply that a completely new benefit is being introduced. I regret that we have not yet been able to take the step towards a comprehensive disability income scheme that has been advocated for so many years. As my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price) pointed out, the Select Committee produced an excellent report which made a number of useful recommendations in this direction.

My long-term objectives include the hope that this is the first stage of a process and that the Government aim in the long term to introduce a disablement costs allowance. As pressure mounts on my right hon. Friend every time we have these debates, and as the budget grows ever larger, we are approaching the point at which we can effect the changeover. I should like to press this matter and ask again about the long-term plans of the Government to upgrade the severe disablement allowance to the level of invalidity benefit. Initial steps were made in that direction in the previous Social Security Bill, which introduced age-related additions to the severe disablement allowance. What are the long-term plans to meet the high costs of severely disabled people and of elderly disabled people? These are pertinent questions about our continuing policies, and we should discuss them in the context of this good Bill.

I hope that my comments on this progressive Bill have been constructive. I hope too that it can be improved in Committee and thereafter. I congratulate the Government on the advances that they have introduced for disabled people, and I look forward to many more years of improvements, under successive Conservative Governments.

6.45 pm
Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse (Pontefract and Castleford)

too, apologise for missing the Secretary of State's speech—I was engaged on business similar to that described by the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam). Other hon. Members have covered many of the issues, so I shall concentrate on the cut-off at 65.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mrs. Heal) and other hon. Members have pointed out that there are many categories of disability among people aged over 65. The House will be well aware that I have campaigned for many years on the problems of the severe chest diseases suffered by mineworkers. Five times, I have presented Bills to highlight the problem, and arising out of those Bills, the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council held an investigation which reported about two years ago—1but it still did not find it possible to recommend to the Secretary of State that emphysema be described as an industrial disease. That was alarming and regrettable, given the large amount of in-depth medical research and evidence which shows that mineworkers are 10 times more likely to contract the disease than members of the general public.

I recognise that the council's failure to prescribe emphysema as an industrial disease has nothing to do with this Bill. The problem is that the disease tends to progress more rapidly in men over 65. It is a severe disability. Miners reach the stage when they cannot walk more than a yard and find it difficult to lift a cup of tea to their lips. They cannot look after themselves. Most of them live in bungalows or in local authority dwellings that burn solid fuel because they have always enjoyed concessionary fuel.

With each passing year, the miners' wives, who are as much victims of the disease as the miners, become a year older and thus less able to cope. They can no longer carry their husbands to the toilet. They can no longer dress them. However, if these people apply to live in dwellings in which they do not need to carry buckets of coal to mend their fires and warm themselves, British Coal immediately stops their concessionary fuel allowance, because they have converted to gas or some other form of heating. So these unfortunate miners miss out in every way and do not get their rightful compensation. If the disease does not become severe until after they are 65, as often happens, they are cut off and left with this chronic disease. Their plight is distressing indeed. They cannot live without oxygen masks, applied continuously. If that does not happen, they are not classified as disabled.

I appreciate how much more it would cost if those over 65 were included—there is no bottomless pit. However, the medical profession knows that eventually these men will die. That is known before they reach the age of 65. However, they do not qualify for benefit, because their disablement is not so severe when they are below that age.

I ask the Minister to take account of these men. The medical profession ought to be able to take action before they reach the age of 65. The care allowance ought also to take into account the fact that the wives of these men hardly ever think about applying for assistance. They deem it to be their duty to look after their husbands. To have this cut-off at 65 means that many categories of disabled people, not least those to whom I have referred, are treated unfairly.

6.51 pm
Mr. Clifford Forsythe (Antrim, South)

I give a general welcome to the Bill. It should be an improvement on the present position of certain disabled applicants. Any improvement, however small, must be supported so that we can continue to encourage Her Majesty's Government to target benefits properly on those who are most in need.

Surely the starting point for dealing with the problems experienced by the disabled should be to make sure that they are on a par with their able-bodied neighbours in the community. To do that, we must look at the extra cost incurred when a person is disabled. In other words, if an equal amount of benefit were given to two claimants—one disabled and the other able-bodied—by the very nature of things the disabled person is at a distinct disadvantage because of the extra costs incurred as a result of disability.

Every representative body speaking on behalf of the disabled has given a list of the extra costs that the Bill does not seem to take into account. Many disabled children and adults require additional help with higher heating, diet, laundry and clothing costs. They also incur costs involving communications and domestic help. At least in Northern Ireland we do not as yet have the problem of the poll tax and the higher water charges predicted for Great Britain, but all the other additional costs that I have mentioned apply equally throughout the kingdom.

It is doubtful whether the £10 per week lower attendance component will meet the needs of claimants needing help getting out of bed in the morning or retiring for the night, or preparing even one cooked meal each day. While I welcome the extension of the mobility allowance to those who can walk but are not independently mobile, it is unlikely that for £10 they could obtain the services of a car and driver, let alone someone to be with them when they go out. I have not forgotten the independent living survey, which meets some of the higher costs arising from disability, but the future of the fund seems uncertain and the Bill provides no long-term assistance for such people.

I give a warm welcome to the provision which allows a disabled person to try out a job for up to two years before losing the right to return to the full benefit level that he or she received before commencing work. I hope that there will be no attempt by employers to pay low wages to disabled people because such people will be eligible for the disabled working allowance. It is not unknown for some employers to make disabled persons feel that it is a great favour for them to be allowed to work in their firms and that, by implication, they should expect lower wages. What a great insult that is to the many disabled people who are an example to other workers in dedication, hard work, common sense and excellent time keeping.

I am concerned about the means-tested nature of the disability working allowance for disabled people who are anxious to work. The DWA must create the right circumstances 1:o provide sufficient extra finance to cover travelling to work, working clothes, meals at work, savings, building up a pension and, I hope, an increased income when all those things have been looked after. When work-related expenses are taken into account, the disabled person must believe that it is an advantage, not a disadvantage, to take up employment.

I ask the Minister to reconsider the £8,000 capital limit. If we wish to encourage the disabled to save, it is a mistake to impose a capital limit of £8,000. It would surely be fairer to increase that figure, or even to disregard all capital. Situations can arise, through accidents or terrorist action, which make citizens, through no fault of their own, disabled for life. Sadly, we have many such cases in Northern Ireland. Let us not add insult to injury for those unfortunate people. Let us show our compassion by disregarding sums of money awarded to them which. if the truth were known, they would gladly give away if they could only return to their former way of life.

It is disappointing that the Bill will not apply equally to all citizens, regardless of age. Surely those over 65 ought to be treated in the same way as all other citizens. I ask the Minister to ensure that local offices are fully aware during the implementation of the measure that the disablement working allowance cannot be applied for until a person has a job. At that point, disablement benefit ceases. While the claim is being processed, therefore, no benefit is payable. I urge the Minister to ensure that all local offices process such claims as speedily as possible.

I have mentioned the various improvements that we should like to be made to the Bill. I hope that in Committee the Minister will be persuaded to consider constructive suggestions which I know would improve the lot of many disabled people.

6.57 pm
Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

My speech will be brief because I hope that the contents of the Bill will be fully explored in Committee. The fact that we do not intend to divide the House suggests that we believe that the Bill contains some good things. However, it does not go far enough. The Minister could reply that that is always our argument, but if we did not put forward that argument continually no improvement would be made to social security and welfare benefits.

The point has already been made that the £10 allowance is inadequate. If hon. Members think about the things oi. which they spend £10, they will realise how insignificant a sum it is in terms of additional social security benefits. I do not believe that the allowance will be successful in encouraging people to return to work. Nevertheless, it is a step in the right direction. One only has to think of mobility costs. It costs £2 per day in bus fares to travel into town from where I live. If disabled people are able to travel to work, most will do so by bus. They will need help to get to town, but many will try to do so if they believe that they can succeed.

The Bill places more pressure on DSS staff. I have received nothing but help and co-operation from the office with which I have dealt since becoming a Member of Parliament and I am conscious of the pressures under which it works. During the recess, I took the opportunity of visiting the office. I informed the manager of my visit, not as a Member of Parliament but as a member of the public, with some of my constituents, to see what happens. I was appalled at the indignity that claimants suffer and the long waiting time. I was even more appalled at the pressures on the people behind the counter. If our constituents who, through no fault of their own, depend on benefits are to be dealt with in a proper and dignified manner, the system should enable the people behind the counter to provide such a service.

We shall explore the Bill further in Committee. It is a step in the right direction, but certain parts of it need amending and some benefits need increasing. I hope that when it emerges from Committee it will be a better Bill.

7.1 pm

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price) ended his speech on a poetic note, referring to a wave coming in on the top of a tide. That metaphor is perhaps more helpful to Labour Members, as the present tide has defied the laws of nature and taken eleven and a half years to come in, whereas normally tides come in twice a day. Tides often have another unfortunate effect—they not only come in but go out, leaving a mudscape that is unsightly and ugly.

We must consider what is behind the Bill. One hates to be accused of being churlish, but much of it is cosmetic and its main effect is to recycle money. The hon. Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham), like many other hon. Members who have participated in the debate, has made a distinguished contribution and has a deep commitment to the needs of disabled people. Unfortunately, as he confessed, he was in some difficulty because he was expecting to speak tomorrow and had to rely on a handout from the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation for most of his speech. He unfairly attacked my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) for referring to the finances of the Bill, which are absolutely crucial. Our 6.5 million disabled people have been waiting a long time for a Bill that is radical, progressive and fundamental. Those people, who have been short-changed by life or cheated by nature, have a right to expect something far better than the Bill. Without question, there are improvements in the Bill. Hon. Members have complained about how disabled benefits have worked, but some of the Bill's provisions will be effective.

There are two parts to any Bill—first, the philosophy of whether it will work and whether it is the right thing to do and, secondly, how it underpins measures and the generosity behind it. We hear daily from Conservative Members about the improving prosperity of our society, but what share of that is going to disabled people? The Bill paints a different picture. It is a means of recycling money. All disabled people have a complex income structure from multiple sources, but the Bill attempts to rob Peter to pay Peter.

"The Way Ahead" was part of the Government's much trumpeted process of targeting. The Government are brilliant at targeting income tax handouts on the best off, but the improvements in benefits for disabled people will be financed from existing benefits. That must be understood. Projecting forward is the only sensible way of gauging their benefits. These are wedge-shaped cuts. The point of the wedge is felt immediately and, although it may be thin and slight, it expands over the years and an enormous amount of money is involved.

If we are to make a sensible judgment, we must consider the other changes that the Government have made, often to little known benefits of which people are unaware. A Bill of this kind is heralded with much publicity and adjectival assault from the Government, but what effect have their other little cuts had? The disability working allowance is expected to be self-financing. The total cost of the allowance will be covered by the loss of other benefits paid to disabled people. From the Government's point of view, it is even better than that because the Government will profit from the additional £10 million income tax that recipients are expected to pay.

The disability living allowance will involve an estimated additional cost of £120 million in 1992–93—not a huge sum of public expenditure—rising to £240 million by 1993–94. After the first few years, that additional cost will be more than outweighed by the savings resulting from the other proposals in "The Way Ahead".

The biggest cut, which was made in the Social Security Act 1990, is the abolition of the earnings-related element of invalidity benefit. That is a bit of a mouthful and is little understood, but it is a vital lifeline to many disabled people. The earnings-related element was introduced by the Labour Government's Social Security Pensions Act 1975, which had all-party support but was savagely cut by the Social Security Act 1986, the effects of which were expected to save about £400 million per year by 2013 and £1 billion by 2003—far more than the amount needed to cover the entire cost of this Bill. According to Government figures in parliamentary answers, the abolition of what remained of the earnings-related invalidity benefit is expected to save a further £1.3 billion net by 2025–26.

The second major cut made by the Social Security Act 1990 as part of "The Way Ahead" package was the abolition of reduced earnings allowance for the victims of industrial injuries and diseases. Again, this was the culmination of a series of salami cuts in that benefit over the years. The abolition of what remained is expected to cut a further £130 million by 2001–02.

Much play was made of the changes in the disregard to help disabled people back to work. The Bill may have that effect, but another Bill which is to be brought before us next week cuts statutory sick pay and shifts the burden to employers. That must be a disincentive for employers to employ disabled people and will have a further balancing effect on any benefit from the changes in disregard.

The Government are entitled to argue, as I am sure that they will, that the money has to come from somewhere, but there are far better ways of obtaining it. The lady who was Prime Minister at 3.30 pm—so far as I know, she is still Prime Minister; I would not want my remark to cause alarm among Conservative Members—explained how the Government would make changes in terms of the waste of money on armaments in past 40 years. Despite the Gulf crisis and other dangers in the world, the peace dividend will result in major savings. Surely, therefore, the worst possible way to raise money to improve conditions for people with disabilities is the way that has been used by the Government, whereby benefits to which those people were already entitled have been taken away. That is like providing a starving child with a meal by taking away his shirt, or mending the walls of a house by taking stones from its foundations. The disability groups and the bodies which represent them will judge the Bill and the Government's record as unhelpful and ungenerous.

7.10 pm
Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

The Government's case in promoting the Bill, even before it appeared, has been an inverted pyramid of ministerial claims that rest on but a pinhead of fact. The pyramid was tottering to destruction long before today, as Ministers' claims for their proposals were scrutinised and rejected by all the major organisations of and for disabled people. In the words of the briefing for this debate from the House of Commons Library, their reaction is one of "extreme anger and disappointment".

The Secretary of State in his speech talked about the "cliff edge". In doing so, he reminded me that Peter Large of the Disablement Income Group—than whom no one in the voluntary sector is more widely respected in this House—described "The Way Ahead", the policy paper on which the Bill is founded, as nothing but a narrowing stony ledge". As for the Government's claims about bringing some coherence into cash provision for disabled people, he comments, the future promises to be a worrying mess"; and he concludes that ministerial … talk about a more coherent system is a sign of delirium. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), in opening the debate from this side of the House, comprehensively demolished the Secretary of State's case for regarding the Bill, in any meaningful sense, as a bright new way ahead for Britain's 6.5 million people with disabilities. What they and their organisations seek, and the Bill fails to provide, is urgent relief from the hugely increased gap in living standards that divides people with disabilities from those of most other people in Britain today. Average male earnings have increased by 20 per cent. while the present Government have been in power, yet the basic level of benefits for disabled people has risen by less than 1 per cent. Ministers can juggle the figures as much as they like, but that is the unvarnished truth about the priorities of this Government as they affect people with disabilities and others more fortunate.

Let us consider the pinhead of fact in the Government's inverted pyramid. It is incontrovertibly true that, taken together, the Government's proposals as set out in the policy paper which they published in January will, as they claim, increase expenditure in the short term, but even this claim is subject to major qualification. The qualification is not mine or that of the organisations of and for disabled people, but one made by Ministers themselves in reply to parliamentary questions since "The Way Ahead"—heralded as a policy to take us into the next century—was published in January. What their replies to my questions and those of other right hon. and hon. Members show is that, in 10 years, the net increase in spending will be only £6 million. I leave it to any senior wranglers in the House to decide what percentage contribution that will make to narrowing the huge gap in living standards between disabled people and those in our society whose needs are much less compelling.

Yet the claims made for the Government's proposals are still uncritically accepted even by news editors of high standing. After all the dust thrown in their eyes by Whitehall's news managers, how many news editors are aware of the Government's own admission that virtually all "extra" spending on social security benefits for disabled people has been the result of more people becoming entitled to benefits, not least the attendance and mobility allowances, that were introduced before they came to power? Again, how many recipients of the "facts" churned out by the Government's news managers are aware that there were 1 million disabled losers from the so-called "reform" of social security that took effect in April 1988?

Many thousands, even of the most severely disabled people, have had no increase in their incomes since that date, notwithstanding the effect of inflation over the past two and a half years. They are people who were receiving help for their additional requirements under the supplementary benefit scheme which terminated with the change to income support. The help that they have lost was for extra heating, the high laundry costs that increasing incontinence can cause, special diets and paid assistance to enable them to go on living in their own homes. I have drawn repeated attention in the past two years to the idiotic myopia in Richmond house where the Department of Health provides expensive drugs for people with AIDS, while the Department of Social Security cruelly undermines them by failing to give them enough money to afford recommended diets.

The living standards of people with disabilities have also been further reduced by the poll tax. A recent survey carried out by the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation showed that nearly a quarter of the disabled respondents were over £400 a year worse off, while over half were over £300 a year worse off. Many of them are using the attendance and mobility allowances to meet the poll tax.

We have had some very well-informed speeches about the Government's record and proposals in this debate, notably from my hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Staffordshire (Mrs. Heal), for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse), for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) and for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn). We had important speeches as well from the hon. Members for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price), for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) and for Exeter (Mr. Hannam). Sadly, my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) has not been able to intervene in this debate, but he will soon be back—I hope tomorrow—ready as always to argue the claims of disabled people.

What emerges from the debate is that to bundle together the attendance and mobility allowances, in spite of the alterations that the Government propose, and to call the combination a new benefit is to mix truth with propaganda. The Government want to give the impression that they have now tackled the extra costs of disability. Their so-called disability living allowance does no such thing. It is an extension of existing allowances and the new components, set at £10 in each case, have been dismissed as "derisory" by the organisations that speak for disabled people. Even whatever meagre help with their attendance and mobility needs can be bought with £10 will be denied to the vast majority of disabled people by the age bar.

The Government argue that more pensioners are benefiting through occupational pension schemes and have higher incomes with which to meet their needs. The Social Services Committee, of which the hon. Member for Eastleigh is a distinguished member, looked at the evidence and in paragraph 29 of House of Commons Paper 646 concluded: The Government should not assume that disabled people over pension age have necessarily enjoyed the same income rises as other pensioners. Indeed, common sense tells us that it is younger pensioners who have the higher incomes and older pensioners who are most disabled. Just because some people have better incomes does not remove the Government's responsibility to direct help at those most in need.

If the disability living allowance lived up to its name, all would be well. It would recognise the other costs of disability, including special diets, extra heating, the need to employ domestic assistance and help with communication, of which disability organisations are constantly providing evidence but which the Government continually fail to recognise. The OPCS reports themselves reveal that, although only 18 per cent. of adults reported extra expenditure on food—OPCS 2, table 4.7—this was, at £6.20 per week, by far the single most expensive item; and expenditure was almost identical in all severity categories—OPCS 2, table 4.9. Equally, the small number of children with digestive disorders cost their parents four times as much as others—OPCS 5, table 4.16. What does the Bill do for them?

Nor does the so-called disability living allowance help disabled people with exceptionally high costs. The experience of the independent living fund has shown that there are several thousand people who need a lot of money to live independently in the community. Average payments made by the fund are £64 a week, but some payments exceed £400. The type of help now provided on a discretionary basis by the ILF should be a statutory right of disabled people.

One aspect of the allowance causes me particular concern. The House will know that I was instrumental in setting up the Motability scheme. The Bill states that, where a claimant is awarded both a mobility and an attendance component, they should be awarded for the same period. If this means that someone who would normally be awarded mobility allowance for three years or more would have the length of allowance reduced, they would no longer be able to use the Motability scheme. Will the Minister be commenting on the concern that this is causing among disabled people?

Even the most charitable person must describe the DLA as seriously flawed. It is difficult to find anything as complimentary to say about its siamese twin, the disability working allowance. This DWA bears no relation to the partial incapacity benefit for which disability organisations have campaigned for over 20 years. It bears no relation either to any of the schemes that have been operated successfully by several of our European partners—if the Prime Minister will allow the phrase—for many years now. The DWA is little more than family credit without the families and incorporates all the poverty and unemployment traps of that misbegotten benefit.

As the Government readily concede, the DWA is, in their colourful language, "cost-neutral". That means, of course, that it will involve no extra spending by the Government. In practice, there will be no help, and thus no incentive to leave invalidity benefits for people with capital of over £8,000—even if it comes from a compensation award—or for those whose partners are working. DWA would begin to qualify for the name of a partial incapacity benefit only if the sole income taken into account were that from the claimant's own earnings. The list of access benefits is also likely to exclude entirely many deaf or partially sighted people. Again, the need to work 16 hours will exclude many people who, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire said, wish to build up their hours slowly, for example, after a serious accident.

Even people who do qualify will receive precious little incentive. RADAR has provided examples of how people currently claiming invalidity benefit would gain from the allowance. A single person who takes a job with net earnings of £50 a week will gain a little under £16, after taking loss in community charge benefit and housing benefit into account. A married person with earnings of £100 will gain under £20 a week. Once the costs of getting to work and other expenses are taken into account, there will be little left to provide disabled people with any improvements in their lifestyles. Moreover, both RADAR and Nicole Davoud, who, as the Minister knows, has worked long and hard over many years for a partial incapacity benefit, have pointed out that the absurdly steep taper will cause marginal tax rates of over 94 per cent. after loss of housing and community charge benefit. How can the Minister possibly defend that kind of mockery in the treatment of disabled people?

It is not in the Bill, but I understand that the additional partial incapacity test proposed by the Treasury for renewal claims refers not to earnings loss due to disability but to difficulty in finding a job. This is an incredible commentary on the abject failure of the Government's employment policies. Research and the experience of countless thousands of people with disabilities have shown that difficulty in finding work is predominantly caused by discrimination. If we cannot have a partial incapacity benefit, would it not, as the Disability Alliance has suggested, be more effective to introduce antidiscrimination legislation plus an extended linking rule for everyone?

The Prime Minister no doubt considers this to be an even more dangerous socialist policy than those espoused by the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine). Yet she has been hob-nobbing for the past few days with George Bush, that other notorious leftist, who signed into law this summer the Americans with Disabilities Act. That very important Act extends the hugely successful anti-discrimination legislation that the hotbed of socialism that is the United States has operated successfully over 15 years.

I recall the time, 15 years ago, when the Labour Government introduced their legislation for mobility allowance, invalid care allowance and non-contributory invalidity pension. Of course, we were criticised for not going far enough, but we were setting the framework on which we would build. One of my most earnest hopes was to smash the contributory principle and end the wholly unjust exclusion from benefits, as of right, of those unable to pay insurance contributions. It was an important breakthrough even to start down that road, just as we led the world on access to the built environment for disabled people.

Today, we lag behind other countries. Where might we have been now if, in the past 11 years, there had been a Government who, instead of reallocating resources from the poor to the very rich, had fulfilled their responsibilities to those most in need? Fortunately, the chances of this Government now enduring to write the regulations under the Bill are not good. In truth, as they know, their extensive research and consultation since January have resulted only in a change of names for longstanding benefits, to the bitter disappointment of everyone in the voluntary sector who knows the facts.

We have all, on both sides of the House, as the Minister must know, been flooded with angry representations about the Bill. So I give notice this evening that we shall do everything we can, from this side of the House, to improve the Bill in Committee. By common consent outside the Government, there is much to improve.

In his resignation speech last week, the former deputy Prime Minister, the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe), said that, in the mouth of the present Prime Minister, words have lost their meaning. This Bill does not provide for a disability living allowance properly so-called. In the words of the Disability Alliance, the Disability Living Allowance is clearly nothing of the kind. Why its name was changed from the original Disability Allowance is quite inexplicable. Both names are completely misleading. The new name of Disability Living Allowance if anything compounds the confusion. Nor does the Bill provide, in any real sense, for a disability working allowance worthy of the name. We shall do our level best in Committee to improve the Bill in the direction which Britain's 6.5 million disabled people overwhelmingly now want this House urgently to proceed.

7.29 pm
The Minister for Social Security and Disabled People (Mr. Nicholas Scott)

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price) ended his speech with Clough's well-known words and drew attention to the improvements that have been possible in the quality of life of disabled people over recent years. Having borne my present responsibilities for three and a half years, I believe passionately that the 1990s are likely to see more substantial advances in the quality of life and opportunities for disabled people in several different areas.

Demographic pressures will compel employers to look beyond the disabilities that confront them to the abilities of so many disabled people. Improved access to homes, offices, workshops and leisure facilities will also improve dramatically. We shall also have improved and more coherent delivery of services for the disabled and technology will enable many more of them to live independently and earn their own livings.

The Government are determined to press on with all that and to encourage it to the greatest possible extent so that we can achieve that improvement in the next 10 years. There is also a role to be played in an improved, more generous and more coherent structure of benefits for disabled people. Contrary to the moaning minnies on the Opposition Benches, I believe that the Bill is an important step in that direction.

I recognise that the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) has a duty to oppose our legislation because that is the role of the Opposition under our constitution, but he was far less generous than I expected when he considered the Bill's provisions. His criticism of us for marketing the two new measures was blatantly absurd. He takes great pleasure in saying that most of the increase in expenditure on disabled people under this Government has come about as a result of increased take-up. We market the benefits and make people aware of them because we want people to take them up. We have also made many of those benefits more generous and flexible while we have been in office. I fully recognise that we need to market the new benefits effectively so that people take them up and benefit from them.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West also said that the disabled living allowance was not simple or easy to understand. However, he apparently plans to return to a system with the complexities of additional requirements or to a points-based comprehensive disability allowance which would be immensely complex to operate and enormously dependent on medical assessments, which we are seeking to move away from. That would not begin to meet the needs of disabled people. I shall refer later to the improvements in assessment and adjudication that we have in mind, but the hon. Member for Oldham, West has it the wrong way round.

What is the philosophical approach of the hon. Member for Oldham, West to the disability working allowance? Does he want to encourage disabled people who can and wish to work to do so? We aim to do that, but the hon. Gentleman seemed to imply that we were trying to force people off invalidity benefit on to DWA. That is not true. We want disabled people to have the opportunity to achieve the dignity, independence and self-respect which comes from being able to earn one's own living.

The change in the linking rule is as important as the introduction of the allowance. I can take the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mrs. Heal) with me when I say that if someone gets a job and then finds that he cannot hold it down or the employer feels that that person is not up to it, the person can retain the underlying entitlement to invalidity benefit or to severe disablement allowance. That will be an important encouragement.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West also criticised our general approach to disability and, I suppose, our generosity. I have referred to the figures before and I do not apologise for repeating them now. The last Labour Government managed, commendably, to increase expenditure for the long-term sick and disabled by £220 million per year during their period in office. We have improved that expenditure by £370 million per year during our period in office. That demonstrates our commitment to meeting the needs of the disabled.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West also used a slightly complicated phrase about unbundling which I think that I eventually grasped. The hon. Gentleman was correct to say that beneficiaries will need to know what they are receiving. The new arrangements, which bring together procedures for the care and mobility components in the new benefit, will bring to the beneficiary a single award notice which will make it clear exactly what the person is obtaining when the award is made. There is no great problem about that.

The hon. Gentleman was concerned that blind and partially sighted people would not get the new allowance. Many blind and partially sighted people will be getting invalidity benefit or severe disablement allowance before they start work, and registered blind people can receive the disability premium in income support, housing benefit or community charge benefit. Both those groups would satisfy the qualifying benefit test for the disability working allowance.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh referred to the momentum of progress, reinforcing Clough's words. I compliment the Select Committee on Social Services and my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh on the work that they have done in relation to disability. We consider their advice most carefully. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh mentioned his aim and that of the Select Committee to bring the severe disablement allowance up to the level of invalidity benefit. Legislation would not be necessary to achieve that. I have no objection in principle to that, but it is a matter of resources and priorities and I cannot see an early prospect of achieving it. Nevertheless, I have noted carefully what my hon. Friend said.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh also asked us to extend the scope of invalid care allowance. I am sure that the whole question of carers will have to be addressed more carefully in future than in the past. The growing awareness of disability and care for the elderly and the role that carers play in our society is recognised in our introduction of the carer's premium in income support, through our improving disregards for carers and extending the premium for eight weeks after bereavement. Those may be small steps, but they are steps in the right direction to a wider recognition of the role that carers play.

Sir David Price

In his response to the fifth report of the Select Committee on Social Services, will my right hon. Friend bundle his views about the Government's intentions in a Green Paper? As members of the Select Committee on Social Services technically no longer exist, I am sure that our ghosts would lie happy if we felt that a full response was to come in the form of a Green Paper outlining the Government's future intentions

Mr. Scott

I will ponder that suggestion and discuss it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh also tried to persuade us to link the assessment for disability benefits to the assessment for community care. The new system will make use of any existing evidence about a disabled person's condition. We want to make the process more coherent and interrelated.

The hon. Members for Mid-Staffordshire, for Oldham, West and for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) and my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) referred to a comprehensive disability benefit of one kind or another. Obviously cost is involved. One of the schemes put forward before we published "The Way Ahead" could not have been introduced for less than £3 billion per year. I must reinforce the point that I made to the hon. Member for Oldham, West. Such a benefit would inevitably be complex and it would inevitably depend heavily on medical manpower. In moving to a new system, there would be many losers. There would have to be a considerable period of transitional protection. The hon. Member for Oldham, West is aware of the complexities

Mr. Kirkwood

Why should there be substantially more losers?

Mr. Scott

As we discovered when we introduced the new social security benefits, if the pattern is changed there will inevitably be many gainers, but if the cost is to be controlled at the point of change there will inevitably be losers. Our study showed that there would be a substantial number of losers and we would want to avoid that. I warn Opposition Members that if they are thinking of going down that route, if ever they have the opportunity, they should bear that point carefully in mind.

I was asked why we settled on 16 hours. We did so not least because we were persuaded in that direction by the many disability organisations which commented on our proposals in "The Way Ahead". I promise the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire that I understand her point about those unable to work to that extent. If they are on invalidity benefit or severe disablement allowance, they can earn up to £35 per week under the therapeutic earnings rule. Then, perhaps, by gaining experience with that opportunity, they may get beyond the 16-hour limit and be able to work to a greater extent. It is a stepped approach to encouraging people to get back into work and the therapeutic earnings provision is important.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) congratulated us and recognised our efforts to improve the pattern of benefits. I think that my hon. Friend was the author of the original phrase targeted at the Opposition—that it is all very well for them to promise the earth and to deliver the International Monetary Fund. He recognises that steady improvement in meeting the needs of disabled people is being achieved in a structure within which we are playing our part in the Government's overall economic strategy.

My hon. Friend mentioned the independent living fund and recognised that we have doubled provision for next year to £62 million. The arrangements for community care are planned to come into operation in April 1993. That will obviously have an impact on the caseload in terms of those helped by the independent living fund. We shall obviously have to consider what transitional arrangements to make for existing beneficiaries and perhaps a small number of new cases. In general, beyond 1993 the ILF caseload should be looking towards local authorities under the community care provisions rather than to central Government.

My hon. Friend and others mentioned the problem with Motability when mobility allowance is granted for less than three years. Well over 70 per cent. of mobility allowance awards are made for life. Clearly, there is no problem in any of their cases. If problems arise as a result of the new arrangements, I will certainly discuss them with Motability to see whether there is some practical way of overcoming them.

I was grateful for one speech from the Opposition side of the House which gave a general welcome to the proposals, but went on to raise several points which were properly recognised as being more appropriate for discussion in Committee. Several hon. Members seemed to volunteer to serve on the Committee, and I look forward to welcoming them aboard in due course.

I know of the problems that were raised by the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) and of his devotion to the cause of miners who suffer from the three terrible respiratory diseases associated with that industry. People under retirement age could qualify for the various benefits that are available. Over retirement age, they could qualify for the care components of the new benefits. I hope that that will be of some support for them. As I have said, I know of the hon. Gentleman's long campaign and how much it is appreciated by those who suffer from those debilitating conditions.

The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) mentioned agoraphobia. I cannot say that every person who suffers from agoraphobia would qualify for the mobility component, but that is certainly one of the groups we had in mind when we designed the extension of mobility allowance within the new benefit. I slightly disagreed with the hon. Gentleman at one point when he seemed to be suggesting that we were trying to bribe people back to work. In three and a half years of meeting and discussing with disabled people, I have found that the vast majority of them want to work. They have a driving wish to be able to earn their own living and acquire the dignity and self-respect of which I spoke earlier. The disability working allowance will be a tremendous encouragement for them to do that.

The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) referred to awards of compensation, and in the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland, with which I am familiar, to compensation perhaps for terrorist activities. If money is given to someone in compensation for a personal injury or accident, there is a simple answer—to put the money in trust as it is then not regarded as capital for the purposes of income-related benefits

Mr. Wigley

indicated assent

Mr. Scott

The hon. Member for Caernarfon nods in agreement.

I said that I wanted to make a particular point about the improvements that we plan to make in adjudication and assessment procedures. Since I have been in the Department, there has been considerable dissatisfaction with some aspects of those procedures. The new system that we intend to introduce will be more speedy and more streamlined and will provide a simple and effective service to the public. We are anxious to achieve that. There will be one claim form, one adjudication system for both components, and a significant reduction in medical examinations, thereby improving the scope for dealing with claims more speedily. A second-tier review means that dissatisfied claimants will be able to have their decisions looked at again quickly by another adjudication officer, without going straight to a tribunal with all the delays implicit in that procedure.

I believe that we shall be able to reduce the medical input by making the decisions by administrative adjudication officers—reflecting the policy intention that the important factor is not the medical condition but the effect that it has on people's care and mobility needs. We intend to place the emphasis firmly on self-assessment and on supplementary evidence from those in contact with the claimant, giving proper weight to the judgment of those in the best position to know the effect that a claimant's condition has on his or her life

Mr. Allen McKay

Will more notice be taken of the general practitioner? Time and again, there is a difference of opinion between the general practitioner and the departmental officer, with a lot of controversy and in some cases loss of benefit, although some claims are later deemed to be correct

Mr. Scott

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made that point in his opening speech. In essence, the best that an examining medical practitioner can do is to take a snapshot of the person's condition on the day on which he sees that disabled person. Many conditions relapse or progress at different times. It is much better to rely on the evidence of someone continuously in touch with the disabled person who can give a much better and longer-term assessment of their condition and the effect on their way of life. That will be an improvement. It will also make the best use of scarce medical resources. When we need an examination or judgment of one sort or another, we shall be able to have higher standards. The system will be cost-effective. For the first time, too, we shall be introducing a system in which people with attendance needs will have independent rights of appeal. The balance of membership of the disability appeal tribunals again shifts the emphasis from medical conditions to considerations of care and mobility needs. All those matters will result in substantial improvements, and they have been warmly welcomed by many disability organisations.

The full package of measures in "The Way Ahead" and in the Bill will mean extra help for 850,000 disabled people, and £300 million added on in 1993–94 to the £8.3 billion already being spent on the long-term sick and disabled. We shall remove the rigid distinction in the present benefit structure between ability and inability to work and have a more comprehensive, generous and coherent system of disability benefits than ever before. I believe that we are laying down firm foundations for the future structure of our benefits system which will considerably benefit disabled people. The two allowances in the Bill are wholly beneficial and should be welcomed by the whole House. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).