HC Deb 23 February 1998 vol 307 cc8-10
8. Mr. Boswell

When she last met representatives of disability interests to discuss welfare reform. [29081]

11. Mr. Clappison

What recent representations she has received about benefits for the disabled. [29084]

Mr. Denham

We have received a number of representations on welfare reform. My right hon. Friend and I have twice met members of the all-party disablement group to discuss their views on this important issue. The most recent meeting took place last Monday.

Mr. Boswell

I thank the Minister for that answer, but will he confirm that neither he nor his Secretary of State—nor, indeed, briefings from No. 10—has yet answered the basic question: whether the entitlements of the 6.5 million people with moderate disabilities will be cut as a result of the Government's welfare reform proposals? They need to know—is the answer yes or no?

Mr. Denham

I can reassure the House that the Government want to ensure that those in genuine need receive the support, in cash and in other ways, that they need. No changes will be made without full consultation, particularly with organisations of and for disabled people.

Mr. Clappison

Will the Minister bear in mind the representation that his Department received from the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, who said that transferring the disability living allowance to local authority social services departments in any way would make the disabled the victims of the lottery of local authority discretion? Will the Minister rule that out, as it is worrying many disabled people?

Mr. Denham

We are, as I have said, determined to ensure that the appropriate support, in cash and in other ways, is available for disabled people. We are considering ways in which that can be done as part of the welfare reform process. We will publish our proposals, and they will be subject to the fullest possible consultation.

Mrs. Mahon

Did members of the disability groups raise with my hon. Friend the matter of the complicated disability living allowance self-assessment forms? Will he consider making the forms simpler because many people are losing benefit who need not do so?

Mr. Denham

Many important issues have been raised by organisations of and for disabled people, including the complexity of the assessment process. They will be looked at during the review.

Mr. Barnes

Is the Minister aware of the Government's credibility gap on the future of disability benefits? It has been caused by the cut in single parent benefit and the work of the benefit integrity project, which has led to many people losing their disability living allowance, although they are perfectly entitled to it, and trying to have it re-established on appeal. What are the Government going to do about overcoming their problems with presentation to show that they will not cut out the rights of disabled people in the future?

Mr. Denham

Evidence from the benefit integrity project broadly confirms the initial estimate of the level of incorrectness in that benefit. We have learnt from the project as it has developed, which is why my right hon. Friend recently announced extra safeguards to ensure that no one would have their benefit stopped or reduced unless additional evidence—not just that provided by the claimant—was available. That is a step forward in safeguarding the work of the project and it shows that we are listening to organisations of and for disabled people as the work progresses.

Mr. Burstow

Forty thousand people have been through the benefit integrity project, many of whom have wrongly had their benefit stopped or reduced, but have not appealed. Will the Minister reconsider their cases? They feel intimidated and unable to go back through the appeal process because of the way in which the project has worked. To ensure that people receive the benefit to which they are entitled and to restore the project's integrity, will he ensure that interviews are reconsidered and claim forms re-examined to see whether they have been completed incorrectly?

Mr. Denham

If people feel that they have not been properly treated, the review and appeal process is available to them. I am sure that decisions have been made in accordance with the law laid down by Parliament, but we have introduced the extra safeguard to which I referred. If people are in the position described by the hon. Gentleman, they should exercise their right to a review or an appeal.