HL Deb 29 November 1990 vol 523 cc1064-7

3.24 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they are taking to assist disabled people who are disadvantaged by the community charge.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, severely mentally impaired people are exempt from the community charge, as are those with mental or physical disabilities who are resident in hospital as patients or resident in care homes, nursing homes and other hostels. For those disabled people living in the community there is additional help given over and above that given to people without disability through both the community charge benefit and transitional relief.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. But it is not the case that disabled people are hurt twice over by the poll tax? With low incomes and high outgoings they are hurt as are other poor people, but also under the poll tax disabled people have lost the rate relief on adapted buildings which 70 per cent. of them previously enjoyed. In other words, does she agree that disabled people are being penalised both for their poverty and their disability?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I seriously take issue with the noble Baroness on her second point. Rates paid on buildings no longer exist. That situation was abolished with the new system. As the new system operates, abatement is considered. It is even more generous than rate relief and the disabilities of individuals are taken into account as well.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, has the noble Baroness any words of comfort for those who look after disabled people, in particular those who live and work in residential institutions for the disabled? Is she aware that the charities which run such organisations, such as the Calvert Trust and the Richmond Fellowship, find the community charge in respect of those employees a very heavy burden? Is it not consuming charitable donations which the donors intended to help the disabled and not merely to boost public funds?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the Question on the Order Paper refers specifically to disabled people. One in four people are helped to pay their community charge bills. A sum of £2 billion is made available and 9 million people receive some help.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Question raised by my noble friend is an especially poignant one? The poll tax affects many poor people and it hits disabled poor people more than anyone else. If the noble Baroness wants corroboration of that statement, will she be prepared to consider talking to the Disabled Drivers Association, Arthritis Care and the societies for helping the aged? Those associations could give all the facts. She is obviously unaware of them, otherwise she would not have given such suave answers this afternoon. Will she contact the representatives of the disabled people of this country?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I hope that nothing I have said seems to detract from the way in which I believe that we should care about the needs of disabled people. My first Answer listed the kind of help that is considered. Community charge benefits take account of the needs of disabled people. I said that there is complete exemption for people with severe mental impairment. There is also exemption for those with mental or physical disabilities who are resident in hospital, care homes, nursing homes and other hostels. For those disabled people in the community there is also additional help over and above that given to other people. I hope that I was not suave or uncompassionate in my answers on this issue.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the present Prime Minister is the first person to hold that office who has also held the office of Minister for the Disabled (as it was then) or Minister for Disabled People, as it is now? Organisations for the disabled therefore greatly hope that the Government will be more sympathetic than they have perhaps been in the past about representations from them, especially in regard to the poll tax. Will she kindly say whether representations in regard to the poll tax should be made to the Secretary of State for the Environment or to the Minister for Disabled People?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord's first remark. My right honourable friend the new Prime Minister served with distinction in the Department of Health and Social Security (as it then was). He had a very good and special relationship with disabled people and their organisations. The noble Lord will be aware that there has been a review undertaken during the past year. The review will continue, as has been very publicly promised. I believe that if disabled people wish to be considered further over and above the generous arrangements that have been made for them, they could make representations to both the Department of the Environment and their own organisations.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, will my noble friend tell the House what steps the Department of Social Security is taking to monitor the effects of the community charge on disabled people, in particular those who come from hospital into the community for the first time?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the Department of Social Security has some very sophisticated methods of monitoring the requirements of people with many kinds of special needs, not just the disabled. I have no reason to believe that those needs are not watched with great care. Continuous monitoring also gives rise from time to time to new policies.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, if the noble Baroness meets the disablement organisations she will learn that some people on mobility allowance cannot afford a car any more because of the poll tax. There is one other disadvantage which she has not yet mentioned. Disabled people who live in high poll tax areas in specially adapted units of accommodation do not have the same mobility as others in the community. They cannot move to a cheaper area because they will not obtain similarly adapted accommodation. They are therefore trapped in high poll tax areas. What is being done about them?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I have detailed the number of ways in which disabled people are helped. However, the noble Lord makes specific reference to areas where the poll tax is very high. I believe that it is more a reflection on the level of the charge in those areas than it is on the level of the way in which we help disabled people.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, does the Minister not recall that when the poll tax legislation was going through Parliament the Government undertook that social security benefits would be uprated to cover the 20 per cent. of poll tax which disabled and other people on benefits have to pay? Is it not now the case that a single person has to pay £36 extra a year and a couple £76 extra a year, amounts not covered by uprating in social security benefits? Does that not apply with even greater force to those who are disabled?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, my understanding is that if people qualify to have the 20 per cent. paid into their social security payments, whatever they are, that 20 per cent. is 20 per cent. of the average community charge in the country as a whole. Where community charges are above the average, that reflects more on the local authority than on the system.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, does the Minister not feel uncomfortable that a family which paid £12 a year in rates because of disability rate relief is now paying £380 a year in poll tax, and, according to RADAR, as a result cannot afford the electric wheelchair that it needs? Is the Minister comfortable about that?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the amount referred to by the noble Baroness means that the family does not fall into the category of receiving some of the benefits available. If the noble Baroness says that an individual with disability is paying £380 she introduces a very different factor. If there is one disabled person he will receive all the benefits. If there are other people in the house, and if they are below the threshold for rebate, they will receive rebate. If they are above the threshold, they are deemed to be able to meet the charges.