HC Deb 06 March 2000 vol 345 cc748-50
3. Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

What recent representations he has received from disablement groups on incapacity benefit. [111831]

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

We have received a number of representations on incapacity benefit from organisations representing disabled people, principally on matters relating to measures in the Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 1999.

Mr. Dalyell

What are the reasons for the underspend on disability benefits of £754 million, as reported by the National Audit Office?

Mr. Bayley

The National Audit Office report's figure of £754 million represents the difference between forecast expenditure and actual expenditure. However, the number of people claiming and receiving disability living allowance has continued to go up. In the latest year for which figures are available, there was an increase of 62,000 people receiving the allowance.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

Does the Minister regret means-testing incapacity benefit and thereby damaging genuinely disabled people—the very vulnerable people whom the Conservative party tried to help when we were last in government?

Mr. Bayley

The hon. Lady continues to perpetuate a myth. A means test takes regard of income and capital, and incapacity benefit has not been means-tested. We have introduced a system that takes some account of occupational pensions, for the simple reason that such pensions, when paid early on grounds of sickness, serve the same purpose as incapacity benefit.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Will my hon. Friend accept that the Labour party has campaigned for disabled people over many years, through the work of people such as Lord A1f Morris and Lord Ashley? I am sure that my hon. Friend will not mind my candour, but I hope that we shall not have a repeat of what happened in Parliament over incapacity benefit last year.

Mr. Bayley

I can reassure my hon. Friend that, over the lifetime of this Parliament, the Government's expenditure on disability benefits will have risen by £1 billion, in real terms.

Mr. Andrew George (St. Ives)

Notwithstanding his answer to the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), does the Minister accept that a massive amount of incapacity benefit is not taken up? Would he accept that there is therefore no reason to go ahead with the planned, but much opposed, cuts in the benefit?

Mr. Bayley

No, I do not accept that. Some people with an entitlement to disability living allowance do not claim it, for a variety of reasons—perhaps they do not know about the benefit, or perhaps they do not regard themselves as sufficiently disabled. We are always considering ways to ensure that the benefit is paid to those who are entitled to it. However, the hon. Gentleman should also bear it in mind that 40 per cent. of those who claim disability living allowance do not meet the entitlement conditions. So encouraging more people to apply would simply mean that more were disappointed, and that the waiting time for people who need the benefit and who qualify for it would be even longer.