HC Deb 12 November 1996 vol 285 cc141-2
5. Mr. Canavan

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what recent representations he has received about changing the regulations relating to disability living allowance for long-stay hospital patients; and if he will make a statement. [1702]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Andrew Mitchell)

The Department has received a number of representations. The responses have made it clear that the changes will affect only patients being maintained free of charge by the NHS.

Mr. Canavan

Can we have a parliamentary debate and vote on the matter, so that the Minister can tell us how on earth he can possibly justify such a miserable policy that will make it very difficult, if not impossible, for many long-stay hospital patients to travel to visit their friends and relatives or to take part in various community activities? The next time the Minister is sitting in the comfort of his chauffeur-driven ministerial limousine, will he reflect on the fact that he is depriving thousands of disabled people of their mobility rights and virtually incarcerating them in the institutions where they live?

Mr. Mitchell

A debate in Parliament on those changes is a matter for the usual channels, and I have no doubt that they will have heard what the hon. Gentleman said. The decision to make those changes was very carefully considered. Previously, disability living allowance mobility was not withdrawn or down-rated when someone went into hospital. The changes that we have made align DLA mobility with both DLA care and attendance allowances.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes

Does my hon. Friend agree that we would be more likely to take seriously what the Labour party says on this issue, were it not for the stark fact that more than six times as many people are helped with their care and mobility than were helped under the previous Labour Government? That is how much they cared. Do not the measures that we have discussed target help on people who need it most? Is that not what people who really care do, rather than weep crocodile tears?

Mr. Mitchell

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we target disability living allowance on those who most need it. We provide special protection for people who have been in hospital accommodation for 12 months or more. My hon. Friend will be aware of the sheer scale of Government spending on disability living allowance. Last year, we spent £3,700 million; this year we are likely to spend £4,400 million, which is an increase of £700 million; and next year there is likely to be a further increase of £600 million, to a total of £5 billion. That is an eloquent testimony to the Government's absolute commitment to helping disabled people.

Mr. Eric Clarke

Is the Minister aware of the consequences of that withdrawal? People are signing themselves out of hospital prematurely—before they are signed out by their doctors—and their carers are suffering. Were the Government motivated by greed when they introduced that change, because it was not done to help the carers?

Mr. Mitchell

I think that the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood the effects of the regulations. I will consider any particular case that he wants to raise with me in writing. On his specific point, the change affects payability and not entitlement, so those who are not in hospital accommodation for full days during the week will receive disability living allowance and mobility allowance in respect of those full days.