HL Deb 17 February 1997 vol 578 cc449-50

2.44 p.m.

Lord Molloy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will consider introducing a care allowance towards the cost of working dogs to assist blind, deaf or disabled people.

The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish)

No, my Lords; attendance allowance and disability living allowance are available to help severely disabled people with the extra costs incurred because of the effects of their disability. For some, those extra costs will include the upkeep of their dogs.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, 50 per cent. of which I can accept. However, is the Minister aware that the training of dogs is extremely costly? For example, a former serviceman, who has lost his hearing because of the wounds he suffered, has to find £2,500 to train his dog. Moreover, a guide dog for the blind costs £3,500. To be fair, many charities help in the training of dogs and with the cost of vets' fees. Therefore, would it be possible for our Government to make their contribution to help those who have been blinded in the service of their country? Can they not have a dog free of charge? Indeed, no matter how people became blind or why they need a dog, they should be assisted, especially in this country, which is noted to be a nation of animal lovers. Will the Minister consider what help can be given to those who need some assistance and who want a dog to help them in the course of their lives?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, as I have already explained to the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, the two benefits—namely, attendance allowance and disability living allowance—are designed to help with the additional costs that people have to meet because of their disability. In the case of the group of people that we are considering, that includes blindness. The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association does a great deal of good work. It has something like 4,250 guide dogs assisting blind people in Britain at present. The association trains the dogs and provides them. My understanding is that the association can give approximately £18 per month to a blind person to help with the cost of the dog, plus vets' fees. Moreover, the Hearing Dogs organisation also provides insurance cover for the cost of vets' fees and will provide help for dog food and the like in the case of hardship.