HL Deb 26 February 1991 vol 526 cc878-903

4.7 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Henley)

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

The House will recall that a little over a year ago, we published our White Paper The Way Ahead which outlined our programme for the reform of benefits for disabled people. The Bill represents the final stage of that programme.

We set out in that paper a whole series of proposals for changes and a timetable for their introduction. We have stuck to that programme and met every one of the commitments we then made. Indeed, we have gone further: my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Security outlined some welcome additional improvements in his uprating Statement last autumn. I do not want to weary the House with the full catalogue of changes. I have on several occasions been able to give account of our spending record over the past 11 or 12 years. Spending on the long-term sick and the disabled has doubled in real terms to over £10 billion per annum. I shall give some idea of what we have done in the past year.

We have increased the disability premiums within the income-related benefits by more than twice the rate of inflation. That benefited 400,000 disabled people. We more than doubled the disabled child's premium from £6.50 to £15.40—giving substantial help to 20,000 of the least well-off families. We extended mobility allowance to people who are both deaf and blind. We have also announced that from April we shall be removing any doubt that people who have had both legs amputated will be entitled to mobility allowance. We have introduced a premium within the income-related benefits for carers and in the past two years increased by 150 per cent. the amount that carers can earn before it affects the amount of invalid care allowance we pay them. Most recently, in December, we gave age-related additions of up to £20 a week to people on severe disablement allowance—the group who have not had the chance to build up a contribution record. And, as your Lordships will recall, we have introduced widely-welcomed improvements to attendance allowance by abolishing the rule preventing its payment to babies under two and by giving top rate attendance allowance automatically without a qualifying period to people suffering from a terminal illness.

These are all significant moves forward, and they demonstrate the Government's commitment to making the benefit system responsive to disabled people's needs.

Perhaps I may briefly remind the House of the backcloth against which those measures should be viewed. There has been a huge expansion in the numbers receiving all the main disability or incapacity benefits. To take as an example the extra costs benefits, the numbers receiving attendance allowance have risen threefold from 265,000 in 1979 to 890,000 today. Mobility allowance now reaches 630,000 people, rather than the 95,000 who received it 12 years ago.

I am aware of the argument that runs that this is not new money but simply an effect of improved take-up, but it is new money for the people who are receiving benefit on account of their disability who were not getting anything before. And it is of course new money that the taxpayer must find.

The Bill introduces the final two elements of The Way Ahead package. It brings in two new benefits and—again going beyond what we promised last year—introduces a radical new assessment regime.

The first benefit—disability living allowance (DLA) —tackles a central problem with the existing extra costs benefits which is that disabled people who narrowly fail to meet the qualifying conditions at present get nothing from the benefit system in recognition of their disabilities.

The second benefit—disability working allowance (DWA)—addresses for the first time the needs of people who are able to work to some degree but whose earning capacity is limited by their disability. At present, such people can find themselves in a trap. They may be better off if they remain on their incapacity benefit than they would be if they took up work. Disability working allowance is designed to tackle that disincentive.

Those two initiatives—greater coverage of help with extra costs, and new help for disabled people who can and wish to work—were two main strands of the strategy that we outlined in the The Way Ahead.

Clauses 1 to 5 of the Bill introduce the disability living allowance. It will build on the strengths of the existing benefits. I say "strengths" because the OPCS evidence showed clearly that attendance allowance and mobility allowance were well targeted on the most commonly occurring of the disabilities that entail extra costs. For that reason we have left unchanged the qualifying criteria for the existing rates of benefit. Recipients of those rates will be transferred automatically across to DLA.

But on both the mobility and care sides of the new benefit there will be new lower rates for disabled people under the age of 65. Instead of the present cliff edge, we shall have a benefit that better recognises that there are degrees of disability. There will be two routes by which people can qualify for the new rate of the care component. The first will be if they require attention for a significant portion of the day, in one or more aggregated periods. We envisage "significant portion" being interpreted as an hour or thereabouts. For example, this route will help people who need help getting in and out of bed or a bath, or people who require assistance in administering courses of injections or medicines. The second route will be a test of whether someone could, if he wished to, prepare a main cooked meal for himself. I should stress that this will be an entirely abstract test. We are not, as my right honourable Friend the Secretary of State said in another place, in the business of reinventing a household duties test, but we did want to include people whose care needs went broader than a test related purely to bodily functions.

The mobility component will be paid to people who, though physically able to walk, are so severely physically handicapped or mentally disabled that they require the guidance or supervision of another person when walking outdoors. That is a condition which we anticipate will bring 150,000 people on to benefit, primarily people with mental handicap, those suffering severe visual impairments and those with severe behaviour problems.

For both the care and the mobility components, the Bill introduces a common qualifying period of three months and a test of whether the disability is likely to continue, the time limit for that being six months.

For the less well-off among the disabled population, both of the new lower rates will give them access to the disability premium within income-related benefits. Someone on income support qualifying afresh for one or other of those rates will thus see a rise of rather more than £25 a week in their income.

Although DLA is aimed at people who became disabled before the age of 65, we are extending across the board the provision in mobility allowance whereby a claim can be entered up to the 66th birthday. And, unlike mobility allowance, there will be no upper age limit for receipt of any of the rates of DLA.

Clauses 6 to 9 introduce the disability working allowance. I am sure everyone will share our belief that society should look increasingly at what people with disabilities can do, rather than at what they cannot do, and then should look at what the rest of society, including the benefit system, can do to assist them. That was why we came forward with DWA. The Bill aims to offer disabled people the chance to try working—even if they are not sure they can cope with a full-time job—and be sure they will be better off as a result. Up to now, someone in that situation might well have had either to risk taking a job which he thought might be beyond his capacities or to accept a drop in his income because a job which he judged he could cope with paid him less than he was getting on benefit. People who can only work as few as 16 hours a week will be able to qualify for DWA.

The group whom we intend to benefit will be identified by a qualifying benefit test: they will either have been receiving a long-term incapacity benefit or be getting an extra costs benefit. Beyond that, for his initial claim, the claimant will simply have to state that he has a disability or illness that, in the Bill's words, puts him "at a disadvantage in getting a job". Current receipt of DLA or recent receipt of an incapacity benefit will be taken to confirm this. On a renewal claim, again he will declare that he has a disability.

In the majority of cases receipt of one of the higher rates of DLA (equivalent to present attendance allowance and mobility allowance) or previous receipt of severe disablement allowances (SDA) will be taken as confirmation. In a minority of cases—perhaps 40 per cent. of repeat claims—the claimant will be asked to fill in a self-assessment form covering a whole range of functional disabilities. If the adjudication officer's decision is that he has one of those disabilities, he will qualify because that disability will be enough to put him at a disadvantage. I should make clear that the disadvantage will not be something that is open to the adjudication officer who decides the claim to question. If the objective criteria are satisfied the disability test will be satisfied.

The test of income will be along similar lines to the one we have in family credit but because we are adding an amount equivalent to a single person's disability premium in income support DWA represents a better deal than family credit for those who have the option of claiming family credit.

I will mention one further feature of DWA, the linking rule. We all know that this kind of benefit will work as we wish only if people are confident that they will not lose if their attempt at work fails and they prove incapable of work. At the moment someone coming off severe disablement allowance or invalidity benefit has to judge within eight weeks whether his venture into work is going to be a success. If he leaves it longer, and later discovers that he cannot cope, he is obliged to spend 28 weeks requalifying for the benefit he used to get.

We do not want DWA claimants to have to weigh up their position because we believe it would put some people off trying out a job in the first instance. The Bill therefore introduces a much more generous two year linking rule. That should provide important reassurance for those wanting to take up work. As a final point, I should perhaps reiterate that DWA is only for those people who choose to take work; there is no question of forcing people to give up their incapacity benefits.

I turn now to assessment and adjudication, the third theme to the Bill which is hidden largely in Schedule 1. The radical innovation we are preparing in this field will be common to both new benefits. We have listened carefully to what individual disabled people, their carers and their representative organisations have had to tell us about how claimants perceive the whole business of claiming disability benefits.

We have brought forward a radical shift towards self-assessment, backed of course by the comments of those people in the best position to know most about the effect that the claimant's disability has on his everyday existence. We want to give claimants an opportunity to give a fuller version themselves; to marshal whatever evidence from whatever professional or informal source they choose. We believe that will help us in striving, as we are already doing, to improve our decision making. It will help to make the process more open and personal to claimants.

The Bill provides that decision making on DLA, DWA and attendance allowance will be vested in adjudication officers rather than doctors. There will of course still be many difficult decisions on the margins of entitlement and it would be foolish to promise that adjudication officers will always get it right. But the Bill provides for adjudication officers to be able to receive adequate support in the form of advice on medical issues from departmental doctors. It also creates for DLA and attendance allowance a purely advisory board replacing the existing attendance allowance board. Its role will be limited to providing expert advice, informed by the latest medical developments, on specifically medical matters.

The new adjudication procedures have been widely welcomed in principle. In particular, we have received an excellent response to our proposals on new rights of appeal to independent disability appeal tribunals. In order to ensure that the focus is truly placed on the effects of a condition, we have stipulated that ideally one of the members of the tribunals should either be a disabled person—or should have practical experience of the needs of disabled people.

The Government understand the feelings of those who would have us move forward even more rapidly in this area. But the Bill is a substantial step forward in improving provision for people with disabilities. It will give significant new help to well over 300,000 people at a gross cost of £325 million. By 1993–94, we expect 1.9 million people to be receiving a benefit in recognition of their extra costs—a more than fivefold increase since 1979. The Bill's spending is on top of the more than £10 billion we are now spending on benefits for people who are either disabled or long-term sick. The Bill, together with our many other recent improvements, builds substantially on that record. I commend it to the House.

I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Henley.)

4.24 p.m.

Lord Carter

My Lords, the House will be extremely grateful to the Minister for his clear explanation of the Bill. The clarity is particularly to be admired because I believe that this week he and his wife are in the process of increasing their entitlement to child benefit! As he said, we are dealing with a Bill that concerns two benefits. I propose to concentrate on the disability living allowance, while my noble friend Lady Turner, with her great expertise in employment matters, will deal with the disability working allowance. Before turning to the Bill, perhaps I may say how good it is to see the noble Lord, Lord Banks, in his place, helping us to deal with the Bill on his return to the House after his recent illness.

As the Minister said, the DLA—I believe that we may use the acronyms—is a new name for a combination of the existing mobility allowance and attendance allowance with the new rates built in. I should be interested to know how long this merger of the two allowances has been planned by the department. It is less than two years since the All-Party Disablement Group, of which I am a member, met the Minister, Mr. Nicholas Scott. I asked him whether there was any intention to merge the two allowances; at that time he gave a categorical denial. The Minister is an honourable man and I am sure that he knew of no such intention, but I do wonder when the planning began at official level.

The new allowance consists of five benefits: the three care benefits (the higher rate attendance allowance, the standard rate attendance allowance and the new lower rate of £10 a week) and the two mobility benefits—the present rate and the £10 lower rate. Of course, we welcome the expansion of the lower rates and the expansion in coverage. I believe that it is correct that there will now be no fewer than 11 possible combinations of benefit under the DLA.

I cannot help but remember previous discussions on social security Bills when we have argued strongly from all round the House for a more flexible mix of benefits. That was always rejected on the ground that such flexibility would only add to the administrative complications. I see the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, in his place and he will remember, as will other noble Lords who take an interest in such matters, the constant reiteration of the swings and roundabouts argument: some will gain while others will lose. I am not sure that it has ever been conclusively proved statistically that the swings actually do equal the roundabouts, but the proposal that no fewer than 11 combinations of allowances be included in the one overall benefit represents a positive merry-go-round of benefits. However, we welcome the Government's attempt to widen the scope of both the attendance and the mobility allowances.

The biggest weakness of the disability living allowance is that it is certainly not a living allowance. We are all aware of the substantial extra costs of disability: heating, laundry, diet, communication, clothing, extra help with household tasks and similar costs. To some extent these costs used to be met by the old special payments scheme which was abolished in April 1988.

Research by the Disablement Income Group indicates extra costs of between £42 and £65 a week for the more severely disabled. Similar research by a number of disability organisations indicates that the extra costs of disability are considerable and much in excess of the figures which were produced by the OPCS. We feel that the OPCS figures considerably understate the extra costs of disability and we shall put down amendments to the Bill to deal with the point.

Another area where, frankly, it is hard to follow the Government's reasoning is the lower age limit of five years for claiming the mobility component of the DLA. It seems that the Government equate the need for the mobility component with the age for starting state education: five. That ignores the fact that many children under five attend a playgroup or have nursery education. Above all it ignores the fact that disabled children are entitled to special education from the age of two. We shall also wish to put down amendments to correct this anomaly.

Another area in which we shall bring forward an amendment which I am sure will command your Lordships' support is the extension of the higher rate mobility component to people with learning difficulties and challenging behaviour. This is familiar ground for your Lordships. In 1989 I moved an amendment with the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, and others to secure the mobility allowance for the deaf-blind and the severely mentally handicapped. The amendment was accepted by this House; it was rejected by the Government when they brought it back on grounds that were not even mentioned when the House originally debated the issue—namely, the numbers involved. We welcome the fact that, as the Minister mentioned, since then the Government have extended the mobility allowance to the deaf-blind.

Returning to the problems of the severely mentally handicapped, your Lordships will remember that there was an extraordinary statistical argument by the Government based rather mysteriously on the OPCS data tapes. The figures that the Government claimed for the number of people who would benefit from the changes they wish to introduce were said to range from 50,000 to 150,000 people and back again. MENCAP, the Spastics Society and the Mobility Allowance Campaign have never moved from their original estimate that 8,000 to 9,000 people would benefit from this extension.

I am delighted that the Government now seem to accept that figure. At Report stage in another place the Minister, Mr. Nicholas Scott, stated: The hon. Gentleman is right to say that, in essence, what we are concerned about here is an assessment of numbers and whether it is possible to devise a way of ring-fencing the 8,000 to 9,000 people of whom Mencap spoke. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made that commitment". He further stated: I acknowledge that that undertaking was given, and I am on record as giving an undertaking to do my best to find a way of defining those 8,000 to 9,000 people".—[Official Report, Commons, 7/2/91; col. 474.] We are now concerned with a problem of definition and not one of numbers. We shall seek to deal with that problem when we consider the Bill in detail. I should like to ask the Minister whether between us we can try to find a suitable way to define that group of people so that they can receive the higher rate of the mobility component.

We shall put down amendments to secure the future of the independent living fund. The cost to the Government will be nothing beyond the £62 million that is already allocated to the fund, which currently helps in excess of 7,000 severely disabled people and pays an average of £72 per week. In January of last year a severely disabled couple aged 59 stated that since they have had access to the independent living fund they have had the happiest and most worry-free time for just over five years.

Considerable concern has been expressed in regard to the Government's intention to hand over responsibility for severely disabled people who are now helped by the fund to local authorities in 1993 with the advent of the community care plans. The independent living fund is an excellent example of ring-fenced community care. We hope to persuade your Lordships to protect that position by writing it into the Bill.

A considerable anomaly, not to say injustice, is the proposal by the Government to limit the invalid care allowance (ICA) to those who care for those receiving only the higher or middle rate of the care components and to exclude those who are caring for those on the lower rate. It is difficult to understand why someone who is caring for a disabled person for 35 hours a week or more and is thereby prevented from working should not receive the invalid care allowance. If the person being cared for is receiving the higher and middle rate of the care component, then the carer will receive ICA, but not if the disabled person is receiving the lower rate. We shall seek to redress that situation.

We shall examine other provisions in the Bill at a later stage and seek to put right any omissions. Two important matters are, firstly, how to deal with the backdating of claims where there is a good case for the claimant not being able to claim on time and, secondly, the exclusion of people aged over 65 from the mobility component.

My noble friend Lady Turner will deal in detail with the disability working allowance provisions. I was impressed by a letter from the National Consumer Council which stated that the disability living allowance was worthy of support but needed amendment. However, I fear that it dismissed the DWA by stating that it did not merit support. Concern has been expressed that people with long-term disabilities will not be able to claim DWA and that those who do claim will have considerable problems because of the way in which the benefit is to be calculated and administered.

As the Minister implied, the Bill represents more or less the final response to both the OPCS surveys and the White Paper The Way Ahead. This is not the time to go into what we regard as the piecemeal and in many cases inadequate nature of that response. The Minister listed the improvements in social security benefits, which we welcome. He referred to the expansion in the numbers of those who claim benefits, which accounts for a large part of the increase in expenditure. However, a substantial number of social security benefits have been frozen in real terms, after adjustment for inflation, since 1979, compared with the 20 per cent. increase in real income of the working population in the same period.

Despite the efforts of the Government we are no nearer to obtaining the comprehensive disability cost allowance and the disability income benefit which, if taken together, would ensure that people with disabilities are not at a permanent disadvantage in society. A situation exists whereby people with exactly the same degree of disability receive widely varying levels of benefit, depending upon the way in which the disability was caused and not on the disability itself, with its attendant costs and its effect on earning power.

That situation and the many other anomalies and injustices in the benefit system for people with disabilities can be put right only by a comprehensive and coherent combination of allowances and benefits that are designed to deal with the extra costs of disability and the need for a proper disability income. That is something that cannot be achieved overnight; it can be done only if the Government have the will to do it. I can assure your Lordships that the next Labour Government will certainly have that will.

4.38 p.m.

Lord Banks

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carter, for his kind reference to me. I join him in thanking the Minister for the clarity of his original explanation.

The Bill is reasonably acceptable but it does not go far enough. The disability living allowance is described as a new benefit but it is a combination of two existing benefits: attendance allowance and mobility allowance. As the Minister explained, it introduces a third lowest rate of attendance allowance of £10 per week for people who require help with their bodily functions for a significant portion of the day from another person, or who cannot prepare a cooked main meal for themselves if they have the ingredients. It is estimated that 140,000 people will be covered by that situation. It also extends the mobility allowance by the introduction of a second and lower rate of £10 per week for 150,000 people who are able to walk but who a re so severely disabled, physically or mentally, that out of doors they require guidance and supervision from another person for most of the time.

We are grateful for the extended benefits, but there is one very severe objection to the Bill to which the noble Lord, Lord Carter, referred. It makes no provision for dealing with the additional costs which disabled people may be expected to incur; for example, a special diet, extra heating, communication, greater laundry costs, and so on. I hope that the Bill will be amended to cover those items.

As noble Lords will know, there was a tied vote in another place in Committee which was only determined by the chairman's casting vote. It should be borne in mind that those who suffer from industrial injury are in receipt of £76.60 per week. During research into costs people were asked how much they spent on those items, but many people put a low figure because they did not have the money to pay for more. Applicants should be shown a list of possible costs and asked to say whether they have incurred any of them, and, if not, whether they would have done so if they could have afforded them. In connection with the matter of costs, there is a problem in relation to those who become incapacitated after the age of 65. They do not qualify for mobility allowance. I should be grateful if the Minister could say something about the position of those people.

With regard to the mobility allowance, the provision for children begins at the age of five. There would seem to be a strong case for it commencing from the age of two when the local authority has responsibility for education. That is another point that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, raised.

The disability living allowance is not a simplification, as represented by the Government. People may well be in doubt as to whether any part of the two benefits—attendance allowance or mobility allowance —are payable after the age of 65. Also, as we have heard, the range of options is confusing.

During the discussion in another place, to which I referred earlier, the Minister acknowledged that disabled people incur additional costs on account of their disablement but he rejected an amendment on the ground that it reverted to the complexity of the old system of social security. All the major disability organisations reject the Minister's suggestion that administrative complexity should prevent the design of a system to meet the additional costs of disablement.

The disability working allowance introduced in the second part of the Bill provides a means-tested benefit of up to £37.20 for single people and £51.75 for lone parents and married couples. It would apply to some 50,000 people on low pay using low thresholds of £34.60 for single people and £57.60 for lone parents and married couples.

The requirement to work 16 hours a week in order to qualify may be too restrictive. Some people may prefer to build up more slowly to that figure. Then there is the exclusion of all those who are not in receipt of another benefit.

In conclusion, like the noble Lord, Lord Carter, I refer to the independent living fund which at present helps about 4,000 people. As he pointed out, it is scheduled to come to an end in 1993 when it is hoped that local authorities will be able to take on its work. In my view, that fund should be put on a permanent statutory basis and I hope that the Bill will be amended to bring that about.

4.42 p.m.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, it is a pleasure to be able to take part in this debate in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale. It gives me a feeling of nostalgia. It also gives me hope that now that he is no longer hobbled by his brief he will be able to take part in the Committee stages and join the rest of us in pressing amendments on the Government.

I am also extremely honoured to speak immediately after the noble Lord, Lord Banks, who we all recognise has a greater knowledge of social security matters than anyone else in this House. His speech is immensely welcome. That is not to say that I do not wish to thank the Minister for the great clarity with which he opened the debate.

Speaking immediately after the noble Lord, Lord Banks, I need a disability speaking allowance because there is very little left to say. Therefore I shall be very brief. On the subject of the disability living allowance I shall say merely that I regard it at this stage as a misnomer because it will be all but impossible for severely disabled people to live on it without suffering. It is therefore not meaningful in the sense of what one would ordinarily expect of a disability living allowance.

On a related matter, and following up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Banks, it is far too early to scrap the independent living fund. Its life should be prolonged until such time as the needs of severely disabled people, for example, who number only some 7,000 or so, have been met on a statutory basis. At that point the disability living allowance can be phased out.

It is not right that the burden on the fund should be transferred to the local authorities after 1993. Ordinarily I would consider that a very good suggestion provided that the fund was ring-fenced, but now is the worst possible time for that added burden to be placed on local authorities, which are being forced to cut their welfare services drastically. It is most inappropriate and I support the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, that we should try to remedy that in Committee.

Having said that, I am one of those who applaud the Government's implementation of The Way Ahead by amalgamating the present attendance allowance with the mobility allowance. I consider it to be very much a step in the right direction towards what we all hope by the end of the century will be a comprehensive disability income scheme. The amalgamation of the two allowances will make it much easier for us to press amendments on the Government to that end.

I welcome the disability working allowance. It is a pioneer step, a first attempt at recognising the needs of those disabled people who have a partial capacity to work and helping them within the social security system. Their potential could not be realised without the help of the social security system and so I regard that as an admirable initiative. I also regard the imaginative introduction of self-assessment within the assessment procedure as immensely welcome. Therefore, I find the second part of the Bill admirable.

I do not in any way wish to diminish that accolade by saying that the second part of the Bill is capable of improvement in detail, which it is. That is essential in order to bring within its scope the 50,000 people who could be helped by it. Unless the second part of the Bill is amended those people will be literally helpless. I hope that means testing, for example, will be thoroughly explored in Committee, and, ideally, abolished. If it is not abolished the thresholds should be substantially raised. I should like to see a lower earnings threshold. I should also like the maximum benefit rates to be raised. While we are about it, I cannot see why we should not seek to exempt people in that category from National Health Service charges. I do not believe that any of those aims could not be achieved in this House. Without them the benefits of the second part of the Bill will not reach those who are intended to be the beneficiaries.

I look forward to the unhobbled and active help of the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, in a lively Committee stage which I hope will be free of party political dissension.

4.48 p.m.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, I shall be as brief as possible because I know that my noble friend the Minister has urgent business outside this House and I do not want to delay him.

I welcome the part of the Bill relating to the disability living allowance and the disability working allowance. However, my noble friend will not be surprised when I tell him that, together with others, I shall endeavour to improve it at later stages as the Bill goes through your Lordships' House in order to benefit more disabled people and to improve the benefits that they receive.

In particular I draw your Lordships' attention to the first paragraph of page 2 of the Bill—namely, Clause 1(2) new Section 37ZA(6)—which reads: A person shall not be entitled to a disability living allowance unless he satisfies prescribed conditions as to residence and presence in Great Britain". I am sure that the Minister and many other noble Lords are aware of the situation. Similar conditions are prescribed with respect to the severe disablement allowance. It allows people to receive the allowance only if they have been in the United Kingdom for more than 10 out of the last 20 years. That precludes a small but very important number of people. I hope that we shall not allow the same condition to affect the disability living allowance and that noble Lords will assist me to remove the anomaly for severe disablement allowance as this Bill goes through this House.

The provision affects the families of Crown servants. As I understand it, it does not affect Crown servants themselves. When the country sends a Crown servant abroad to serve the nation in whatever capacity, it is quite reasonable to expect that the family should be with that Crown servant. In fact it would be intolerable if that family had to stay behind for any length of time. A number of Crown Servants remain out of the country for more than 10 of the 20 years. I suspect that that will happen to a number of civil servants who work for the EC. I know that it happens to members of the armed forces, not so much the Royal Air Force, the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines, but the Army and in particular a small part of the Army.

Because of the need for wide and open training spaces, members of the armoured regiments spend much time in Germany, for example. So far as the forces are concerned that counts as a home posting but so far as social security is concerned it counts as being abroad. Such people can easily have two postings to Germany followed by an overseas posting and then go back to Germany, each posting lasting for approximately three years. They could even have two postings back to Germany before going abroad again, so spending 12 years abroad out of the 20 years.

It must not be forgotten that at the moment this affects the families whose fathers and husbands are serving in the Gulf. They are not there purely out of patriotism but in some ways are serving a higher end —altruism—because they are not fighting for the United Kingdom but for the United Nations. We should not let them down.

I understand that the necessary alteration will not cost the Government a great deal of money. The numbers of individuals involved is between 5 and 10. I have been worrying the Government for over a year now and so far have got nowhere. It is important that we should deal with this matter in respect of the disability living allowance and the severe disablement allowance. I trust that your Lordships will assist me in improving that aspect of the Bill as it goes through this House.

4.55 p.m.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, other noble Lords have referred to the implications of the Bill across a wide variety of groups and cases which make up the spectrum of disability. I propose to concentrate my few remarks on people with HIV and AIDS. The question of additional costs not covered by the Bill —a point mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Carter and Lord Banks—is of most concern to that group. The special requirements went by the board with the replacement of the old supplementary benefit system.

As the noble Lord, Lord Banks, said, in Standing Committee in another place the Minister, Mr. Scott, referred scornfully to that system. He said that it would not be wise to return to the amazing complexities of the old supplementary benefit additional requirements. He accused the Opposition of reinvention of all the complexities of the additional requirements system.

Let us admit that there were some complexities. But let us also acknowledge that the old system had the capacity to meet some very pressing needs which the present Bill does not recognise. With regard to complexities, it appears from the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum that a further 1,100 staff will be required to administer the scheme, so it looks as though some complexities are expected also under the new regime. In a field so sensitive and diverse that is bound to be the case.

Under the previous system for people living with AIDS the additional requirements could add up to an extra £40 or £50 a week. In a number of cases AIDS sufferers received over £30 a week for diet alone. Such patients require the intake of additional protein and calories over and above the norm merely to maintain body weight and combat symptoms such as anorexia, fatigue, dysphagia, diarrhoea, malabsorption and the side effects of drugs such as nausea and vomiting which are secondary to chemotherapy.

In 1991 a joint initiative by the Terrence Higgins Trust and the Bloomsbury Health Authority found that the mean weekly cost of a standardised high protein high calorie diet in London came to £42. That is very much in line with costings of dietary plans produced by other organisations for people with symptomatic HIV infection. The Department of Dietetics of the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle-upon-Tyne recommended for a person with AIDS living alone a diet which cost £32.75 at 1988 prices. In the same year the counselling clinic of the Clinical Department of Infectious Diseases of the Greater Glasgow Health Board costed its dietary plan at £30.44. Again, in 1988 the organisation Frontliners, which is a self-help group for people with advanced HIV infection, proposed a diet costing £34.20.

At this point I wish to take the Government to task for their misleading use of research done by MacDonald and Forsythe in the Children's Hospital in 1986, which came up with much lower dietary figures. Anita MacDonald, the senior researcher, has since repudiated the use made by the Government of her research, which was directed at low income families and children in particular and was costed at the very minimum for the subsistence of people with no ailments. She writes with regard to patients with HIV infection or AIDS—in fact I have here her letter to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security, Miss Anne Widdicombe—that that paper is not applicable. She goes on to say that such people may well require expensive nutritional drinks such as Complan and that their diet may well cost over 50 per cent. more than a normal healthy diet would cost. She writes: I therefore consider that the information in my paper has been inappropriately used by the DSS against the case made for additional dietary support for food for people with Aids and HIV infection". A boosted diet is not the only special requirement for those people. As has already been mentioned, heating is another item. Charities such as the Terrence Higgins Trust, Frontliners, Crusaid, ACET, Body Positive and the Monument Trust which operate hardship funds for people with symptomatic HIV frequently report that most grants are awarded for the payment of household bills which cannot otherwise be afforded. Predictably, unpaid heating bills crop up time and again.

If doctors are correct in advising people with HIV to maintain an adequate body temperature in order to maximise resistance to opportunistic infections, then the situation gives rise to considerable concern. Until April 1988, a weekly heating allowance worth up to £5.55 could be paid to people who could prove that they were housebound, or that they had a serious physical illness and required extra heat as a result, and/or that they were in accommodation which was extremely difficult to heat. However, since that date such help is not available.

Other problems such as drenching night sweats and incontinence obviously lead to extra bathing and laundering requirements. I shall not go into detail until Committee stage. But suffice it to say that people who are HIV symptomatic are often too weak to carry bed clothes to the launderette and find launderettes too expensive. Again, until April 1988, additional laundry costs incurred through ill health were met virtually in full, but now not at all.

I can give plenty of instances of case histories to support these assertions. However, I believe that it is more appropriate to reserve them for amendments at Committee stage. At Second Reading it is more useful to put what I have said in a broader context.

New AIDS cases are not only on the increase; people with AIDS, due to improved drug therapies, are living longer. Life expectation has increased from 10 to 20 months across the board. We are thus facing increasing numbers of people alive with AIDS at any one time and it is essential that they have the wherewithal to stay relatively well as long as possible outside hospital.

At the outset of the epidemic, people with AIDS spent much of their time in hospital. There has since been an encouraging movement towards longer spells in the community and shorter periods of hospitalisation—I have checked this fact with a number of doctors—due to improved medical treatment and techniques and a new emphasis on care at home rather than in an institution. It would be a thousand pities if this trend were to be reversed both in terms of quality of life for AIDS sufferers and NHS costs.

If the trend is reversed, it simply means that the Government will have to raise the earmarked funds for AIDS for the NHS faster than would otherwise be the case and more beds will be required, putting pressure on other hospital specialties. The present costs of AIDS in-patients per year is estimated by the Department of Health at £20,000. But those estimates are difficult to assess; I have had higher estimates of up to £30,000. The Department of Health estimate for out-patients is only £2,000 NHS costs, plus £1,500 for local authority social services. The figures speak for themselves.

However, if people are to live a viable life in the community, they will undoubtedly need the support that they could receive under the previous system. Otherwise they will become ill and will be in-patients with the resource implications that that entails.

I am not one of those who is in favour of an endless proliferation of welfare benefits. These matters have to be considered carefully. However, it is an area in which it will be found that denying people the additional help that they need in special circumstances is not only inhumane but a false economy. I shall therefore support amendments at Committee stage —referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Carter—designed to extend the scope of the Bill beyond attendance and mobility to cover additional costs.

I have one other concern of a slightly different nature. Clause 3 establishes a Disability Living Allowance Advisory Board. Clause 4 activates Schedules 1 and 2. Schedule 1 introduces new adjudication arrangements for both disability living allowance and attendance allowance. Clause 5 appears to contemplate (although it is only permissive) the dissolution of the Attendance Allowance Board.

The Attendance Allowance Board has been working extremely well in one respect. That is in relation to the award of attendance allowance to the terminally ill without a six-month qualifying period —an initiative incorporated in the last Social Security Act which originated in your Lordships' House. I understand that applications have been processed in 10 to 14 days. That is highly satisfactory since speed is necessarily of the essence in such circumstances.

However, what will be the situation in the future? Is it the intention to scramble the two boards together? From the extremely lucid opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Henley—I may have been a little remiss in not following him fully—I gathered that a purely advisory board will replace the present executive Attendance Allowance Board. Is that so? If so, are we not in danger of more sluggish procedures from the new bureaucracy of 1,100 civil servants, to whom reference is made in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, while they assess a large number of self-assessments? I agree that self-assessment is a great step forward. But it will introduce considerable complications.

The noble Lord, Lord Henley, referred to difficult decisions at the margins of entitlement. I believe that those were his words. I refer to them only to suggest that a great deal of work will pass through the new board. I do not wish the present smooth working of the Attendance Allowance Board in particular in relation to the terminally ill to be lost. I hope that he will be able to give me some assurances on that when he winds up the debate.

5.6 p.m.

Baroness Flather

My Lords, disability can strike anyone at any time. It is random, unforeseen and shattering. My husband was diagnosed as suffering from multiple sclerosis in 1983. By 1985 the disease had progressed sufficiently to stop his busy practice at the Bar. Five years ago we found ourselves facing a bleak future indeed. We had a modest mortgage in relation to our income and a modest overdraft. Those were debts which suddenly assumed monumental proportions. But we have been lucky; many are not. My husband now has a different career, mainly as a tribunal chairman. We have taken the decision to do as much as we can and as he becomes worse we find a way to keep him active and working.

The Disability Living Allowance and the Disability Working Allowance Bill is very much a step in the right direction. One of the perversities of becoming disabled is that at the very time when one's financial needs increase, one's ability to earn either reduces or disappears altogether. Not only does the disabled person have to bear the physical problems; his self-esteem and self worth take a huge knock. We live in a society which judges and measures the worth of a person by the amount of money that they can earn. To keep a disabled person working is probably the most important single factor in maintaining the quality of life for him and his family. It is dreadful to have to make a choice between working and not working if by working one has to take a drop in income.

I am sure that everyone will welcome the introduction of the disability working allowance. It will help many people who are currently receiving incapacity benefits to make a transition to work and many others who have had to give up full-time employment but may still manage some hours per week.

We ourselves had to go through many hoops to qualify for mobility and attendance allowances. There are two quite lengthy assessments by a doctor who is not known to the disabled person or his family. Disability is a very complex matter. Its effects cannot be judged by seeing someone once. There are good and bad days. There are even good and bad weeks. Even the weather has a serious effect. It is so much more logical that professionals caring for the disabled person should be the ones supporting a self-assessment by the disabled person himself.

I was a member of the Social Security Advisory Committee for three years. I cannot say that during that time I mastered the technicalities of social security. In fact I must confess that with each passing year I felt less able to understand the intricacies of the system. The only way in which I could make any judgment was by working out whether the effect on the claimant was good or bad. Applying the same yardstick to the Bill, I believe that the effect is wholly good.

In a letter to the Secretary of State the chairman of the advisory committee stated: the committee welcomes the improvements which you propose to make". He went on to say that they were in line with the committee's report entitled Benefits for Disabled People, A Strategy for Change.

I am saddened by the fact that the Disability Alliance has disociated itself from the Bill because it believes that the provisions do not go far enough. There will always be more to be done in this field. We should treat the Bill as a step in the right direction and not as the end of the line. We need to maintain constant pressure and try to make improvements as and when it is possible.

My husband has been well served by the state. We have received a great deal of help and support from our doctor, the social services, occupational therapists and the district nurse. We could not have managed without that help. We have been grateful for the mobility and attendance allowances. Any improvement and simplification in them can only be welcomed.

5.11 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I wish to speak in particular about the disability working allowance which I find to be the most interesting concept. I am pleased to welcome the Bill; it is marvellous that the provision is included in it. Clause 6 contains the qualifying conditions. Clauses 6, 7 and 9 are clear and easy to follow. The best aspect is that the provision will top up people's earnings.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, in saying that the time should come when means testing is abolished. That would be preferable because where someone is well off there could be a claw-back provision in the tax system for collecting surplus money. The effect would be the same and a great deal of time need not be spent on means testing.

I also welcome self-assessment but have a few words of caution. Statutory sick pay is based on self-assessment certificates. My experience of industrial tribunals shows that some are legitimate while others are not. People accept that fact because no payment is attached to such an assessment. In this instance most cases of self-assessment will be accurate and correct. However, there must always be a means of carrying out a spot check as is the case with medical prescriptions and dental treatment. One case out of many others is chosen for examination; in particular the prescribing patterns. If a doctor or dentist is giving support to a greater number of patients the case should be examined. It is to the benefit of the genuinely disabled that people are truthful when completing forms.

I draw a parallel with the orange badge scheme which was being dealt with when I first became a Member of this House. Almost one-third of the population were then driving with orange badges on their cars. Some people who really needed help from such a scheme were unable to obtain it because the benefit had been made too easily available to others. I thoroughly support the self-assessment provision but offer that word of caution.

I was also pleased to read that when introducing the Bill in the other place the Secretary of State said that claimants will still have the right to have a medical examination if they prefer. That is important because although self-assessment is simple for many people someone used to the previous system may find the change difficult to accept. It is good that the option exists for people who wish to continue to see a doctor. I was less cheered by the Minister's comment that there will be a longer claim form. I had thought that the aim was to simplify the forms and to shorten them. In other debates in this House I have spoken of what is almost a book that one must complete in respect of dental service.

Another important provision is that under the scheme one will become qualified if one is able to claim a disadvantage in obtaining employment. That is excellent but there are visible and invisible handicaps. Some people suffer badly; for instance, those in the early stages of multiple sclerosis, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Flather. Some of those people are abused when they take a seat on a bus because others think that they look young and fit. Such people can look well but suffer from a severe disability. The real Cinderella of handicaps is a disability in hearing. A person with hearing difficulties is greatly disadvantaged in his or her employment. More should be done to provide aids and to help people to obtain jobs. I support all those who say that it is marvellous for a person with any degree of handicap to have the satisfaction of doing a job and usually of doing it well. I have been most impressed by the people who I have seen and the work that they have done.

I wish to bring forward an amendment in respect of the two years' linking provision. It is marvellous that within two years one can claim one's previous right to assistance. However, in the case of an episodic type of condition, such as multiple sclerosis, people may be able to work for six months but then go through a bad episode and must return to claiming benefit. For people who have a genuinely defined case I should like to see that period become a rolling two years. Instead of the period being fixed from the original date of the claim it should run for two years from the previous remission or from when benefit was last claimed. I had the opportunity to ask the Minister in the other place about that matter. He said that he was not sure but believed that after two years one must claim again. I shall examine that issue and perhaps bring forward an amendment.

The advisory board is an excellent provision and I am pleased to note that it will contain members who have practical experience of the needs of disabled people, or someone who is himself disabled. I take that also to mean "herself" disabled. I am also pleased that there will be a right of appeal. Perhaps the Minister can say whether the board will cover the disability living allowance and the disability working allowance. Although I hope and presume that it will, that is not clear. I support the Bill.

5.18 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Carter said in opening the debate from these Benches, it is my intention to deal with the second part of the Bill, that is, the disability working allowance, he having dealt with the living allowance. As the Minister said, the intention of the DWA is to provide an incentive for partially disabled people who are disadvantaged in the labour market to take employment. I believe that it is described as bridging the gap to employment. I am sure that all noble Lords agree that that is a laudable objective and one that we should welcome. However, the problem is that the Bill as drafted does not do what it claims to do.

All the organisations representing the disabled have been most critical of this section of the Bill. They point out that the qualifying rules are likely to exclude many potential claimants. The rules are complicated and, as we know, complications mean that people who may be able to claim benefit fail to make a claim. I am informed that the exclusions are such that the department's own projections do not foresee many people using the allowance. I believe that we have more than 3.1 million disabled people capable of working. That is the estimate made by some of the organisations representing disabled people. Yet the disability working allowance is at best projected to reach a maximum of 50,000 people. That is no answer to under-employment or non-employment of disabled people.

We shall table amendments in Committee to try to deal with some of the exclusions. First, as we have been told, claimants will have to be working for a minimum of 16 working hours per week. There is no rationale for that. It means excluding people with fluctuating conditions and those able to work perhaps only two days a week. We hope to be able to deal with that exclusion in Committee.

As a number of noble Lords have said, the benefit is means tested. Again, that is a recipe for ensuring that fewer people than might otherwise have benefited apply. The means test will take into account a partner's income and capital. Claimants with a working partner will be unlikely to qualify for the DWA. That will tend to exclude in particular married women claiming severe disablement allowance. Disabled people need to be treated as individuals rather than as appendages to partners.

The qualifying benefit routes—that is, receipt of invalidity benefit, SDA, or disability premia—will exclude disabled people who are not claiming those benefits or who simply prefer to sign on as available for work. For example, people who have impaired hearing or sight but who are not registered may be only partially capable of work but, as I understand it, will not qualify for the new DWA.

People who claim the disadvantage test must establish that they are disadvantaged in the pursuit of employment. Most of the organisations representing the disabled have expressed anxiety about that. The Spastics Society believes that there should not be a capacity test at all and that the disability alone should be sufficient to qualify. According to surveys it has carried out, employers are one-and-a-half times more likely to offer an interview to an able bodied applicant than to a disabled person. The society cites instances of disabled people who become very dispirited after continually trying, without result, to secure employment. Again, we should like to explore that further in Committee.

The exclusions could create another poverty trap. As the Disability Alliance puts it: The low threshold levels and benefit levels combined with the steep 70 per cent. taper produce little real incentive to claim the DWA with a severe poverty trap for those who do. The 70 per cent. taper means that a claimant will only see 30p out of every pound earned over the threshold level". The alliance believes that higher threshold levels and benefit levels relating to current average earnings and uprated in line with annual changes in earnings are essential if the DWA is sincerely intended to improve the earning capacity and financial position of disabled people. A lower taper rate is essential to prevent the emergence of a poverty trap.

As a number of noble Lords have said, there are other aspects with which the proposed new scheme does not deal adequately. The able bodied often fail to appreciate the extra costs incurred by the disabled. The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, referred to that in her moving speech. Jobs around the home which the able bodied can cope with are impossible for disabled people, who have to pay to have them done. Essential equipment—such as house adaptations—can be very expensive. The additional costs were referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Banks, whom I am very happy to see back with us. I value his expertise.

Disabled people should not be penalised for having a little capital, particularly when that capital may be their partner's. In some cases the capital may arise from lump sums awarded following industrial injury compensation claims and forthcoming only because the injuries were the result of the negligence of an employer or some other person. In our view it is wrong that those amounts should be taken into account. All the organisations caring for the disabled seem to indicate that the capital limit of £8,000 set by the Government is too low. To take the income and capital of a partner into account will reduce the amount of the DWA and, perhaps in a majority of cases, extinguish entitlement altogether.

It seems to us that the clauses of the Bill relating to the DWA need amending in order to meet the needs of disabled people who nevertheless wish to work and are capable of some work. We propose to address ourselves to those amendments when the Bill is in Committee.

Finally, the financial implications of the DWA are alleged to be neutral. The gross cost will be offset by reduction of other benefits. Therefore, this is not something extra; it is something for which other benefits will pay. We believe that there is a case for a genuine DWA and in Committee we shall work to ensure that we achieve that.

There is reference in the Bill to extra costs of £10 million which are being offset by tax gains of £20 million. If that is the case, it looks as though a profit of £10 million is being made. I am sure that that is not the Government's intention.

As other noble Lords have said, aspects of the Bill which we sincerely welcome are the provisions in regard to assessment and the appeals mechanism. We believe that that has been sorted out in a reasonable and good way. The provisions have been widely welcomed.

5.27 p.m.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in welcoming the noble Lord, Lord Banks, to the social security spotlight on the Liberal Benches. It has been my privilege in discussing previous social security legislation to cross swords with my noble kinsman Lord Russell. It makes a welcome change on this occasion not to see him in his place.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, I look forward to a very lively Committee stage. I am grateful for the notice which many noble Lords have given as to the various amendments which we can expect to see tabled.

I do not believe that it would be right and proper for me to answer every point that has been raised today. Those points should be dealt with in Committee. Therefore, I hope that noble Lords will bear with me if a great many points which have been raised in the debate are not answered. However, I shall try to deal with one or two of the matters raised.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, complained about the complexity of the DLA and said that there were 11 rates. I believe that he said that it was a merry-go-round. I remind the noble Lord that the procedures are a simplification. There is merely one claim pack for both mobility and care components as compared to the two separate forms which there are for attendance allowance and mobility allowance. There is only one medical examination, one notice of award, one order book, one application on renewal and merely one request for a view on deterioration to cover increased entitlement to both the care and mobility components.

A subject which has greatly exercised noble Lords is the argument that there is no help provided for extra costs other than the help for care and mobility. It is simply not true to say that the current benefits and the new disability living allowance cover only two out of the 13 different types of disability identified by the OPCS. Many more people under 65 receiving attendance allowance have needs relating to disabilities such as incontinence, intellectual functioning, consciousness, communication and behaviour rather than personal care. In the same way many of those under the age of 65 receiving mobility allowance have needs relating to disabilities connected with reaching and stretching, dexterity and personal care rather than merely locomotion.

The existing benefits are well targeted on people suffering from the greatest degree of disability and in most need of help. A large proportion of those in the high severity categories were shown to be in receipt of attendance allowance, and a similarly high percentage of those in the same categories under pension age were in receipt of mobility allowance. Care and mobility needs represent the common denominator between the most frequently occurring and the most expensive of the disability related costs which people incur; the more expensive disabilities were the least common.

The noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, referred to the special needs of people with AIDS. On this occasion I am sorry to appear repetitive. I must confirm what my right honourable friend the Minister said. We have a choice between a complex system which attempts to cater for every individual case with the result that no one quite knows to what he or she is entitled and opting for a simpler system with one claim form for one benefit giving help with the extra costs. The old system may have offered extra types of help; but it actually delivered that help to a smaller proportion of disabled people with extra costs. Our choice is the simpler system which has proved so successful since both attendance and mobility allowances were introduced.

I turn to the question of the severely mentally handicapped, a matter with which my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale—who no longer appears to be present—will be familiar. We had long arguments regarding numbers during the enactment of the Social Security Act 1989. I am sure that many noble Lords will remember them.

I accept that it is a difficult and complex issue. I stress that there is no lack of will on our part to resolve it. We have always said, and my right honourable friend the Minister for Disabled People reiterated this in another place, that if we can isolate the 8,000 or 9,000 people in the group whom MENCAP is convinced are markedly more disabled than the others who will, as I mentioned in opening the debate, come into the lower rate, then we will happily do so. However, our differences over the figures are genuine. We accept in some measure that we have been talking at cross purposes. As my right honourable friend said in a detailed letter to all the Members of the Standing Committee in another place—which I shall make available to Members of this House if required to do so—we used the OPCS evidence to identify all those whose behaviour problems were so severe as to generate a need for guidance, supervision or control when walking. The figure is 150,000. We readily accept that it includes many with mental illness. There are also sizeable numbers with mental handicap.

We have not been convinced that previous amendments which sought to pinpoint in legislation the group identified by MENCAP succeeded in so doing. I make no criticism of those amendments; it is an extremely difficult task. It is an issue which we have many times attempted to resolve without producing a solution. However, my right honourable friend the Minister gave an assurance that we would take another look at the matter. We need to find a test capable of adjudication. I have to say that tests for benefit which rely on, for example, IQ tests, will not work. They move us in the opposite direction from the self-assessment system that we are very keen to promote.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt, but I wish to see the position absolutely clearly. Is the Minister saying that the Government now accept the figure of 8,000 or 9,000, and that the only problem is one of words in finding a formula that defines that group clearly enough?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I cited the figure of 8,000 or 9,000 given by MENCAP. The problem of words raised by the noble Lord is a very real one. If one does not have the right words one will not have merely 8,000 or 9,000; one will have a much greater figure. That is what I am attempting to say. If we could isolate the group identified by MENCAP—I stress that we must find a way of doing that—then we would be happy to do so. As I say, we shall come back to this point in Committee.

Lord Carter

My Lords, while we are on the point perhaps I can say that the Minister mentioned that if we were to find a scheme it would move away from self-assessment. However, severely disabled or mentally handicapped people will not be able to assess themselves for benefit.

Lord Henley

My Lords, as the noble Lord is aware, self-assessment procedure is designed not only for the individual concerned, but also for the carer who will fill in the forms. We shall return to the matter in Committee. I see little point in toing and froing at this moment. However, I do not wish to delude the House into believing that we shall be able to come forward with a solution other than to say that our minds are open. If there is a way of moving forward we shall be prepared to look again at the matter.

Perhaps I can make a brief comment on the question of the lower age limit for the mobility component being pitched at the age of five. I recognise that there will always be difficult decisions in social security systems regarding where we draw the line. I believe the original decision made by the Labour Government to draw the line at the age of five for mobility allowance makes sense. It is school age and the age at which children normally become less dependent upon their parents. Prior to that stage it is normal for children to be unable to go without their parents' help. Paying the mobility component to under-fives is an important matter and especially so when one is under pressure to raise the age limit to the over-65s, which is not the main claim on the existing or extra resources.

I turn to the remarks of my noble friend Lord Swinfen regarding SDA and the residents and presence test. As my noble friend said, he has drawn my attention and the attention of others to his anxieties regarding the test on various occasions. He will be aware that it is an issue which goes strictly beyond the ambit of the Bill. However, I understand his desire to raise the issue again. Today I am not able to give him a reply. However it is a matter to which we shall return at later stages in the Bill.

I turn to the question of the dissolution of the Attendance Allowance Board raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock. I confirm that the Attendance Allowance Board will be dissolved and all future decisions will be taken by adjudication officers. That proposal has been widely welcomed in response to the DLA consultation document which makes clear that the emphasis is not on the medical condition but on the effects of the condition.

I confirm also that we are committed to maintaining the clearance times of claims in relation to the terminally ill. I welcome very much the words of the noble Lord in praising the Government for the speed with which we have been able to act. My noble friend Lady Gardner asked whether the replacement of the Attendance Allowance Board would cover also the disability working allowance. The simple answer is no. The board will be providing advice regarding the medical aspects associated with DLA and attendance allowance. It is unlikely that an adjudication officer will need similar advice on the disability working allowance.

I welcome the remarks, experience and expertise of my noble friend Lady Flather in speaking about the disability working allowance and giving her personal account of the problems that the disabled can face and the advantages that this allowance will bring. My noble friend said that she felt that after three years on the Social Security Advisory Committee she knew less possibly about the system than she did at the beginning. That can happen at times to all of us who are involved in the social security field. However, I am sure that my noble friend was being falsely modest.

The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, complained about the low caseload for the disability working allowance. We have never argued that the DWA will provide the answer to all the problems of disabled people. We feel that it is an important step forward in removing the obstacle which has prevented many disabled people from opting to work. The 50,000 whom we expect to be getting the disability working allowance at any one time will find the new benefit provides them with a stepping-stone back into the labour market.

We made it clear in The Way Ahead that the disability working allowance is intended particularly to help people on incapacity benefits make the difficult transition back into work when they are ready to do so. In designing the benefit we have paid particular attention to meeting the needs of people who are just starting a job; for example, the payment of their disability working allowance very quickly if they are so entitled. The rules are intended to be as straightforward as possible so that people can work out for themselves whether they qualify. They are also designed to make the best use we can of the information we already have to avoid asking claimants for more. In effect, the qualifying benefit test is part of the test of disability for the disability working allowance.

We believe that this test provides strong enough evidence to avoid the need for claimants to undergo a medical examination as part of their disability working allowance claim. Such examinations can be an ordeal for the claimant and almost inevitably hold up the benefit claim. Removing the requirement to get one of the qualifying benefits—something which the noble Lord, Lord Banks, was proposing—would widen the scope of the disability working allowance so much that it would change entirely in character. The change would bring a very large number of people into the benefit and the cost might well be of the order of £200 million net of any other benefit changes.

My noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes and others argued that the disability working allowance should not be means-tested and that we should use the tax system. I sympathise with my noble friend's sentiments. Obviously, in paying money to people who are in work we have to make a judgment about priorities. The disability working allowance will make a valuable contribution to removing an obstacle which prevented many disabled people from choosing to work.

I wish to make one brief comment about the longer claim form which my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes complained about. As with everything in social security, we have to choose the lesser of two evils. If we make the claim form easy to read and simple to follow we cannot keep it short. I know that the House will be aware, as I have mentioned before, that the Department of Social Security, which I have the honour to represent, has on various occasions won awards from the Plain English Campaign for the clarity of its claim forms. In the case of new benefits we have already started testing the claim forms we propose with disabled people to make sure that they are, as termed, "user friendly".

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, asked why we should not hive a comprehensive disability income. The noble Lord promised that a future Labour government—should there ever be one —will bring that in. We know what that means. A vast amount of help already exists within the network of disability benefits which is well targeted on the groups whose needs it is designed to meet. The extra cost benefits announced in this Bill will by 1993–94 be going to five times as many people as were receiving them in 1978–79. We believe that it is far better to build on the success of the existing system than to create some byzantine new benefit in which claimants would have very little idea what they were applying for or how much they might get. That course, in respect of supplementary benefits, simply led to people not understanding what they could claim and not knowing whether they were getting all that they should. It is all very well giving people rights; it is far better to make sure that they have rights that they know how to exercise.

We are now building further on the enormous success of current benefits and targeting those people who do not at the moment get into benefit but whose incomes are likely to be lower as a result of their disabilities. That will put us into what 12 years ago would have been an unimaginable situation with more than five times as many people getting an extra cost benefit as there were then. We do not pretend that this Bill will be the last word on the provision for disabled people. We claim that it is a significant step forward and that along with the rest of The Way Ahead package it delivers substantial new help to many hundreds of thousands of disabled people. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.