§ 4. Mr. Wigley
To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many people currently receive incapacity benefit; and what was the equivalent figure for invalidity benefit 12 months earlier. 
§ The Minister for Social Security and Disabled People (Mr. Alistair Burt)
At 30 November 1995, just under 1.7 million people were claiming incapacity benefit at either the short-term higher rate or the long-term rate. The equivalent figure for invalidity benefit a year earlier was 1.73 million.
§ Mr. Wigley
The Minister will recall that his predecessor—the current Secretary of State for Wales—announced on 27 January last year that there would be a saving of £410 million in this financial year from the change from invalidity benefit to incapacity benefit. Given that it is clear that such a reduction in expenditure will not be achieved, will the Minister give an assurance that his Department will not try to claw back that money by making the incapacity test even stiffer? Will the Minister assure the House that the Government will not try to get the money back by, for example, cutting the mobility allowance for hospitals to rake in £40 million? Will he instead find additional resources to maintain the level of support needed by those currently on invalidity or incapacity benefit?
§ Mr. Burt
A figure that I recognise better is £210 million in the first year. The point that I should convey to the House and to the hon. Gentleman is the outstanding increase in invalidity benefit in previous years—it doubled over a decade. It was important to put a curb on that growth. The figures that I have given to the House show that that has happened. It is too early in the year to say what the savings will be at the end of the year, because of the build-up of case load. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the incapacity work test will remain properly designed to ensure that those who can work do so, and that those who are incapable of work are not obliged to register for it. We have no intention of changing the test or of making any of the other changes to achieve the object that the hon. Gentleman mentioned.
§ Mr. Burt
Yes, my hon. Friend is quite right. Some 7,400 people are now receiving disability working allowance, with an average payment of £54 a week. Some changes were made this year: the single person's threshold was increased; the couple's allowance was 132 increased; and, an extra £10 a week is available for those working 30 hours or more. I hope that the disability working allowance becomes better known and is taken up more often, because it is an important part of our progress to ensure that people who are able to work get back in work.
§ Mr. Alan Howarth
After nine months of the new incapacity benefit, will the Minister accept that recipients of the old invalidity benefit were not, after all, a load of malingerers, scroungers and leadswingers? Why did the Department of Social Security set up its data-recording procedures so that we cannot be told which claimants of incapacity benefit were claimants of invalidity benefit? Is it because the Government do not want us to know how far the living standards of disabled people have fallen because of the reduction in benefit?
§ Mr. Burt
I do not think that any Conservative Member has suggested that every claimant of invalidity benefit was workshy, a leadswinger or anything else. The Government recognise, but Opposition Members fail to recognise and make clear, that some people who were claiming a benefit from the British people were not entitled to it and should have been on a different benefit. Accordingly, we were prepared to make the hard decisions to change the rules.
Those decisions are justified by the disallowances that have already occurred because of the test for incapacity benefit. Above all, the change proves that, when there are difficult decisions to be taken—that is the responsibility of Government—we are prepared to do so. That is the difference between the responsibility of Government and the failure of the Opposition.
§ Mr. Ian Bruce
Does my right hon. Friend welcome the initiative entitled Priority 2000, in which private employment agencies are making a commitment to get people with disabilities back to work and to do so at no cost to the taxpayer, with the great benefit of ensuring that people with disabilities who also have abilities can get back into useful work in the economy?
§ Mr. Burt
Yes. Some excellent projects are taking place all over the country to encourage disabled people back into work, which—in this year, with the implementation of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995—will make the important point to employers that the disabled work force is an important part of the work force and that disabled people are no longer to be discriminated against and will give excellent service. I welcome projects such as the one my hon. Friend mentioned, which will help to progress a change of attitude to assist disabled people into work.