HL Deb 03 February 1988 vol 492 cc1074-6

2.52 p.m.

Lord Carter

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 when they propose to announce details of the scheme to help people disabled after April 1988 who, in the absence of a scheme, will receive lower rates of benefit than those disabled before April 1988.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, as the Government have consistently made clear, they are determined that this very small group of people who will become severely disabled after 11th April 1988 will not be disadvantaged as a result of the social security reforms. Work is continuing, with the help of the voluntary sector, on an interim scheme to assist them to live independently. Details will be announced at the earliest opportunity.

Lord Carter

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he not agree that the figure of 250 people that he has quoted previously at the Dispatch Box excludes the people who have to go to hospital, lose their transitional protection and effectively then become newly disabled at the lower rate and the disabled person whose partner leaves or dies so effectively becoming newly disabled and receiving the benefit at the lower rate? The number at risk of having their benefits reduced after April 1988 is therefore much greater and more than the 250 that he has quoted. Does the Minister also not agree that a number of voluntary organisations approached about the interim scheme have expressed some grave reservations about its operation?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, the noble Lord has raised two very different points. I can confirm that if there is a break in the benefit of longer than eight weeks, a new benefit rate will pertain. However, if it is shorter than that, the old benefit rate will be reinstated.

As to the figure, it derives from a sample of supplementary benefit cases taken in February 1986 and represents the number of people of all ages receiving domestic assistance additions of more than £20 a week. However, for this group the sample is very small, and the figure simply indicates we are talking of hundreds rather than thousands. I should also like to make the point that this figure will be cumulative from 11th April onwards.

Baroness Jeger

My Lords, instead of passing legislation to disadvantage such disabled people and then setting up a voluntary scheme to try to put things right, would it not be simpler to amend the Social Security Bill which goes into Committee next week? There might be helpfulness in all parts of the House if this could be put right on a statutory basis and not by setting up some separate ad hoc organisation.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, clearly, there is need for a long-term solution. I would not disagree with the noble Baroness on that. We are determined to get a long-term solution, but this cannot be achieved until we have the results of the OPCS study on the nature and scale of severe disability and can couple it with Sir Roy Griffiths's report on his overview of care in the community. What we need now, of course, is a temporary scheme. I do not know when or whether your Lordships will pass the Social Security Bill, but I suspect that it will not happen speedily enough. Having said that, why do we not introduce legislation on this point? We have been advised that we have the existing powers and therefore that we do not need to do so.

Lord Peston

My Lords, may I ask the Minister to clarify his Answer? Is he saying that it is the view of Her Majesty's Government that it is not their intention that those disabled after April 1988 will lose compared with those disabled before then, and that they will guarantee one way or another that no disadvantage will result? Does he mean that it is purely a matter or technique and that if one technique fails, the Government will find another one? Is that how we are to understand the Minister's remarks?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, that is absolutely right.

Lord Banks

My Lords, will the Government consider the possibility of adding a supplement to attendance allowance for the very severely disabled unable to live alone?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, that has been considered in the past and rejected. There are already two premia for disabled persons and since one of the main aims of the new scheme is simplification, I do not think that adding another premium would be helpful.

Lord Carter

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that when he answered my supplementary question, by implication he admitted a larger number than 250 who stand to lose benefit in the categories that I mentioned? Does he also not agree that the department was told in April 1985, when the White Paper on social security was first produced, that this problem would arise? The risk starts on 11th April, which is only two months away. The Government are still talking about an interim scheme and are still in discussion with voluntary organisations which, as I said, have expressed very grave reservations on that scheme and have declined to take any part in its administration.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, so far as I am aware the disability organisations have not declined to take part in this scheme. As regards reactions to the White Paper, it was a little previous, I suggest, to react to the document when details of the scheme were not contained in it.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, when, according to the Government's estimate, so few people are affected, will the noble Lord explain why the Government have sought to neglect the very people who need our help most?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, if we were seeking to neglect them we should not be endeavouring with great urgency to find a scheme to help them. I must point out that these people do not yet exist. We are talking about those newly disabled after 11th April.

Forward to