HL Deb 03 February 1994 vol 551 cc1369-72

Lord Ashley of Stoke asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they intend to revise the eligibility criteria for the Independent Living Fund (1993).

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Viscount Astor)

My Lords, the new independent living arrangements and the community care initiative of which they form part have been in operation for only 10 months. We have no plans to revise the criteria at the present time.

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. However, is he aware that many severely disabled people are denied payment from the new Independent Living Fund because of local authority incompetence? No matter how severely disabled they are, even if they are paralysed, they receive no money from the new ILF if their local authority fails to provide a specified number of services. Is the Minister further aware that in no fewer than 57 of the 132 local authority areas not one severely disabled person receives one penny from the new ILF? In many cases that is due to the local authority's failure to provide its part of the package. Does the Minister agree that that is a shocking state of affairs, and that as a minimum we need a revision of the eligibility criteria?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the 1993 fund is not a straightforward continuation of the old ILF, but an entirely new venture which is based upon the provision of joint care packages in partnership with local authorities. Some local authorities have adapted to the new way of working more quickly than others, and that has affected their ability to work effectively with the fund. The fund has issued detailed guidance to local authorities. The director has met the Association of Directors of Social Services and agreed a joint way forward. Of course, 75 local authorities have applied successfully. There are only 13 local authorities from which there have been no applications. Decisions are still pending in the remaining 44 local authorities.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, is the Government's mind still open about direct payments by local authorities, which were available previously? It was a much simpler and effective system, and was advocated by some of us when the Bill was before the House in May last year. Is my noble friend aware that the trustees are now likely to recommend reintroducing that system?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, my noble friend is right. Cash payments were one of the most popular aspects of the old fund. Of course cash payments have been retained by the fund. Payments from the 1993 fund continue to be paid to the disabled customer, not to the local authority. Local social services departments have recently taken on new responsibilities for providing flexible care packages for disabled people. We believe that we should wait to see how well that goes before rushing into another major change in the way in which they operate.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, will the Minister look at the forms that severely disabled people or their carers have to fill in? Is he aware that they are complicated and a bureaucratic nightmare, and that it is not surprising that people get into a muddle?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I am never surprised if people sometimes get into a muddle when they have to fill in complicated forms. The forms are available from. local social services departments, which also have information on the fund. The forms are a matter for the fund's trustees. I shall bring the forms to their attention and ask that they look closely at them.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, following the question asked by the noble Baroness, is the Minister aware that I have received the most heartbreaking representations from those whom the fund is supposed to help in regard to a specific kind of bureaucratic requirement contained in the forms? Is the Minister aware that I am referring to the requirement that the name, address and national insurance number of each carer must be supplied? Is the Minister cognisant of the fact that in the hard, real, sometimes cruel, but nevertheless courageous world in which these people live that requirement is a hardship? Many people resign as carers when they learn that they have to supply these particulars. That is especially difficult when wives do not always keep husbands informed of their part-time employment Will the Minister look into that matter because it is causing many heartbreaks?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, we believe that it is reasonable for the trustees of a charity to ensure that, if a payment is made for the purpose of buying care, the appropriate safeguards are in place to ensure that that payment is spent on care and not on something else. Payments from the new fund are not a benefit entitlement but grants made by a charity. A public body which has a budget of about £120 million must take the minimum of reasonable steps to ensure that proper records are kept of how that money is spent. A review that the trustees have undertaken in order to collect carer's national insurance numbers has uncovered a number of examples of where ILF money has been used for purposes other than for the purchase of personal care, and where overpayment; have resulted.

Lady Kinloss

My Lords, if in the future the Government consider reducing the £200 limit up to which local authorities must provide services, will the Minister say whether the Government would then allow disabled people direct access to the fund?

Viscount Astor

My Lords., the fund is not the only source of help for disabled people. It is an integral part of the Government's community care initiative, providing an additional option for a small and specific group of people with severe disabilities. Parameters have been established within which the fund is to operate; the £200 threshold of local authority services and the £500 limit on the total value of joint care packages are two of them. Of course we shall reconsider those limits in the future if it seems reasonable to do so.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, does my noble friend consider it right that, where the package from the local authority costs more than £500, the severely disabled person is then ineligible for help from the ILF and can obtain proper help only by being put into a registered home, which often costs considerably more than that? It is normally well in excess of £600.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, it is up to local authorities to try to make the appropriate arrangements. It is of course all part of community care. All the evidence suggests that the local authorities have made a good start in implementing the community care changes. The new arrangements offer users the opportunity to have services which are better matched to their needs and wishes. The reforms are an agenda for change over many years, but elderly and disabled people all around the country are already benefiting from the more flexible care packages.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that in 1991–92 the ILF made 7,300 new awards, and 10,600 awards in 1992–93, but in the 10 months of this financial year just 108? That is over 10,000 last year but barely over 100 so far this year. Thirteen per cent. of its budget has been spent at the moment and its total budget will be severely underspent by the end of this year. Does that not show that the ILF for 1993, as constructed, is failing to reach and help the severely disabled? Will the Minister respond to the anxieties expressed in the House today and to the views of the disability organisations and local authority social services directors that the scheme does not work, and in my view cannot work? It must be amended if we are to help the disabled.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the average time from application to payment is currently 16 weeks. The most common cause of delays in payment is difficulty in agreeing the costings for components of the care package with local authorities. It is wrong to view the fund in isolation. The extension fund continues to maintain awards to some 18,500 former clients of the old fund and will spend an estimated £120 million this year.

I should also say that the Government have made increased resources available. In addition, £64 million, rising to £99 million next year, will be transferred to local authorities in recognition of their primary role in providing opportunities for independent living for all disabled people. That is in addition to the core funding for community care that authorities have received. Moreover, £11 million has been allocated to the 1993 fund for 1994–95.

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, is the Minister aware that he has given some very disappointing replies this afternoon? Will he investigate the allegations that have been made, because the figures that I gave derive from the ILF this morning?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, we believe that community care and the ILF are working. As I have said, there have been delays and difficulties in the granting of applications. But the fund has been in existence for only 10 months. We should give it time to operate before we begin to speak of radical changes being made.

Back to