HC Deb 06 December 1993 vol 234 cc6-8
3. Mr. Wigley

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what steps he intends to take to safeguard the needs of those dependent on invalidity benefit; and if he will make a statement.

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

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the statement that my right hon. Friend made to the House last week. He said—and I repeat—that there will be no cash losers among existing beneficiaries of invalidity benefit at the point of change.

Mr. Wigley

Is the Minister aware that citizens advice bureaux in all parts of these islands are reporting cases of severely disabled people having their invalidity benefit withdrawn? They say that when the cases go to appeal, the independent tribunal service comes out against the Benefits Agency. Is he aware of the cases of disabled people being told that they should be looking for jobs such as swimming pool attendants, embalmers or artists' models? Surely that is not the road we should be going down. Will the Minister give an assurance that in any new regime severely disabled people will not be put in an invidious position?

Mr. Scott

The simple target set by the replacement of invalidity benefit with incapacity benefit will be to ensure that those who are rendered incapable of work by reason of their medical condition will receive benefit. Those who do not pass that test will not.

Mr. Waterson

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the people who will most welcome a more rigorous medical check for cases of invalidity benefit are those of our constituents who are genuinely incapable of work due to disability of one sort or another?

Mr. Scott

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend. Another group who will widely welcome the reforms being introduced are general practitioners who have not found it an attractive duty to be gate-keepers for the existing benefit.

Mr. Bradley

Is not the truth about the new incapacity benefit best summed up by the Disability Alliance, which described it as penny pinching at its most callous"? Will the Minister confirm that terminally ill people who are eligible for the new benefit will have to wait 12 months before they receive the full rate of entitlement? Will he explain today the objective difference in employment prospects for persons who, according to the new test, will receive 25 points if they "cannot remain standing unassisted" and for persons who will receive only 21 points because they cannot remain standing unassisted for more than a few minutes"?

Mr. Scott

On the medical tests, the hon. Gentleman knows that we have published a consultation document which is now being considered by a number of organisations and individuals. A panel of some 80 people is being recruited to analyse the tests and to make judgments on their effectiveness. We believe that that is the right way—it is based, after all, on the methodology used by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys on which the disability living allowance was based. That is a sound way of judging entitlement to the new benefit. We shall consult widely, and we will listen in particular to medical opinion about the effectiveness of the tests.

The hon. Gentleman knows that special arrangements have been made under the DLA for all claims from terminally ill people to be put on to a special fast track. That target is now being met and exceeded for those benefits.

Mr. Ian Taylor

Will my right hon. Friend take no nonsense from the Opposition on this, as benefits paid to the sick and the disabled have trebled to £15 billion up to this year? Does that not show the Government's commitment? Will my hon. Friend confirm that existing beneficiaries will not have to pay tax on their benefits under the new arrangements? Will my right hon. Friend restate the Government's concern, and will he make sure that there is no misunderstanding or scaremongering by the Opposition?

Mr. Scott

I confirm what my hon. Friend says. Existing beneficiaries are not to be taxed. In general, we have taken the view that benefits paid as income replacement should be subject to tax; that is why the new benefit will be taxable.