HL Deb 05 May 1976 vol 370 cc525-30
Baroness MASHAM of ILTON

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the first Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will reconsider the rule whereby disabled people, who are provided with invalid vehicles while in full-time paid employment, have those vehicles withdrawn when they lose their job or retire.


My Lords, vehicles are withdrawn in these circumstances only from people who were not so disabled as to qualify, by virtue of their disability alone. During last Wednesday's debate on the Social Services the noble Baroness drew my attention to a particular case which had prompted her to table this Question. People in this category were issued with a vehicle specifically to enable them to remain in employment, on the strict understanding that the vehicle was liable to he withdrawn when no longer needed for that purpose. This is a feature of the old arrangements which, as the noble Baroness will appreciate, will for-tunately disappear now that the present Government have ended the old scheme. Eligibility under our new mobility allow-ance scheme is based solely on medical criteria of disability.

Baroness MASHAM of ILTON

My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for that reply, may I ask him whether somebody who becomes of pensionable age is able to get the mobility allowance?

Further, is it Government policy to downgrade people so that they become less mobile and less independent? Is the noble Lord not aware that many people, when they reach 65, become more arthritic and bronchitic?


My Lords, at the present moment it is not possible for people of pensionable age to get the mobility allowance. The noble Baroness knows only too well what the system is. The system at the present moment is that the Government have brought in a regulation whereby people can claim, if they are eligible, a mobility allowance of £5 a week. At the present moment it is being phased in for the 15 to 25 year old age group; from the 1st April this year we are phasing in those between the ages of 25 and 50; the next group will be of 5 to 15; and the next group will be those from 50 to 65.

With regard to the second point the noble Baroness raised, I want to make it perfectly clear that the matter to which she is referring is in relation to what was known as Category 3, those suffering from a slightly less severe disability which limits walking to the extent that personal trans-port is needed to get to full-time work and home again. So that although persons are given the vehicle, when they cease to be employed they are not immobile—they have a fair degree of mobility—and then the vehicle must be withdrawn. Before that is done the Department undertakes a medical investigation to see whether that action is justified.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that many of us who are interested in the cause of the disabled, including the limbless ex-Servicemen, appreciate the new disability allowances which this Government have brought in, but think that it is a cruel hardship to take this vehicle from a disabled man the moment he leaves the work for which the vehicle was provided in order to get him there? Will the noble Lord look at this matter very carefully?


No, my Lords, I cannot give any undertaking that we will look at it very carefully because we have already done so over a long period of time. This particular category has been in existence for a number of years. This is no new thing. It is not that the person is incapable of mobility but that his mobility is restricted, and in order to help such people to overcome the strain on them when they have to go from A to B to work and from B home again, they are given a vehicle. When they no longer need it for that purpose, it seems perfectly reasonable that it should be taken back.


My Lords, having listened to my noble friend, am I right in assuming that some amelioration of this position has taken place? Never-theless, can he tell us what it would cost were this regulation withdrawn completely? It has existed between all Govern-ments, Conservative and Labour. In my own period in the Ministry it was there. Finally, how does a man who is immobile enough to have a chair but who loses his job, look for another job if he does not get a chair to do so?


My Lords, I cannot answer the first question about the question of cost. If a person at some stage has been eligible for a vehicle, and the person gives up work or loses work and ultimately goes back to work, the very fact that the person had an entitle-ment at one particular period means that he or she retains that entitlement.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, arising from the Question of the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, may I ask whether the noble Lord agrees that there is a group of people who have had withdrawn some-thing to which they have been entitled, and who will in fact wait for a very long period of time indeed before the Government's proposals are applicable to them? There is a gap.


The noble Baroness is on an entirely different point, my Lords. I think I know the case she has in mind. We have discussed it and she will know that it is not applicable to the Question which is before the House.


My Lords, in view of the fact that there is undoubted suffering caused to a number of those who lose their employment, may I ask my noble friend if the Ministry will take steps to secure wide publicity of their new pro-posals so that disabled persons may be aware of them?


I think that we have already done so, my Lords, but I will pass on my noble friend' s comment to my right honourable friend.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, may I press the noble Lord further on this matter because I was not referring to the case to which he referred and on which he has been most helpful? Would the noble Lord not agree that there is a very serious gap in the proposals between the phasing out in a case such as is directly relevant to the Question and the applica-tion of the new mobility allowance? May I further ask what happens to the vehicles after they are taken away from the individuals concerned and what people are expected to do?


My Lords, I do not for a moment accept that there is an enormous gap. The category which we are discussing is perfectly clear and there is nothing I can say that will add anything to what I have already said.


My Lords, with the amount of unemployment that exists and with the given difficulties of people who are physically handicapped in trying to find a job, may I ask the noble Lord why it is right that when they have a job they get the vehicle con-cerned, yet when they do not have a job they have to look for work, which is diffi-cult in the present unemployment position, without this vehicle? How many people fall into this category? Will the noble Lord please try to find out what the cost of rectifying this anomaly would be? The noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, has shown me some correspondence on this subject and I think the noble Lord is aware of the particular case to which she is referring.


My Lords, I will study what the noble Earl has said and see whether I can get any information along the lines he has suggested. If I can, I will certainly write to him.


My Lords, is it not the case that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, recommended in her 1974 Report that in cases where disabled people are likely otherwise to lose their vehicles when they lose their job, they should be given the opportunity to purchase the vehicles on favourable terms?


My Lords, I am aware of the Report of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. I do not think I can express an opinion because I have not taken advice on the point raised by the noble Lord.

Viscount THURSO

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord to answer the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Young: what happens to the vehicles after they are taken away from these unfortunate people?


My Lords, they go into stock and ultimately they are reissued to others.


My Lords, did this co-called injustice exist under the previous Conservative Government? If so, what action did they take to remedy it? Apropos of the present Government's granting of a disability allowance, may I ask whether similar disability allowances were granted by that Conservative Government?


My Lords, I do not want to involve a previous Administration other than to say that these categories have been in existence for some years. The mobility allowance is entirely new and was introduced by the present Government.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether the mobility allowance could be capitalised so that a person who wanted to get a vehicle would be able to use the mobility allowance for, say, the interest on the money he expended to buy a vehicle because one was not available through the mobility policy?


My Lords, that is something I should have to look into. I hope the noble Baroness will not mind my saying that her supplementary question goes rather wide of the main Question and would involve a good deal of calculation.


My Lords, the House is enormously interested in this matter; that is quite obvious from all the supplementary questions that have been put. I waited until the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, had asked her question because I knew that she had been trying to get in for some time. However, we have spent more than 10 minutes on this one and I suggest that we now move on to the next Question.

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