HC Deb 24 July 1985 vol 83 cc601-3W
Mrs. Beckett

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services (I) whether a family with more than one disabled child will be eligible for a disabled child's premium for second and subsequent children as well as a disabled child's addition for the first child;

(2) whether people who are receiving the disability premium on income support because they receive mobility allowance will retain the premium even when their mobility allowance is withdrawn after they reach 75 years;

(3) whether blindness will act as a qualifying condition for a disabled child's premium in the new income support scheme;

(4) whether (a) the Government intend to introduce a premium for those caring for disabled people in the new income support scheme, (b) such a premium would be available to partners of the claimant who are carers and (c) whether it would be paid on top of any other disability premium being received by the assessment unit;

(5) whether age-related premiums will be available in the income support scheme where either the claimant or the claimant's partner meets the age condition specified;

(6) when he expects to be able to reply to a letter from the Disability Alliance containing a series of questions about the proposed income support scheme; and if he will publish his reply in the Official Report;

(7) whether the qualifying conditions for the disability premiums under the proposed income support scheme are to be the same for (a) a disabled claimant of whatever age, (b) a disabled partner of a claimant of whatever age and (c) a disabled child;

(8) whether a person who (a) becomes blind after the age of 60 years or (b) who is blind and first claims income support after the age of 60 years will be eligible for the higher pensioner premium.

Mr. Newton

My letter to Disability Alliance of 19 July covers the points raised by the hon. Member. The text is as followsThank you for your "open letter" of 14 June about the social security review in relation to disabled people. While I found it disappointing that the briefing paper which accompanied it made no attempt at a serious and balanced assessment of the proposals, and indeed does not even mention the fact that the disablement premium would be payable six months sooner than the present long-term scale rate, the questions you posed are a helpful contribution to the process of discussion on which we are now embarked. Some of your questions relate to detailed points which are precisely the kind of issues on which we will welcome views during the consultation period. In other cases, the implication of your questions appear to show some difficulties over matters that we thought we have made clear in the Green Paper. Consequently, I think the most helpful approach would be to give a fuller version of the relevant arrangements envisaged in the Green Paper in order to clarify our thinking. In doing so, I would like to emphasise that, both on these points and all the others you raise, we shall welcome your own comments (to the extent that they are not already implicit in the way you have phrased the questions themselves). I should mention, though, that your comments on the proposed capital rule for housing benefit appear to overlook the fact that investment income will be ignored, whereas it is at present taken into account. Each person would receive a personal allowance which would vary according to whether he or she is aged under 25 or 25 and above. The dividing point is the 25th birthday. There would be separate rates for couples above and below 25—where either partner was 25 or more, the over 25 rate would be paid. Any claimant with a dependent child or children would also receive a flat rate family premium; this would be payable in addition to the age-related amounts payable in respect of each child which would continue (your briefing paper does not make this clear). Any claimant satisfying the relevant qualifying conditions would receive a client group premium. The qualifying conditions for the disablement premium would he for either partner to be in receipt of attendance allowance, mobility allowance, invalidity benefit or severe disablement allowance or for the claimant to be exempt from the requirement to be available for work on the grounds of incapacity for 28 weeks. The qualifying conditions for the premium for pensioners is for either partner to have reached the age of 60. However, there would be a higher premium for pensioners payable where either partner has reached the age of 80 or is in receipt of attendance allowance, mobility allowance or invalidity pension; it would also be payable to those who were already receiving the disablement premium when they reached age 60. All lone parents over the age of 18 would be eligible for the rate of personal allowance payable to those age 25 and above. Lone parents would also qualify for a specific client group premium, as well as their receipt of family premium (by definition). Finally, if the family contains a child in receipt of mobility allowance or attendance allowance, then a double family premium would be payable. The premiums would be flat rate and would not vary according to a person's age or other circumstances. If someone has underlying eligibility for two client group premiums, then only one — the higher — would be paid. There would be separate rates of the client group premiums for single and married claimants — we have in mind that the distinction would be related to marital status rather than married couples on the basis that, in this context, needs overlap. Just as the family premium itself would be a flat rate payment regardless of the number of children so we envisage that only one double family premium would be payable in respect of each family. So, to take your example a lone parent would be entitled to the 25 plus rate of personal allowance, the family premium, and one only of the lone parent or disablement or pensioners premiums. Blindness would be a qualification for the disablement premium in exactly the same way as receipt of one of the benefits listed above. Thus, a blind person would be eligible for the disablement premium even if he or she was capable of work, a blind partner would bring entitlement to the premium, and a person would gain entitlement to the higher pensioner premium where the onset of blindness was after the age of 60. A dependent child who was blind would attract the double family premium, regardless of whether he or she received attendance allowance or mobility allowance. We have not reached a final decision on whether the qualifying condition for the disablement premium on grounds of blindness would be any different from that for the additional requirement for blindness. As you say an) new arrangements would need to be operable throughout Great Britain. There are no proposals in the Green Paper to increase the age of entitlement to income support. As to the structure of support for children, we have invited comment in particular on the current age bands, floating an alternative to the present structure. We shall examine this further in the light of the comments we receive. I think it is clear that there would be no separate provision in the structure of income support for any residual housing costs such as charges for emptying septic tanks or the cost of repairs and insurance. Some of the other areas you list, for example payment to co-owners and crown tenants, we shall have to consider further to decide whether any of them might be better catered for under housing benefit titan income support. Similarly a separate "rent addition" does not fit within the structure of income support as we envisage it and we shall consider this as we consider the wider implications of our arrangements for the system of non-dependant deductions. On resources, the increased earnings disregard of £15 we have in mind for people receiving the disability premium would apply to the couple as a whole. It will apply either to the earnings of a single person or to the sum of the earnings of a couple in the relatively infrequent circumstances where both partners work. The Green paper seems to me clear enough on our proposals on the treatment of work expenses. We shall be considering the treatment of other forms of income, such as from boarders and child minding, in examining the detail of current rules as we work up the new scheme. Similarly, we shall have to look at the treatment of particular types of capital. We will be giving further consideration to the position of carers and shall be interested to have views on the treatment of this group within the sort of structure we are aiming at. Nor have we yet formed a view on such details as the effect on claimants of changes to their benefit entitlement in 1989 or the question of inheritance of certain entitlement. The extension of the work exclusion rule to circumstances where either claimant is in work tidies up an anomaly that has existed since the introduction of equal treatment. In a benefit which is intended for people not in work and where the rules now allow either of a partnership to claim benefit" then it is equally logical to apply the basic exclusion of those in work where either partner is in employment. On the estimate of 50,000 long-term sick and disabled claimants not receiving an additional requirement, I refer you to table 34.41 of the published social security statistics for 1983. You will have noted our recent proposal to extend a heating addition automatically to sick and disabled householders on the long-term rate. So far as transitional protection is concerned, for those on supplementary benefit, we would ensure that, at the time of the change, income support payments make up regular cash income to at least the same level as supplementary benefit did before. I hope this clarification is helpful. We shall of course look forward to receiving your considered and constructive comments on the Green Paper.