HL Deb 26 February 1987 vol 485 cc327-8

3.21 p.m.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will give further consideration to representations from persons who are denied mobility allowance who suffer the dual handicap of deafness and blindness and are unable to travel without constant help.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, some deaf and blind people do qualify for mobility allowance where they suffer from balance problems and we have expanded guidance to examining doctors to ensure this fact is fully considered when determining eligibility. Proposals by the Disability Alliance to extend mobility allowance to deaf and blind people among others have been under consideration for some time. We are also committed to a comprehensive review of benefits for disabled people when we have the results of a current major survey by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply which is a little more hopeful than perhaps I expected from her. May I make a strong plea that the regulations be looked at seriously? The number of people who suffer from blindness and deafness is small and quite obviously, because of the success of the rubella vaccination scheme, that number will not substantially increase.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, it is estimated that about 2,000 deaf-and-blind people are within the age limits for mobility allowance but the number who have already qualified for the allowance is not available. I mentioned in my original reply the steps we are taking to review the whole situation.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, the noble Baroness says the these proposals have been under consideration for some time. Can she go a little further and say for how long, and when some resolution might be arrived at? Is there any real reason why mobility allowance should be confined to those who are self-propelled when those who cannot be self-propelled are often in even greater difficulties?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, reliable informa-tion about the numbers, circumstances and needs of disabled people is required before a comprehensive review of the benefits provided specifically for them can be carried out. The review will take place when the results of the OPCS survey become available.

Baroness Jeger

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her sympathetic reply. Can she give some idea of the timescale of this review? Surely it is a fact that the sooner one puts a date on the expectation of the result of the review, the sooner one is likely to get it. Can amendments be made by regulations or would there have to be a change in legislation?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the actual timing will depend on the progress that is made.

Lord Molloy

My Lords. is the noble Baroness aware that she gave a very encouraging reply to my noble friend's Question? After being neglected by previous governments, it now looks as if the blind and the disabled mentioned in the Question will receive some attention.

Is the noble Baroness prepared, as has been done in the past, to consult voluntary organisations such as the British Limbless Ex-Servicemens Association, which also covers the blind, and various other voluntary organisations, which can be of great assistance, in carrying out what I think she intends to do in helping the categories mentioned in my noble friend's Question?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I appreciate the very large problems of deaf-and-blind people in getting around. When the review is undertaken, I am sure that all relevant bodies will have the opportuntiy to express themselves.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords it is not exactly a problem of mobility but one of being escorted. Would it not be possible for the escort to travel free on public transport?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that novel suggestion.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, if the noble Baroness is looking at numbers—I think it is true to say that the department has the greatest difficulty in assessing numbers—would it be possible to work in conjunction with Sense, the organisation that is primarily concerned with young people who suffer the dual handicap of blindness and deafness? I feel sure that it would be able to give her much more up-to-date figures than any other organisation.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords. I did say that it was estimated that there were about 2,000 deaf and blind people; and 465,000 disabled people are currently in receipt of the allowance. The annual cost of the allowance is around £500 million.

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