HC Deb 15 April 1991 vol 189 cc3-4
2. Sir Anthony Meyer

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what is the most recent figure for the increase in spending on benefits for long-term sick and disabled people since 1979.

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

We have increased spending on long-term sick and disabled people by £5.6 billion in real terms over the last 12 years, to over £10 billion a year.

Sir Anthony Meyer

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the most encouraging aspects about his reply was not just its proof that the Government have done far more for the long-term sick and disabled than the Labour Government ever did, or than the Opposition seem to be planning to do, but that the Government are boosting the morale of those people by making it more possible for them to earn their living and go out into the world?

Mr. Scott

I agree with my hon. Friend. The Government have spent an extra £470 million in real terms per annum compared with £310 million in real terms during the period when Labour was in office. That is ahead of the full implementation of our proposals in "The Way Ahead" which will aid another 850,000 people at a cost of an extra £300 million in 1993–94.

Mr. Tom Clarke

How much of that money was obtained from the savings that the Government achieved as a result of the shameful decision announced with the minimum of publicity by a junior Minister in another place not to implement the remaining sections of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986? That decision has shocked organisations of and for disabled people. Since the Secretary of State had much to do with the drafting of those sections, will he assure him that that anger will not go away?

Mr. Scott

The 1986 Act was passed in circumstances very different from those that exist today or are in prospect when the main responsibility for care in the community, the representation of disabled people and the meeting of their needs passes to local authorities and is properly within their remit.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the most important aspects is to ensure that disabled people and others get the benefits to which they are entitled? Can he give the number of people who have taken up mobility and attendance allowance in recent years?

Mr. Scott

Those figures have increased dramatically, but we are still not satisfied with the arrangements for paying disabled people the benefits to which they are entitled. I recently announced that from June the benefits inquiry line, which we have been piloting in Reading in recent months, will be introduced nationally. Those who think that they are entitled to a benefit will be able to telephone a trained operator and receive a personal letter advising them of their entitlements. Many of them will be able to get a completed application form for their signature.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Is the Minister aware that the increased spending about which he spoke relates, almost entirely, not to higher benefits but to new recipients of benefits that were introduced by this Government's predecessors? Will he confirm that since 1979 average earnings have gone up by more than 20 per cent., but disability benefits by only 1 per cent? Is not that why huge numbers of disabled people complained so bitterly to the Prime Minister at his recent meeting with their organisations? Does he intend to accept the Lords amendment to his Disability Living Allowance and Working Allowance Bill on the future of the independent living fund?

Mr. Scott

The right hon. Gentleman asks a number of questions. First, the extra resources have been found and, for example, our commitment for 1992 to introduce the disability working allowance from the starting date of the legislation compares favourably with the slow, gradual and uncertain introduction of the mobility allowance by the previous Labour Government. Since we came to office we have found the extra resources to deal with the increased take-up of benefits right across the board. The right hon. Gentleman asked about the future of the independent living fund. We have announced extra resources for that and the long-term future will have to take account of the duties that will flow to local authorities after 1993.