HC Deb 10 January 2000 vol 342 cc1-3
1. Mr. Andrew George (St. Ives)

What steps the Government are taking to ensure that all those severely disabled people who are potentially eligible for severe disablement allowance are encouraged to claim it. [102927]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Hugh Bayley)

Severe disablement allowance does not provide sufficient help for those in the greatest need—those who were born disabled, or who were disabled so severely early in life that they may never be able to work and to build up a national insurance contribution record. When our welfare reforms come into effect, those young people will be able to claim incapacity benefit without having to meet the usual contribution conditions. After a year in benefit, that will be worth up to £26.40 a week more than severe disablement allowance. Existing recipients of SDA will retain the benefit in future, as long as they continue to meet the entitlement conditions. We are already taking a number of steps to raise awareness of SDA among severely disabled people, and we will ensure that the forthcoming changes are well publicised.

Mr. George

Those who warned the Government against abolition of severe disablement allowance—which will undeniably have a particular impact on some disabled women, on young carers and on low earners—look to them to soften the blow that their policy will inflict on a group of people who are, after all, disabled through no fault of their own. Bearing that in mind, along with the fact that this is the first question of a new century, will the Minister openly recognise that the policy will have a severe impact on some people, and ensure that awareness and take-up campaigns are given high priority this year?

Mr. Bayley

The hon. Gentleman fails to recognise that severe disablement allowance does least for those who are poorest. Seventy per cent.—the poorest—of those who receive it receive not a penny of benefit, because every penny of the SDA that they receive will be lost from their income support. The changes that we are making will help those who need help most: the poorest and the most severely disabled. That is why we are making the changes, and are proud to be doing so. In future, we shall benefit young people of both sexes who in the past would have faced a lifetime on means-tested benefits, but who will now be raised to incapacity benefit level.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)

Does my hon. Friend agree that, when people are wrongly turned down for this benefit—or for any other disability benefit—they are caused severe upset and disappointment? When does he expect to be certain that arrangements are in place to ensure that that does not happen any more?

Mr. Bayley

When anyone is wrongly turned down for benefit, it is a serious matter. We need an appeals system to ensure that people receive the benefits to which they are entitled. The appeals system that we inherited was inadequate, partly because of delays and partly because of the faults inherent in it. We have reformed it: we have speeded it up, and our approach to benefits seeks to ensure that the right decision is made in the first place and that decisions remain right thereafter.

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